Heather Kadlec Shack

Heather Kadlec Shack

    I recently met Heather Kadlec Shack because of a recommendation from another WOS- Jennifer McDonnell. Heather is an accomplished watercolor artist who completes fine art paintings and commissioned works for clients at https://www.hmkwatercolors.com and has a clothing & accessories line at https://hmkliving.com. And while Heather’s works of art are beautiful stories in their own right, it’s actually her path to becoming an artist that I want to share with everyone. As you will see, Heather’s story is one of true determination and resilience in its purest form. 

    Heather Kadlec Shack  Heather Kadlec Shack

    Heather’s “can-do” personality was formed early, undoubtedly in part to her playing multiple sports, including winning “State” in doubles tennis and being the starting pitcher for her varsity softball team at OPRF High School. Heather also met her future husband, Jonathan, when they played against each other in recreational soccer as children, and attended in high school together. Heather grew up in a family of teachers, and even now, has siblings that have become teachers. As an adult, Heather’s love for children guided her to first become a teacher for gradeschool and middleschoolers for 14 years, then graduate up to Assistant Principal at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield & Lagrange Park. From there, Heather become the Head of ”Curriculum & Teacher Learning” for the entire BrookPark School district. With this job title, Heather had to know-and teach- all learning proficiencies for the entire school district and thrived in this challenging role.

    However, in 2011, Heather’s life would change forever. Heather suffered a severe stroke that put her in a coma for several days, followed up with a stay in intensive care for a month. The stroke left her with permanent damage to 1/4 of her brain that controls critical processing, with the largest part of her brain damage being on the left side. This caused Heather to suffer from aphasia and aproxia, which is the loss of the ability to read, write, and speak. Consequently, Heather had to literally “relearn” everything all over again. THIS is when Heather’s determination was clearly seen once again. She learned how to walk without a cane (in spite of doctors’ predictions that she would always need one), and learn how to become left-handed since she no longer had use of her right arm. And it was during this grueling recovery phase that Heather found her voice again- this time in her art. 

    What medium? Watercolors to be exact. Heather enjoyed working with the the paints during her rehabilitation phase, and 8 months after stroke, she noticed that the Oak Park Art League offered a watercolor class that artist & instructor Tony Armendariz (http://www.armendarizart.com) was teaching. Heather took the class and was hooked. She tried taking a follow-up class with Tony, but it was unfortunately cancelled. However, as Heather & Jonathan describe it, Tony took her under his wing and mentored her privately. Heather is so grateful to him for that, and you can still see her eyes light up when she talks about that stage of her recovery and the guidance of Tony in the medium. 

    Now, 10 years after her stroke, Heather has created a flourishing art career. She continues to create commissions for private clients, and has participated in group and solo shows. Heather also has participated art fairs, has shown a collection of works at The Compassion Factory Art Gallery & Studio in Brookfield (http://www.lovelived.com), and even has a permanent display of paintings at Fortunate Discoveries in Lincoln Park, Chicago (https://fortunatediscoveries.com). I also discovered during our interview that Heather is a talented photographer- due to her need for her own reference material. She showed me her collection of images via Zoom, and even through the app, I could see that she captures images using a keen eye. And while Heather paints a wide variety of subjects, she particularly enjoys creating landscapes/scenery & floral works best. For Heather, art gives her a sense of purpose. And, this purpose and drive has had Heather add a new dimension of how to express herself creatively. Just two years ago, Heather launched her own clothing and accessories line that she designs based on her art at HMK Living (https://hmkliving.com). In this venture, her art now combines with fashion to create beautiful designs that have her works on accessories, clothing and even tote bags. 

    But that’s not all that Heather has accomplished since her injury. Four years ago, Jonathan and Heather became husband and wife. And just last year, Heather was one of three speakers at the annual “Aphasia Day” at the Rehab Institute of Chicago. I asked Heather how she completed this enormous task of public speaking, especially since speech is a struggle for her. With a laugh, both her and Jonathan agreed she did it with “lots of practice”. No doubt- ALSO with her ever-present perseverance and adapting with everything she does. Nothing, and I mean nothing, stops this outgoing, talented woman from accomplishing her goals. I am grateful to have met her, this amazing Woman of Substance.