Grace Natoli Sheldon went to Milwaukee Area Technical College intending to dabble in several subject areas while she figured out what she wanted to study for her degree.
Now a nationally known food photographer, Natoli Sheldon will be a featured artist for The Channel 10 Great TV Auction, which runs Friday, April 24, through Saturday, May 2. The event is televised live on Channel 10.
However, her trip from Brown Deer High School graduate to nationally known photographer was not a straight line.
"I was interested in nursing, so I took an anatomy class," she said. "The only art class was a photo class. I had no interest in it, really, but I took it and I loved it."
NOW photo journalist Mary Catanese, a close friend since childhood and whom Natoli Sheldon calls a cousin, had started the photography classes before Sheldon.
"I started hanging out with Mary nonstop," she said. "She was a big influence on me. After we graduated, we took off for Europe for three months, backpacking, and visiting all the old family in Italy."
By the time they returned, Natoli Sheldon, was ready to embark on a career in photography.
Although she always told her instructors at MATC she would be a food photographer, she was a medical photographer at St. Joseph's Hospital for 10 years.
"I learned a lot while I was there about lighting," she said.
While working at the hospital, she also started to do the freelance work that eventually brought her national clients such as Pizza Hut, Every Day with Rachel Ray and Taste of Home magazines, Kohler Co., Dinner by Design, Klement's Sausage and others.
She also went to art fairs to promote her work and established her Kitchen Art line of food-inspired images.
Her career as a full-time medical photographer wound down after she had a set of triplet daughters, but her freelance career gained momentum over the years.
She and her husband, Paul, built a family room that doubled as her studio in their Mequon home so she could continue her freelance work from home. She now has a studio in Bay View.
"About 20 years ago, I decided I needed to separate home from work," she said.
She works in her studio but also has had steady freelance work from Reiman Publications in Greendale.
"I have the luxury of being able to freelance with other clients but also go every day to Reiman," she said.
She both shoots photos and does photo styling, setting up the photo shot, at Reiman.
She did all the food photos for an as-yet-untitled culinary textbook by author Jacqueline Marcus that is due to be published later this year. Her food photos adorn the pages of "An Occasion to Gather," the Junior League of Milwaukee cookbook. Her work also can be found on restaurant menus, packaging and even Hallmark greeting cards.
Tribute to triplets
Sharon Fischer-Toerpe, the associate auction director, said auction planners were looking for something different this year and decided they wanted something for the kitchen.
"So we called Grace," she said. "She was a featured artist for us in 1992 and did a floral piece then."
Working for three weekends on her idea for this auction, Natoli Sheldon came up with a poster called "Frutta del Tripletto" that reflects both her Italian heritage and her daughters.
Three individual photos of strawberries, blueberries and apricots form a triptych type of poster.
There are 400 prints that will be auctioned off, with a starting price of $30 each.
"It is a nice affordable way to get a fine-art print," Fischer-Toerpe said.
Natoli Sheldon has been a constant donor to the show over the years.
"She has done so well for us that we have gotten spoiled," Fischer-Toerpe said.
Mary Buckley can be reached at (262) 446-6615.