Interview #9: Sonja Sweterlitsch

Sonja Sweterlitsch stands inside the front window at 709 Penn Gallery.

And… we’re back!

I had a fabulous holiday, and I am more excited than ever to continue to meet and interview yinzpirational Pittsburghers in 2011. So, let’s get started.

Meet Sonja Sweterlitsch!

When Sonja was nominated for an interview on Yinzpiration, I knew right away that I must meet her. Why? Because these paintings took my breath away…

Are you yinzpired yet?!

Oh and guess what. The women in these paintings—Heather Hackett, Tara Gainfort and Angela Seals—all live in Pittsburgh. Such beauties, no?

I had a wonderful time meeting with Sonja at Crazy Mocha downtown. She’s super friendly and sweet. I loved hearing about her life in Greenfield and her experience working in Pittsburgh’s art community. Can you believe she coordinates 300+ artists for the Three River’s Artist Market we all know and love? I admire that she has truly made a career in art; something that most are told is nearly impossible.

Her work is represented by Box Heart Gallery in Bloomfield, which I have never been to but now I know I must visit! I have always liked their signage…

After we finished our drinks, we took a secret alleyway (well, it felt like a secret to me!) to 709 Penn Gallery, where she serves as the curator. I had visited 709 before during a gallery crawl, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Sonja told me about an upcoming installation by Jill Larson, called After the sky has fallen. In this exhibition, Jill Larson reveals her grueling divorce process and subsequent re-emergence and re-invention. Doesn’t that sound interesting? I hear a giant cocoon is involved…

Details below:

After the sky has fallen
January 14 – February 20, 2011
Artist reception on Friday, January 14
709 Penn Gallery
Downtown Pittsburgh Cultural District

Enjoy learning more about Sonja below, and don’t forget to check out her blog and website!

Name: Sonja Sweterlitsch

Job titles: Artist; Community Arts Manager, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; Artists Market Coordinator, Three Rivers Arts Festival


Blog: Visual Art: Work and Inspiration

Neighborhood you live in: Greenfield

Coffee Shop Drink of Choice: hot chocolate with whipped cream

Current Shampoo Preference: Aveeno – Nourish

Why do you choose Pittsburgh as your home?

I went to college at CMU, moved away to work at the Smithsonian, and then moved back because my boyfriend-now-husband, Tom, was in graduate school. We both fell in love with the city and decided to stay. After seeing many other places, it is still our favorite place to be and truly feels like home. We delight in all the wonderful things that make our city unique – the arts, the rivers, the cityscape, the food, the sports teams, and the friendly people.

Who do you spend your time with?

My husband, Tom. We also spend a lot of time with our close friends, many of whom live within just a few blocks from us in Greenfield.

What are your favorite aspects of your job?

I love working with so many artists. I get to work with 500+ artists a year through coordinating the Artists Market for the Three Rivers Arts Festival, gallery exhibits, the visual art for First Night, and studio art classes and workshops. It’s very inspiring to get to know the artists and their work.

Curating 709 Penn Gallery in the Cultural District is one of my favorite things I get to do in my job at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, showcasing the talents of local artists whose work I admire so much. I work with an amazing team who operates the gallery day to day and helps with the installation of the exhibits. Many of them are artists themselves. They keep the gallery running smoothly. It’s very stimulating to work with such creative people, and to work for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust – an organization which has such a positive impact on our city, through the arts and our downtown.

The Three Rivers Arts Festival has also been my favorite event in Pittsburgh since I moved here during college, and it’s a thrill to get to help create that experience for the hundreds of thousands of people who come to the festival each year.

Those are my favorite aspects of my day-job. I will also tell you my favorite aspect of being a painter of portraits. That is very simple: I love celebrating the beauty I see in other people.

Do you have a soul food?

Waffles with whipped cream and strawberries on top.

What are some of your recent personal goals?

I’ve been lagging behind with social media. Maybe I’ll join Facebook. Maybe I won’t though. Also, I hope to be a super mom in 2011

What are your favorite Pittsburgh restaurants?

My favorite places to eat are Coca Cafe, Rialto’s, Spice Island Tea House, Taste of India, Hough’s, Bangkok Balcony, Smallman Street Deli in Squirrel Hill, Pamela’s, La Feria, Enrico’s in the Strip, Dozen, Piper’s Pub, Dave and Andy’s ice cream, Crepes Parisiennes, and Mad Mex (any location). We are regulars at all these places. Seriously. I hate doing dishes.

Describe your ideal day.

Aside from Publisher’s Clearing House knocking on my door with one of those really giant checks, my ideal day is an ordinary Saturday. I sleep in really late, eat brunch with Tom, paint all day, and then hang out with friends late into the night.

What is the most memorable live show you have seen in Pittsburgh?
Neko Case at the Byham Theater. She is a siren. Also Gillian Welch at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

What do you think Pittsburgh will be like in ten years?

I wish the city and the people who live here great success over the next 10 years… but I hope that Pittsburgh isn’t too very different than the way it is right now.

What do you love most about the city?

I love how Pittsburgh is unpretentious, and how no matter where you are, when you meet someone else from Pittsburgh, there is an instant near-familial bond with them. It’s the real Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.


Author Profile

Kate Stoltzfus
Kate Stoltzfus
Editor/founder of, CreativeMornings/Pittsburgh host, co-pilot at Propelle, and digital strategist at Plumb media.

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Kate Stoltzfus

Editor/founder of, CreativeMornings/Pittsburgh host, co-pilot at Propelle, and digital strategist at Plumb media.

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