A native of Vienna, a former resident of Forest Hills and a graduate of Adelphi University, Stern began her career as an apparel buyer. At Adelphi, Stern majored in art and minored in business, two disciplines that would serve her well her entire career. In the 1970s, after her two children had grown up and left the house, Stern decided to combine her experience in fashion, business and art.
It turned out to be a good move as Stern initially began to illustrate white cotton T-shirts. That was a trend in that decade and soon, Stern began doing artworks of various sports motifs, including flowers growing out of a golf bag and tennis racquets growing out of a pot of tulips, while being able to achieve significant orders at such top stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bonwit Teller, Lord and Taylor and Tennis Lady.
All this was just the beginning. During her fine arts career, Stern has adapted her paintings to clothing and small furnishings sold throughout the United States in boutiques, resorts and major department stores including Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel. Stern was invited by Bloomingdale’s to create a model room in its Manhattan store, including two murals as a backdrop for her designs.
Designing colorful T-shirts is only one aspect of Stern’s career. For decades, her canvases have simply gone by the professional name of “Donata.” Painting is where Stern first made her mark. “To gaze upon a Donata canvas is to be virtually transported to a sunny field of flowers, vibrant and alive as nature itself,” wrote Sonia Blair in a 1973 profile in North Shore Club Life. In that article, Stern modestly added: “I’ll never set the art world on fire…but people do seem to like my paintings. It appears to be an emotional thing. Once they’ve decided to own one, even if they resist at first, for one reason of another, they eventually succumb.”
And that has been the case for years, as Stern’s paintings have appeared in many venues, including the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor and Robley Gallery and Soho East, both in Roslyn.
In addition, Stern’s work has been on exhibits at such popular galleries as Park South Gallery and Croquis Gallery, in New York City. Other exhibits have included those at Avnet Gallery, Great Neck; The Finer Things, Locust Valley; and Garvies Point Museum in Glen Cove.
Glen Cove was Stern’s longtime home, where she and her husband, the well-known newspaperman and author, Walter H. Stern, raised their two children. Stern has been a resident of Roslyn Harbor for the past 10 years.
Much of Stern’s success has been her relentless energy. “Resourceful, imaginative and determined” is how another journalist, Helene Herzig, described her subject in a 1977 profile in North Shore: The Magazine For Living On The Gold Coast.
“Evaluate yourself,” Stern advised in that same article. “Do what you are best at, what you enjoy. Anything is possible if you believe in yourself.”