She grew up in Robbinsdale, Minn., on the outskirts of Minneapolis, in what she calls a “typical 50s and 60s childhood.” While it was technically a suburb, it still had its own small downtown, but was safe enough to give her freedom to explore by herself. She sewed her own clothes, and could often be found in a quiet spot reading. She also loved to draw, though her brother was considered the artist of the family.
When she started looking into college she was encouraged by her family to go into education, and for her first few semesters at the University of Minnesota she followed that path.
Then she started taking more and more extra-curricular classes. Art history, general history, glassblowing, anything that interested her, she studied. As the classes went on, she focused more and more on art.
After a couple of years it was time to decide on a major. She found that she had amassed credits for B.S. degrees in Studio Art and Art Education, and came full circle with a M.S. in Arts Education degree from St. Thomas University in Minnesota. In all, she combined her love of art with her parents’ practical wish for her to become a teacher.
After college Dianna spent several years teaching K-12 art in a small private school in Minnesota. In that setting she had the creative freedom and the support of the administration to teach art in her own way. From the basics of color theory, art history, and art analysis to hands-on projects in disciplines as varied as prints and ceramics, each class was different. She discovered that her favorite class to teach was ceramics. The physical act of handling the clay, throwing it on a wheel and creating a vase or bowl, kneading and rolling it into various shapes, was almost like coaching a sport.
She found that when you love a subject and teach it, you get the opportunity to be creative in a different way. “Whether it is art, English or math, if you love your subject you get a lot of opportunity to be really creative,” she said. “You think about how you are going to teach it and design things for the students. In a way, the students themselves become the medium.”
She met her husband, Robert, an American Literature instructor, at the school where they both taught. They have one son, who is 23.
While she loved teaching, at the end of a school day she just didn’t have the energy to work on her own art. She eventually went to a part-time teaching schedule, began taking classes and started building a portfolio in her time off.
Though she had worked in papermaking, ceramics, printmaking, and many other forms of art, her first love was always drawing.
Then she took a class in pastels. It was life changing.
Pastels have the vibrant colors that Dianna loves, combined with the feel of drawing.
“As a teacher, you have to be able to do a lot of things, but when you are an artist, it is really good to be single-minded, to really have focus,” she said. “With pastels, I was able to find the medium that I was happy with; I just don’t want to do anything else. So that was a big step for me.”
After a few years of a part-time teaching schedule, she left teaching entirely to focus on her art. Since 2004, she has been painting still lifes and landscapes.
She and her husband came to Boca Grande at the urging of a neighbor in Minnesota, who said, “If you ever want to stay at the nicest place in Florida, let me know.”
They eventually took her up on her invitation, and, as so many others have through the last century, fell in love with the island.
They bought a condo, and at first only came down for vacations. Over the years, they have transitioned to a seasonal schedule, spending November through March in Florida.
They still spend April through October in the Twin Cities area.
“I have a big garden, so I spend a lot of the summer out in the garden, surrounded by perennials,” she said. “That’s why I have so much work that is floral. It’s what I love, what I find beautiful.”
Pastels may be Dianna’s passion, but she has always been interested in textiles. Papermaking, hand marbling, fabrics, and sewing have all attracted her.
Once she created a collection of hand-marbled paper, and then asked herself, “What am I going to do with all of this?” The answer was bookbinding.
Bookbinding is a very different art from painting, whether with pastels or oils.
“Bookbinding is a craft where function is as important as how it looks,” she explained. “There is a methodology. You can be very deliberate and you follow a series of steps. You know when something is complete. With painting, you can do all of that, but you still have the subjective stuff. Am I done? Did I overwork it? Do I need something else here?”
Bookbinding is relaxing, but for Dianna it would never be enough. Something that is fun in moderation can become drudgery when it is what you do all of the time, if it isn’t your passion.
Dianna isn’t an artist in isolation. She is an exhibiting member of the Boca Grande Art Alliance. Her history with the Alliance started when she stopped in one day after hearing about the organization and seeing the name on the building.
First she became involved as a volunteer, then she was in a members’ show, and finally became an exhibiting artist.
She joined the Board of Directors for the Alliance in 2009, and this year is serving as the Secretary for the Board.
“I have found a really wonderful community of artists ... that, to me, is really important,” she said. “I don’t want to live somewhere and not have connections, things in common.”
She is also a member of the Lake Country Pastel Society in Minnesota, and exhibits in their shows once or twice a year. She won first place in the Society’s 2011 Fall Exhibit for her painting “Gasparilla Pass Pine.”
She says that the art community is (of course) larger in the Twin Cities, but it is harder to get exposure because of the sheer number of artists.
“On the other hand, because there are so many artists and art venues, it is culturally rich, you can go and see a lot of artwork,” she said. “You can find your niche in a group of people that you associate with.”
Since she began working on her art full-time, she has been in shows as varied as the Boca Grande Art Alliance Artist Member Shows, the Minnesota State Fair Juried Arts Exhibition, and a solo show at the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in 2010.
She has recently begun showing her art at Hughes Gallery here in Boca Grande.
Dianna is a full-time artist now, but she still finds herself teaching. This year she is teaching courses in paper marbling and bookbinding through the Art Alliance. To sign up for either class, you can contact the Art Alliance at 964-1700 or visit their website, bocagrandeartalliance.org.
Dianna may divide her time between Boca Grande and Minnesota, but her flowers and pastels will be with her wherever she goes.
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