Enter the office of Diane Engle and she greets you with a warm hello in her Oklahoma accent. Raised on a farm in western Oklahoma, she is drawn to old homesteads, farm equipment, and just about anything else she finds interesting when she’s visiting.
“I always wish they could talk to me,” she says.”I imagine they have a tale to reveal about who lived there at one time.”
On the wall hangs one of her own watercolor paintings of an old, mangled windmill. There’s an old saying that she learned in her photography club. “If you can find an old wooden windmill, everyone wants to buy it. The problem is, you can’t hardly find an old wooden windmill anymore,” she said.
This month, Engle has three pieces on display at the “Local Color” exhibit at the Deines Center in Russell. One, a watercolor titled “Faith and Freedom” brings the viewer up close to the midsection details of a rugged, vested outdoors man. The hunting vest and worn jeans is paired with a cross dangling from a belt loop, a commentary on a way of life. Her other two works on display are photographs, one titled “bridge to nowhere”, which she captured while exploring the Cheyenne Bottoms. The other, a still life of the Kanopolis elevator at sunrise, won her the Trudy Furney tribute award and an honorable mention at October’s ROAR show in Russell in October.
“I enjoy trips to Kanopolis,” she said. “I feel drawn in that direction lately when I’m out messing around.”
For Engle, the mediums of watercolor and photography go hand in hand, but each medium she’s tried has helped her build on the next. Most of her paintings come from photographs she’s taken, still lifes set in the out of doors. She started with oils,then colored pencils, but decided to try watercolor. She grew to prefer them because she can pick it up and put it down without worrying about her paints, and there isn’t the lingering smell of paint thinner.
“It’s a little challenging too,” she said. “ You can’t make many mistakes because it isn’t as forgiving as oil.”
Lately, she’s been working with shading to add dimension to her paintings. “It’s as difficult to explain as it is to do,” she said.
Engle never took art in high school. She was a basketball player. “Those sorts of classes always seemed to be schedules during women’s basketball,” she said.
In college, she was focused on her studies as a business major, and she worked. It wasn’t until she began working at Barton that she seized the opportunity to try art. She began taking classes in 1996. It took a decade before she felt her work had achieved a professional quality worthy of entering contests. She always enters the ROAR as well as one in Sterling and a few in Hays. A few years ago, she made it into the Five State Photography contest with one of her photographs.
She continues to study with Barton’s Steve Dudek.
“He gives me pointers,” she said. “He may ask me to look at something again. He doesn’t linger over my shoulder. He knows I’ve been at it long enough, that I need to maybe stumble a little bit on my own.”
There are a lot of good artists in rural Kansas, she said. Among some of her favorites are Chet Cale, creator of the Jack Kilby statue, Robert Joy, and Petr Grigorev.
“There’s a lot of good talent here,” she said. “Some don’t show it off as much as others.”
Support of the arts isn’t bad in this area, but there is room for improvement she added. She’d love to see more art hanging in area businesses, and believes artists would jump on the chance to have their work on display for short periods of time. In the meantime, she plans to continue entering her work at area shows, and perfecting her technique and her style.
“Sometimes, when I look at my work, I ask myself “Is this good art?” What makes art good?” she said, adjusting her glasses and her long hair. “As long as the person who buys your picture is happy, that’s what matters.”