Artist and art educator Wilkin talks about art

By Page H. Gifford

It was around the 6th grade when Diane Wilkin became interested in the visual arts after one of her drawings was featured on a bulletin board. After 10th grade, Wilkin spent the summer with her grandmother, helping her in her credit bureau business while painting on tabletop easels with her every evening at the dining room table. Later, when Wilkin was in college, her grandmother framed some of her work. She cherished her grandmother’s support.

“Not every creative person has a cheerleader in their corner rooting for them but I did,” she said. In the late ‘70s, Wilkin attended the University of Virginia and studied architecture until her last year when she switched to a fine art major, focusing on photography and printmaking. One of her first jobs was working as a medical photographer, specializing in the operating room at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond but with grant funding and changes she ended up behind a desk. Not long after she moved to Pennsylvania and decided to go back to school for art education.

She began her teaching career as a high school art teacher and later as an adjunct professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and Moore College Art and Design. After about ten years of teaching, she got active with the Pennsylvania Art Education Association (PAEA), joining the board.

“I learned a lot about the variety in programs across the state; great programs but lots of inequities; so I got very involved in advocacy. PAEA also helped me enrich my classroom.” She served as President of PAEA and connected with leaders in the 13 other states in the northeast region of the National Art Education Association (NAEA). In 2016 she was elected to the Eastern Region VP position for NAEA.

“I served three years as VP and that national board involvement was an incredible learning experience- and I continue learning today.”

She planned to retire from teaching in 2020 but stayed on during the pandemic.

“I’m glad I was still working and shared the challenges of moving into virtual and hybrid environments. It was a steep learning curve for us all, and now we have more tools to use in education, she said. “I still believe much of the Arts require a studio experience, and we humans need the socialization, so I’m not an advocate for total online art classes though there is certainly a place for them in our future.”

After her husband Jim retired last year, they returned to Virginia to be close to family. She says she still looks forward to doing some teaching and will be teaching a photography summer camp with PVCC this summer.

“I also want to focus on ideas I’ve been carrying around for a long time,” she added.

As an artist, Wilkin says there are “two categories of sorts that percolate through her work — landscapes and people.

“I would say I look for relationships. The cathedral shapes created by tree limbs fascinate me. I once had a friend note that my trees were often without leaves, dead in winter. I had to think about that, and realized that what I love is the structure, the colors that still present themselves along with the calm and rest in winter,” she said. The idea of  structure comes  from her early years as an architecture student. “You can see it; it’s not hidden by the canopy of leaves. It’s so much easier to see the relationships between the individual trees in winter.” Most of her figures are people doing something together.

 “Their interactions create incredibly interesting negative space shapes. Think candid in photography.” For her figure work, her models are her grandchildren and family. “Those close candid interactions are inspiring.”

Yet it is the woods that move her.

“They don’t move and there’s a lot of time that can be given to observation, close observation,” she said. “My parent’s home also has woods behind it, the images are probably embedded in my psyche.”

Her media varies with her wide variety of interests.

“I love drawing; contour lines are key for me. Charcoal and pastel may well be favorites for drawing, though 6B pencils make incredible variations in line.” Currently, she is working in pastels and some acrylics while exploring mixed media. She also had a tabletop etching press but admits she hasn’t etched for 20 years. If that weren’t enough she has also discovered tapestry and started working with a tabletop tapestry loom, translating some drawings into fiber art.

Being an art educator, Wilkin recognizes the need for art and its driving force in our culture.

“The arts are the underpinning of just about everything in society. How do we know history? through the arts – written work, music, images on pottery, and in pyramids. How do we communicate? Images are key, the adage ‘a picture’s worth a thousand words’ holds true. On the flip side though, ‘words paint pictures’ and I believe they do.”

 She gave an example that during the pandemic, a phone call worked, but a video conference allowed us to “picture’” people and see facial expressions. “I often told students who questioned why we should learn a particular thing in art, that it’s not about making a basket or a photograph, it’s about learning a process, developing persistence, solving problems, and recognizing the time, skill, and value of human-made creations and designs,” she said. “My students will never look at hand-printed photos or complex woven baskets without an appreciation for the work and knowledge required to make them. Education and exposure are key to developing an appreciation for the arts.”

Wilkin has recently become a member of the Fluvanna Art Association  and she and her husband are both becoming more involved in the community by signing up for the Fluvanna Leadership Development Program class to learn more about the county’s history, education,  agriculture, businesses, and the arts.

“Last November, Jim and I toured the Artisans Studio Tour in Charlottesville, and we saw an opportunity to showcase artists and artisans in Fluvanna County in a similar way.” The last artisan’s tour in Fluvanna Was in 2012. They are part of a team working to organize a juried art studio tour for Fluvanna artists in October. The team reached out to the Fluvanna Art Association (FAA) for feedback and found some artists who were supportive of the idea.

“The team is moving ahead with plans for October and more information will be out in April.” Currently some of her artwork is on display at In Vino Veritas in Keswick. The display includes a variety of work like older etchings, current pastel drawings, and clay prints. 

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