Every now and then, you get to meet a friend of a friend that turns out to be an awesome experience. Someone whose life and talents are so energizing; you find yourself giddy that you were so fortunate to make their acquaintance. Diana Rell Dean is one of those people.
Diana’s roots are in Tensaw, Alabama, where we visited her home and studio located on 150 acres a few weeks ago. She was born in Tensaw and still has family there, but has lived a nomadic existence most of her life. Her father was a Petrochemical Engineer and spent 29 years overseas. Diana spent eleven years of her youth in Venezuela, and four years in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
When it came time to go to college, Diana attended Carleton College in Minnesota and received a degree in Comparative Dramatic Literature. All she really wanted to do was dance. And dance she did. Not theater or Broadway but Modern Dance and Concert Dance. She studied under Mary Wigman’s lead teachers, Margaret Dietz, and Hanya Holm. Wigman was a German dance artist and choreographer notable as the pioneer of expressionist dance, dance therapy, and movement training.
Diana earned her Master’s in “The Arts in Education” from Columbia Teachers College while teaching dance to school children to “help stimulate their interest in academics through an artistic doorway.” She points out, “I’ve taught dance to people aged 3 to 60 years old, I taught them how to make dances, as well as how to dance.” She also has a Master’s in Spanish Literature and speaks the language fluently.
Greenwich, Connecticut was home for ten years while she raised her son before moving to Stuart, Florida to look after her mother. She finally had to give up teaching dance as a vocation and fell in love with sailing while living on the Florida coast. She’s sailed all over the world including Belize, Tahiti, Corfu Greece, Croatia, and Saint Martin. After a sailing trip to the Caribbean, the colors were so beautiful, Diana decided to take up painting. “Let me see if I can figure this out,” she thought to herself.
Growing up overseas, Diana’s family would return to the States every two years. They would dock in Miami and work their way back to Tensaw where her grandmother still lived and stay three months at a time. Here she felt a sense of place, the power of Mother Nature, and the calming effect that enveloped her. Her cousins approached her about purchasing some of the lands that had been in the family for over 100 years. So, she did. That was three years ago.
In the back of her mind, Diana had always wanted to create an artist retreat, and Tensaw seemed to be a perfect place. She credits Patty and Steve White, former friends and artists from her Florida days now living in Fairhope with encouraging her to turn her vision into reality.
She connected with Bob Chatham, an architect in Fairhope to design her vision and hired Cade McMurray to build her home. She soon converted her garage into her art gallery. Plans are to build an artist workshop on the property to allow people to come on weekends to work with a teacher and, “Feel the power of Mother Nature,” as students grow.
“Tensaw is country living,” she says. “I want to keep a connection with the city too, so I am purchasing a condo in Pensacola in the Brent Lofts, a 100-year-old historic building on Palafox in Pensacola.” Diana has worked with Sam Nettles, a sculpture artist and teacher at First City Arts, and plans to travel back and forth between Tensaw and Pensacola.
Part of her motivation to create the Riverhouse Workshop Retreat is to allow people to escape the stress of city life while finding their connection with art and the wilderness. “I’m a nature freak,” she says, “and I love wilderness canoeing.” The name, Riverhouse Workshop comes from her time on the St. Lucie River in Stuart, Florida.
Plans are to host one-day artist retreats until the Lodge is complete. In the meantime, Diana is hosting a two-day show called “Threads” on March 25 and 26 from 10 AM until 5 PM. She is teaming up with four other artists including two quilters, Angelous Barr and Kimberly McKeough who are well-known for their intricate needlework. Jacqueline Roesch-Sanchez creates fabrics on her loom and will have beautiful scarves for sale at the show.
Van Nguyen is another artistic fabric maker that has taken some of Diana’s art and made silk fabric with a collection of shirts, trousers, dresses, and scarves called Pura Vida, for sale. Refreshments will be served, and I can tell you, it’s worth the trip to see Diana and her friend’s works of art. The property is beautiful and serene and inviting as well.
After forty years of teaching, Diana’s artistic endeavors are incredible. Her work is a bit of a folk artist, yet it captures the imagination and just has a happiness to it that feels good. She has recently had a painting selected for a juried member show at the Eastern Shore Art Center in Fairhope and another painting selected for a juried member show at the Pensacola Museum of Art.
We all left Riverhouse Workshop’s studio with a sense of awe and a feeling that some days just work out unexpectedly well. I have my eye on a few pieces and will be back! I also left thinking this woman is just a natural talent in everything she does. Her spirit will lift you, guaranteed!