Monday, April 15, 2013

Diane Tesler at work: postcards from "the land of corn and soybeans"

More than 600 miles northwest of Alexandria, at least an hour from the interstate in every direction, you'll find a charming corner of the Torpedo Factory—and painter Diane Tesler may just see you coming.

When Tesler visited Indiana in 1986 to paint on location with a friend, she fell in love with the town of Kewanna. "What drew me here was the space, the wide open quality of it, and the beauty of old things returning to nature," she says. "Staying in one spot and really digging into it seemed to offer me more than traveling to a lot of different places."

In 1991, after spending every summer in Indiana, Tesler set her sights on her own summer studio in Kewanna: a fixer-upper right under the water tower. "Still has the original wallpaper and beat-up floors," she laughs, "so it's as if I moved into one of my own paintings!"

Tesler, who moved to Kewanna permanently in 2012, has "rescued" several other local buildings, including a Craftsman bungalow, a Masonic hall, and a decrepit Odd Fellows building, one of the biggest structures in town and a space her artist's eye adored: "How could you let such a wonderful space—north light, 14-foot ceilings—fall down?"

Although she doesn't keep regular hours, Tesler invites the curious to pop by her studio whenever she's around, just as she did when she painted in Alexandria. "One of the enduring values I learned from my years at the Torpedo Factory was the quality of openness: open studio, open mind," she explains. "Allowing people an intimate look at your working process and connecting with them on a day-to-day basis—this translates very well out here. People can walk into my studio anytime they like."

Tesler has immersed herself in the Indiana arts scene: She holds annual workshops, and her yearly exhibition of local artists is the biggest art event in Fulton County, with more than 600 attendees in just one weekend, an enviable turnout for any gallery. At the show, she meets people from all over, an experience she likens to "a weekend day at the Torpedo Factory"—a comparison she's happy to build upon.

"Back in the early days of the Torpedo Factory, pre-renovation, there was an exciting, seat-of-the-pants quality to the place—air conditioned in winter, heated in summer—and I had that feeling again with this," Tesler says. "Having been inspired by Marian Van Landingham's original vision—rehabilitating an old building into an arts space—I feel that I have brought a little bit of that spirit out here to the land of corn and soybeans."

See more of Diane Tesler's work, and learn more about her art classes and workshops in both Indiana and Virginia, at www.dianetesler.com.

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