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Chester County Press

A lifetime of art and strong family ties

07/15/2020 11:42PM ● By Steven Hoffman

A lifelong love of art has sustained Midge Diener, and now, as a great-grandmother, she is busier than ever, turning the things she loves into delicate watercolor paintings.

Sitting in the cozy living room of her home near the sprawling White Clay Creek State Park, Diener was surrounded by her own art, as well as well-chosen art that reflects her deep faith.

A “doodler and crafter in every area imaginable” since she was a child, Diener had an aunt who painted watercolors, but she credits her parents with supporting her own artistic experimentation. “I did a lot of tole painting and decorative art early on, but I didn’t want to be branded as looking like somebody else’s style,” she said. “Oil painting was too slow, and I am too busy to wait. But I always liked watercolor.”

The speed of watercolor painting inspired her, so she pursued her interest with a series of art classes offered locally. She has, otherwise, learned by doing.

Rooted in her faith, Diener owned the Lighthouse Christian bookstore in Delaware for 13 years before eventually selling it. She is a longtime member of the Calvary Assembly of God, where she has been enlisted to paint an elaborate mural in the children’s room of the church. That has kept her away from her regular schedule of painting for the past few months.

While she was sharpening her painting skills, raising a young family and running the bookstore, Diener’s life was torn apart when she was 44. Her husband, Carl, had been diagnosed with cancer, and she devoted herself to caring for him until his death in 1991.

“I just stopped painting,” she said. “It was out of the question. I was barely existing, especially that first year. I had to keep the bookstore running, and take care of a 6-year-old who was at home.”

After some prodding from her former mother-in-law, she said, laughing, she eventually agreed to start dating again.  “I met Gregg Diener, and we married three years later,” she said. “I’ve been blessed to have two wonderful marriages. When I remarried, I felt alive again. Gregg encouraged me to start painting again. I had missed it. I picked it back up around 1997. I have to be doing something with my hands – designing something, doing something.”

With no formal art training, Diener has nevertheless had decades of experience, and she has shared her knowledge and enthusiasm with adult art students at the Oxford Arts Alliance and at the Jenner’s Pond retirement community, offering classes for several years. “I still do workshops at Jenner’s Pond, usually about four times a year,” she said. “I do simple stuff, so that someone who has never painted before can finish something and think, ‘You know what? Maybe I can do this.’ I’m an encourager. I love teaching people, pointing out the good things that they’re doing, and I love teaching art.”

There are themes to Diener’s work, but she easily switches from florals to birds to landscapes to animal portraits whenever she is led. “My subject matter was florals at the beginning,” she said, “but I found that my landscapes were selling very quickly.”

She has a wide selection of giclee prints that make her works affordable for everyone. And many of her works are also available as greeting cards.

Living in the midst of some spectacular scenery, Diener never lacks for inspiration. A print of her painting of the Ticking Tomb, which is about a mile down the road from her home, led to a story. “The first show I had it in, I had the original and I had a giclee,” she said. “A lady saw the giclee and said, ‘Oh, I met my husband there.’ And she planted the garden in front. So she had to buy it. And she bought the original.”

Diener’s husband, Gregg, is a constant support for her, Diener said. He doesn’t share her artistic flair – he is a former paramedic who is now the director of the paramedic training program at Jefferson Hospital – but he is part of a big, richly intertwined family that celebrates Diener’s artistic pursuits.

The dining room at their home is big enough for every-other-week family Sunday dinners for their adult children Matthew, Lynn, Lori and Nicole, as well as many of their 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Diener also meets her children at Daddy’s Restaurant on Route 896 every Thursday morning. Diener’s originals and giclee prints are on permanent display in the restaurant.

Diener paints outdoors and also works from photographs that she keeps on file. “I did a plein air workshop and saw a building right across from the Ticking Tomb at White Clay Creek State Park,” she said. “I loved how the sun was hitting it. I immediately knew what I was going to paint. And if you go up Glen Road near here, there are sheep out there now. I’ve been taking pictures of them. I will, one of these days, do a painting of them.”

While Diener has painted images of historic homes that catch her eye, she admitted “It’s hard to position yourself in the right place to paint a house. You have to get all the angles right. I could paint flowers all day long, though.”

Diener has been a mainstay of local fairs and art shows for decades. Her work is always part of Country Christmas in Oxford, she has had shows at Jenner’s Pond, and her work is featured at The Perfect Cup in Hockessin, Drip Café, and elsewhere.

For Diener – who admits her house is overflowing with her art – the joy in her creativity reflects the joy in her life. “I got to a point where I was doing so much art, I either had to stop or sell it, because my house was so full,” she said, laughing. “But I just love to paint.”

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