Diana Stetson grew up in the fields and the woods of the Hudson River Valley, discovering the nurturing power of nature, and the limitless world of imagination. Her home was a remarkable stone house, shown below along with some early family photos. The house was originally part of an extensive Hindu spiritual community led by Om the Omnipotent. It had a twelve-foot long Sanskrit blessing carved into the beam over the fireplace and Eternal Life symbols carved at the intersection of all of the beams used to construct the house that was modeled after an upturned hull of a sailing ship. The house and the natural world around it had a spiritual quality that deeply influenced the young artist’s experience of life. One of her best friends was her next-door neighbor, Mr. Sanderson, a dapper 80-year-old yoga teacher who still stood on his head and described what it was like to visit the moon. Beauty, magic and freedom in nature were her realities for the first twelve years of life, and her work as an artist draws heavily on this unusual and entrancing childhood.
Stetson earned a degree in Biology at Reed College, while spending most of her time in the calligraphy studio with her first mentor, Robert Palladino, a Benedictine monk who worked intensively with her for four years. Palladino, shown here with Stetson at a recent lunch, awarded her the rare Reed AA, which depicted exceptional talent and achievement. During these years, her other art mentor was her Botany advisor, Dr. Bert Brehm. She kept a lifelong relationship with both mentors because of her deep sense of the importance of those early influences.
On a shared scholarship, Stetson spent more than a year in Asia after graduating, studying Japanese and Chinese brushwork. She lived in both a remote village in the Japanese Alps learning the farming and spiritual traditions of pre-war Japan, and on the island of Cheung Chau outside of Hong Kong while studying with the prominent Chinese calligrapher, Jat See Yeu (shown here with his large calligraphy - for more, see The Red Seal). Stetson’s aesthetic foundation formed during this time was deeply Asian, and that has expressed itself in her work for decades. An early love for travel and adventure took her around the world over the next decade. A strong kinship felt with Greek people inspired her to study and teach Greek dance, and drew her back for many years to the same village on the island of Naxos, shown in one of the photos here. Other travel photos include kayaking on the Snake River, working as a wrangler in Wyoming, snowshoeing in the Japanese Alps, touring Istanbul and working in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
To continue her studies in drawing, painting, binding and the lettering arts, Stetson did her graduate work at the Roehampton Institute in London, where she worked intensively, completing a two-year Diploma with honors in one year. She was the only student that year granted access to manuscripts and books at the British Library. The many years of rigorous study and practice with the finest and subtlest aspects of letterform had awarded her with excellent eye/hand coordination. In 1990, with these unique skills and experiences behind her, Stetson began working with drawing and painting as a printmaker in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. For years her work juxtaposed text with image, and the successful marriage of the two was something she became known for. Recently her passion has been the sensuous world of oil painting, and she balances her schedule between working in her Alameda studio as a painter and working at Hand Graphics in Santa Fe as a monotype artist.
Stetson has received over 40 grants and awards for her work, including a grant from the French Ministry of Culture in Paris, First Place at the prestigious Saint Louis Art Fair, and the coveted Bravo Award for Excellence in Visual Art in 2003, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Several of the grants have resulted in public art installations in New Mexico. Her work resides in many fine collections around the world, and has been included in museum exhibitions and collections, including Le Musée en Herbes in Paris; the Fine Art Museum in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon; Albuquerque Museum, and Museum of Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM. A presentation of one of Stetson's early etchings to Bill Richardson is shown here.
In 2012, Stetson was invited by the US State Department to be a member of the delegation of US artists, scholars and musicians to represent the United States at the first US Culture Days in Turkmenistan. During this event, she gave presentation at the National Academy of Art, opened a retrospective exhibition at the Fine Art Museum in Ashgabat, taught a Master Class, and met with US Ambassador Patterson as well as several prominent Turkmen painters and jewelers. In 2014, Stetson returned to Turkmenistan on invitation from the State Department to curate and install the first exhibition of paintings by Turkmen and US painters, at the Museum of Fine Art in Ashgabat. On that trip Stetson continued her work with art students, introducing them to oil pastels in several workshops and a Master Class. She hopes to continue working as a cultural ambassador for the US in other countries in the future, with the belief that art is a powerful bridge between cultures and peoples.