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 Patricia Don Diego  (20/21st century)

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Lived/Active: Montana/Michigan      Known for: wood carving, furniture decoration, beading, weaving

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Bitterroot Star, Montana newspaper, February 20, 2008

Patricia Don Diego - chameleon artist
by Gretchen Langton

Lightning bolts, arrows, triangles, and Greek crosses are just a few of the angular symbols that re-occur in the inspired furniture painted by Stevensville artist Patricia Don Diego. She calls her colorful style "neo-primitive." Patricia paints on an endless array of objects from bureaus to boats to barn doors. The bigger the better, she says. The barn doors were a recent project and are pictured in this photo. They took her two weeks of solid work to complete.

Patricia came to painting from carving. She had a booth at Art in the Park where she was selling carved objects and what she refers to as "lumpy pictures." Since carving is so physical, Patricia had painted a little stool "as a therapeutic break from the carving" and happened to have it with her. A woman came by and said, "I'll take that," pointing to the stool. It was then that she entertained the notion of shifting gears from carving to painting, although she still carves in the summer months when she can be outside.

She shows me a very large drift boat in her studio, painted inside and out. This is "Tufa's boat", she tells me. It's a tribute to her grandfather ("Tufa" means grandfather in Finnish.) "I was attracted to this project because my grandfather built boats for lake fishing in Finland."
Before she painted and carved, Patricia was a weaver. She comes from a long line of weavers; both of her grandmothers were Finnish weavers. "My ancestors were the Sami people of Northern Finland." This tribal ancestry can be felt in Patricia's pieces. Once she discovered that the Sami people were traditionally tipi dwellers, she understood why she was so drawn to the tipi (and the triangle) as a recurring image in her designs. Her maiden name, "Posio," means "the sacred door in the lavu (tipi) that men of the tribe brought game through." Patricia spent a short stint as the weaving studio supervisor at Big Bear in Missoula, helping severely handicapped adults learn to weave. Patricia wove rugs and clothing but now she says she doesn't have time to weave or the space for a loom.

This artistic chameleon is shifting yet again from painting furniture to beading. Two years ago, Patricia found herself in a deep "funk"; she stopped painting. Her younger sister Miriam had died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack and the effect of her passing caused Patricia to experience "a massive epiphany." She began reevaluating her own health and made some major changes. Also, she inherited all of her sister's beading supplies and started to experiment with beads and a bead loom. She's fashioning shamans, one tiny size thirteen bead at a time. I wanted to see one of these unique creatures but she has sold all three that she has made to date.

Patricia says that with her painting projects, she meticulously prepares for a project on paper while the beading work comes to her more organically and she simply begins putting patterns together without the prep work. The beadwork makes her feel like she is "keeping in touch" with Miriam, she explains. It was the barn doors that reconnected Patricia with furniture painting; she was so excited about the size of this particular palette that she took up her brushes and resumed painting.

Raised in Lansing, Michigan, Patricia went to school at Northern Michigan University. She was trained as an art teacher. When she came out West, she said she knew "that was it," her home would be here. She tried life in Butte and Helena before coming to the Bitterroot seventeen years ago. Patricia has had art shows all over the state and has a strong repeat clientele. Now, she's got a cozy 16- by 12-foot log cabin studio nestled in among the cars for sale on the north side of the Kootenai Creek Bridge. The cars are her husband and son's line of work, and she says they are nice enough to peddle her art pieces when they aren't selling cars. Patricia says that in the future she hopes to take on other people's art to show and sell in her studio.

She explains some of her artistic idiosyncrasies; she says she likes to outline her patterns to make them stand out.

"It makes things look primitive and it is a way of retracing my steps," she says.
She likes this ritual of saying goodbye to her pieces. She always begins a piece by painting it black. Nothing morbid, Patricia likes black because it gives a depth and shadow to pieces from the beginning. When I ask her what advice she would give to budding artists, she says, "Just start painting, don't go to school, just start working. You need to discover your own vision, your own look, your own way of being."

Online source:

Biography from Missoula Art Museum:
Patricia Don Diego graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in art education and was an art educator for many years. Don Diego paints, does wood carving, decorative furniture painting and is an award winning bead artist. She was voted Best Visual Artist in the Bitterroot Valley in a poll by the Ravalli Republic in 2011.

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