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Professional painter and art teacher Diane Tesler died peacefully in her home in Kewanna, Indiana, in the company of family on August 21, 2023. Born Diane Elaine Becker on April 5, 1944, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, she was the eldest of the four children of Helen Berg and Howard Becker. She spent her early childhood in Erie, Pennsylvania, until the family relocated to Louisville, Kentucky.
Diane’s creative spark was evident early, and she pursued this passion in college, majoring in art education at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Following her graduation, she moved to Washington, DC, where she married and worked for the US government in education. After the birth of her first child in 1969, she moved to the Hawaiian island of O’ahu, where her painting career began.
In Hawaii, Diane was drawn to the quality of the light and a compelling subject: the abandoned cars scattered around the island—familiar battered faces in an unfamiliar landscape. Overcoming an initial hesitation, one day she went out into a junkyard with a sketchbook and her now two children in tow. What she found there remained a constant in her work throughout her life: the power of light to reveal form, and the beauty of the discarded. In Hawaii, she won her first of many awards, including a Best in Show from the Association of Honolulu Artists.
After relocating to Virginia in 1973, Diane joined the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, where she became a very popular painting instructor at the Art League School. Connecting with a community of local artists and the museum resources of Washington, DC, proved enormously enriching. She expanded the scale of her work and range of subjects and continued to learn what was important to her. One was that oil paint was flexible and infinitely responsive—it would be her favored medium for the long haul. Another was that the search for balance, albeit precarious and temporary, was embedded in every mark she made on a canvas.
In the late summer of 1986, Diane accompanied a friend on a short painting trip to the Kewanna/Grass Creek area of northern Indiana. Within the space of several days, she fell in love with the open skies and austere beauty of the landscape. These vistas, along with the abandoned houses found hidden in the fields of corn and soybeans, brought her back every summer to gather as much material as possible to tide her over for the rest of the year.
By 1991, ready to make a larger commitment, she purchased an old house in the small town of Kewanna and used it as her summer home and studio. This made it possible to work for longer periods of time in the field and develop friendships with people in the area. Some of them found their way into her paintings.
Once Diane set up her summer residence in Kewanna, students came from around the country to learn from her in the field and in the studio, where she would set up masterful still-life compositions and offer insightful critiques. After a long day of teaching and learning, she and her students would retire to her house, where she would cook them dinner and they would talk late into the evening.
Wearing blue or black jeans, a T-shirt, and a visor (always a visor), Diane was to become a common sight in and around Kewanna and beyond, perched on a stool behind a large canvas on the edge of a field or junkyard—or even working from inside her trusty minivan when the weather turned too cold—capturing the expressive potential of houses, barns, and cars in various states of abandonment and decay.
Diane’s love of old buildings led her to acquire several, including Kewanna’s IOOF Lodge Hall, which she used as a studio and event space, the former Masonic Hall, which was used as studio, classroom, and exhibition space, a 1920’s bungalow slated to be demolished for a parking lot, which became the guest quarters for her visiting students, and a Baptist church, also likely to be demolished, that she turned into The HeArtery, a nonprofit community and arts center that hosts weekly yoga classes, concerts, and gatherings.
In addition to saving old buildings, Diane breathed new life into Kewanna by hosting an annual two-day art show, beginning in 1998, that provided a venue for local artists to show and share their work. This event became so popular that it could be counted on to temporarily double the town’s population.
In 2012, after commuting back and forth from Virginia to Indiana for over 20 years, Diane pulled up stakes and moved to Kewanna full time, to live and work in the world she loved to paint.
Although in declining health since 2020, Diane continued to enjoy drawing daily, good food, and the company of her family and friends. She will be remembered for her always-helpful, always-generous teaching style (“Have you considered…”), her humor, her drive and inexhaustible energy—always on the move, always doing—and her humility, despite the genius of her artwork. The wisdom and inspiration she shared with her students endures in their ongoing work, while her own large body of work, featured during her life in many solo and group exhibitions, lives on in private and public collections around the country.
Diane is survived by her siblings, B.B. St. Roman, Karen Cooper, and Kathleen Becker; her son Ted Tesler, daughter-in-law Lisa Tesler, and grandchildren Aaron, Emmett, and Zab Tesler; her daughter Pearl Tesler and daughter-in-law Thea Gray—and many, many artist friends and students.
After a private burial, a gathering for Diane will be held at her studio on 101 E. Main Street in Kewanna on Sunday, August 27, from 3 to 5 pm.
Donations may be made in Diane’s memory to The HeARTery, the nonprofit art and community space she founded with friends.
Rans Funeral Homes & Crematory, Metzger Chapel is honored to assist the family with arrangements.