Diane Falkenhagen, Studio Jewelry Artist & Professor at Alvin Community College
By Elisabeth Lanier
Did you go to school for that?
As a matter of fact, I have a formal academic background in art. I received my BFA from North Texas State University (now called The University of North Texas, College of Visual Arts And Design), where I also started graduate work and did some teaching. Later, I transferred to the University of Houston where I received my MFA. Since then I’ve stayed pretty close to the academic art world, teaching at various colleges and universities over the years including Galveston College, Houston Community College and the University of Houston. My current teaching ‘home’ is Alvin Community College where we have a great studio and offer credit and non-credit jewelry making and metalsmithing classes. Next to making art, teaching is my second passion. One reason it’s so rewarding is that I am continually learning and growing because of it!
Where do you get your ideas?
I’m glad you asked about ideas because one thing that differentiates ‘art jewelry’ from other types of jewelry (such as designer jewelry or fashion jewelry), is that it originates from an idea – meaning it has some sort of intellectual content, as opposed to being purely ornamental. The value of an art jewelry piece is aligned more with artistic expression and aesthetics than with the intrinsic value of materials used. Inspiration for my one-of-a-kind work comes from a variety of sources: historical painting; classical sculpture; historical styles of ornament; architecture and architectural embellishment; historical jewelry forms; iconography; and my own history of ideas as they develop; accumulate; merge and diverge.
How long does that take?
Most of the time I don’t want to know! Of course, with my production and limited-edition work, which is more design and retail-oriented, I do know the time involved — to the minute in fact. But that is only because labor is a key pricing component. Otherwise, when I’m making a one-of-a-kind piece, I don’t count the minutes, hours, days or months. That would only hinder my artistic freedom and ruin the pleasurable experience of creating, which for me is the greatest benefit of being an artist.
There are a lot of stereotypes, but I can honestly say that I know a lot of artists and none of them are starving. Seriously though, I believe an artist is someone who expresses ideas in innovative ways. There are many kinds of artists and many levels of art making. To me, to be a – I hesitate to use the word “professional” because it implies so many things, so I’ll say “serious”— to be a serious artist means your life is predominately defined by your artistic pursuits and vice versa. In my own experiences as a visual artist, I often feel like I am also an inventor, engineer and sometimes even a poet!
How would you describe your own work?
I work in several veins: There is my production and limited-edition work, which is comprised of jewelry design inspired by nature. This collection of work is reminiscent of natural forms such as twigs and seed pods. It pays allegiance to elegance and wearability and is designed to appeal to a broad audience.
Then there is my one-of-a-kind, mixed media art jewelry. In this ever-evolving practice, I often combine two-dimensional or low-relief pictorial space with three-dimensional jewelry forms. That is to say, pictures form the central visual and conceptual elements of my fabricated brooches, lockets, neckpieces and other jewelry forms. My diminutive pictorial expressions are either invented or borrowed from art historical sources. I use a variety of art materials and techniques to create the images that are chosen for their emotional and intellectual impact as well as their aesthetic value. The fabricated jewelry forms that support and contain the images are contemporary yet suggestive of historical styles of ornament. They are primarily fabricated from metal, but often incorporate more eclectic materials. They are characterized by strong symmetry and bold scale.
Why do you make art?
I can’t help myself! That sounds silly but it’s pretty accurate. Art making is something I have to do. There is an inexplicable drive – one I think most artists have, to conceive ideas then manifest them in objects we make.
Why do you think art is important in today’s culture?
Art does so many things: It keeps us grounded. It celebrates beauty. It reflects our humanity and reminds us of our mortality. It connects us to nature. It represents our individualism. It links us to our past. It innovates for our future. I could go on and on and on…
Are you from here originally? If not, why did you choose Galveston Island?
I was born and raised in Galveston but lived away for many years because of my husband’s work. When we had the opportunity to move back to the states after residencies in Brazil, Alaska and England, we chose to make the island our home once again. I have always been very proud of Galveston for its diversity, history, natural beauty and its arts community – and the water – we love being near the water, weather hazards and all!
What are the special opportunities and/or challenges of making art in Galveston Island?
I don’t see any challenges really, at least not in a negative sense. The island is perfect for a non-stressful, artistic lifestyle and there are endless sources of inspiration for all types of artists. Furthermore, there’s strong community support for the arts, plenty of galleries, a year-round tourist and second-home retail client base. The Galveston Arts Center keeps us all connected locally, and the proximity to Houston makes it easy to connect to other artists and to get any art materials one could possibly need.
This feature was created to bring our readers’ attention to the professional artists who live and work on or around Galveston Island. Recorded by Elisabeth Lanier, these interviews hope to demystify some of the misconceptions and myths surrounding art and artists. Lanier is an interior designer and space planner who, with her husband, Steve, is co-owner of DesignWorks gallery and interior design studio, at 2119A Postoffice Street in historic downtown Galveston. She can be reached at 409-766-7599.