If it’s an iconic home or business in downtown Fort Wayne, chances are Diane Groenert has painted it.
The Fort Wayne-based artist has garnered much attention over the years for her portraits of West Central homes and downtown establishments. In fact, according to her estimates, she’s captured the beauty of 140 local homes and businesses since 1999.
Speaking of businesses, Groenert is in the business of creating heirlooms. And like any business person, she has processes that help direct her work. Although a naturally creative person, she has adopted a system to help with workflow from the initial inquiry to the final brushstroke.
Once a client has commissioned her for a piece, she sits down and gets to know them on a more personal level. She learns about family members, pets, the history of the home, likes and dislikes, etc. This rapport allows her to project that essence onto the canvas. For example, when she painted West Central resident and Dance Collective Artistic Director Liz Monnier’s home, she made sure to incorporate playful elements, as if the home was “up on its toes and ready to dance,” Groenert says. While portraying the structural aspect of the home, she’s able to incorporate abstract elements by playing with line, color and perspective.
“I attempt to put a bit of the personality of the homeowner into the portrait,” she says regarding her approach.
Her artistic statement on her website says it best: “As I move the images around I consider the stories. Some pieces fall into place before I start painting while others grow into place as the painting is progressing. I paint until I feel I’ve captured the narrative of the home.”
In order to capture that narrative spirit, she takes some photographs of the home or business and then lets the creative energy “roll around” (as she puts it) in her head. She says the piece often becomes more defined the more she dives into it.
That creative process can take up to two months, she says. But it’s worth it to have a piece that can be treasured for a lifetime. Indeed, it can be said nostalgia—particularly Fort Wayne nostalgia—is a key aspect of Groenert’s work. She initially came to Fort Wayne to attend the Division of General and Technical Studies at Indiana University, where she received an associate degree in Commercial Art in 1974.
“When I arrived in Fort Wayne in the 1970s, I was looking around downtown and noticed the historical buildings and thought it would be a good exercise to sketch them.”
Although her medium has changed, her exuberance for the city has remained consistent. Years later she still has a fascination with Fort Wayne and the West Central neighborhood. As an artist, she could live nearly anywhere, but it’s the city’s pace that keeps her here.
Groenert doesn’t have to look far for inspiration as her home/studio is located in West Central, just blocks away from some of the landmarks she’s painted. Cindy’s Diner, JK O’Donnell’s, Columbia Street West, Coney Island and Henry’s Restaurant are among her subjects.
Most of her work is done on a commission basis. Representations of her work are available in many shapes and sizes at Riegel’s Pipe and Tobacco, Visit Fort Wayne and Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory. The Fort Wayne Museum of Art gift shop also sells her reproductions. Look for her work for sale at local art fairs or check out her website at dagroenert.com.