Diane Thomas Lincoln wasn’t just an artist. Those who knew her best call her a trailblazer.
A business owner and a longtime art instructor, she was a celebrated fixture in the local arts community whose work has been critically acclaimed.
Lincoln died in June of this year at the age of 64. It was a sudden loss that left a void for some of her closest confidants.
On Sunday, her artwork, along with several pieces by her former students, will be on display during a memorial service at the Diver Studio on Commerce Street. It’s a fitting tribute that friends say will celebrate her spirit and showcase the talent she inspired.
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Though a funeral was held for her in Salina immediately after her death, friends wanted to organize a larger gathering that would capture her essence. Along with a large collection of Lincoln’s own works, her former students have been invited to also bring their own pieces as a way to display one of Lincoln’s brightest gifts — her ability to draw out creativity in others.
“She saw within me things that I didn’t see myself,” said Lynda Beck, a former student of Lincoln’s who later became a close friend and colleague. “She led me to those things. She led me to where I could find my own voice. I think that’s something most artists never find.”
Beck praised Lincoln for her keen insight into how to turn creativity into a sustainable profession and for her willingness to share her knowledge. After finishing her master’s of fine arts degree at Wichita State University in 1976, Lincoln and her husband, Gary Lincoln, started their own environmental design firm that focused on historical restorations and liturgical projects. Ornamental and decorative paintings were her specialties, and it was a talent that was largely self-taught.
Eventually, that led to her jumpstarting a 20-hour certificate program at Wichita State University in decorative and ornamental painting and design. From 1990 until her retirement in 2008 from the university, she served as the program director. Beck estimates that 400 to 500 people took advantage of the offering. She was among those who did.
Lincoln soon became a close friend and mentor. Shortly after taking her first class, Beck began working with her and Gary on various restoration and liturgical projects. Gary said that their relationship was emblematic of the creativity and common sense Diane inspired in others. She was a mentor to many in the local arts community and was among the original members of Gallery XII.
“She taught things that other people didn’t think about teaching,” Gary said. “Not only composition, color, etc., but what kind of brushes do you get, what kind of paints are available, what their likelihood of getting a job was after graduation. She laid it all out.”
The collection of Lincoln’s art that will be on display at her memorial service will represent the vast mediums, subjects, and themes she drew upon. Much of her collection is of landscapes, particularly in the Midwest. One famous piece centers on a colorful and serene Native American prayer circle in the midst of the plains. She also did a series of fans with religious and political symbolism as well as several Kabuki-style masks that are intricately and elegantly crafted.
She focused on social justice pieces, too, making what Beck called beautiful renditions of tragic circumstances. Some showed people living in poverty; others highlighted human rights abuses abroad, while others were homages to Holocaust survivors. Gary described her art as being spiritual in nature and said her works showed the connection she had to beliefs and circumstances larger than herself.
“Diane was truly an artist extraordinaire. There was really nothing she didn’t’ do,” Beck said. “All of her art had some direct connection to who she was as a human being. She was so actively involved in peace and social justice causes. Her life was about a better world.”
“She encountered things with her whole soul,” Gary said. “Many of her students asked to bring their works to the service. It’s a nice tribute to see her influence and see what she inspired.”