We had the good fortune of connecting with Mary Theresa (Terry) Dietz and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Mary Theresa (Terry), what role has risk played in your life or career?
You might say my whole career as a fine artist was and still is the biggest risk I’ve taken in my life. However, because I took this risk, I have gained so much more. Because being a fine artist is natural for me and something I can’t do without, I’m not even really sure I can call my career a risk I consciously took.

As an artist, I was encouraged, from the time I was very little, first by my parents, then by various mentors along the way, and finally by my husband, Jeff. Jumping in with both feet, therefor, was made easier I am sure.

It has not been easy, especially in financial terms. Many times, as a young woman, I wished I was “normal” and could just pursue a career that would keep me “safe,” but I learned that my career as a fine artist has ultimately been my savior in so many more important ways than financially.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started out as a clay sculptor. I was a teen-ager living with my family in Vermont. I thought about being a potter. I had taken ceramic lessons and my parents took me to visit Bennington Potters in Bennington, VT. I had learned to throw on a wheel (one of the most difficult things I ever learned), but after attending a summer session at Haystack-Hinckley School of Crafts in Hinckley, ME and also studying with Armand Henault (a Vermont clay sculptor), I knew for sure I was to be a clay sculptor. I had some of my work in Gallery 2 in Woodstock, VT and also in a Manhattan gallery. I entered contests and joined an art cooperative in New Hampshire where I put work in many shows. I also entered a number of arts and crafts shows in the area. I regularly sold pieces in these venues and so had begun my career as a professional artist.

During this period I moved to Hanover, NH. I continued to sell work, but it was not enough to live on. I worked part time at menial jobs, hospital house-keeper, waiting on table, and assistant cook in a cafeteria. It wasn’t easy. I rented a room in a rooming house and I went through periods of hunger, but in the seventies it was easier to live on a part time job, even one paying minimum wage or one mostly relying on tips. I held onto only working part time so I could devote time to my true vocation. My mother had taught me that it was no sin to be poor. She told me to expect to be poor as a fine artist and so I was prepared. My last job in Hanover was as an assistant cook to a Chinese cook fresh from Hong Kong. She was difficult to get along with at first, but we eventually became fast friends. She was a good boss, always paying me more than minimum wage and giving me regular raises without my asking. I was able to save some money.

After living in Hanover for three years, I had the strong urge to get out of New England to a place unlike any I had experienced before. At the suggestion of a friend I knew from Dartmouth College, I moved to Tucson and found just that. Tucson, and the surrounding area, was like a different planet to me. After an initial period as a cowgirl at his family’s ranch and other little adventures, my savings were stretched thin. I began looking to settle down on my own in Tucson. Things were about to get a lot harder. I began the first of a long line of menial, minimum wage jobs. After a couple of years, I had no choice but to find full time work, as it was impossible to live on a part time job. I lived in seven different cheap apartments in the first two years. However, I continued my clay sculpture, taking my pieces to various craft fairs and galleries. I had met Jeff Panther (my future husband) at that first job and we eventually moved in together, sharing expenses.

Jeff drew and painted wonderful, expressive works. This and the explosion of color all around us in the southwest, made me want to learn to paint. I watched Jeff painting and began trying my hand at it. With Jeff’s help and many false starts, I started to paint figures and still lifes in acrylic at first and then oils. I found I really loved working in color, but I liked the immediacy of drawing better than painting with a brush. I had used pastels in the past in life-drawing, etcetera, but I wanted something with bolder colors. I tried oil pastels which were bolder, but since the oil in them never dries, I had to use fixatives and /or frame my pieces under glass. The fixatives often discolored the works and framing was expensive. None-the-less, during the eighties, I did a number of works in the surrealist mode with figures and some animals and I did portraits too. I entered contests and showed in cafés, galleries, store windows, and the Main Library downtown. I started associating more with other Tucson artists and musicians and showing in one-person shows as well as group shows. I also went back to sculpture, only instead of firing clay, I used papier-mâché clay. That way I could make large pieces and paint them and not worry about firing or breakage.

Oil pastels still weren’t really what I was looking for, so I put my mind to learning to paint in oils the traditional way. I continued doing portraits and figures. I added plein air painting. I called them “Tucson Townscapes.” I started selling more, finding collectors, and getting my name out there. This continued through the nineties and to the beginning of the new century, when I started to get tired of what I was doing. At about this time, I saw the Ed Harris movie, “Pollock” and thought, “Why don’t I paint anything I want? I don’t have to be bound by what I see alone. I can paint what’s in my mind only.”

I thought abstraction was probably the purest form of painting, but I wasn’t ready to give up subject matter altogether. I found it useful for instilling emotion and I did really like rendering.

I began a period of putting animals in abstracted and imaginary settings. At around this turning point, I discovered oil sticks which are oil paint in stick form. You draw with them instead of using a brush. This is what I was looking for back in the eighties. I had to experiment and find the right brands, etcetera, but I eventually developed a definitive style that people recognized. I had to continue working outside of my art habit and at this point I started a new career as a vet tech. In 2005, I got my first studio. I tried my hand at teaching my oil stick method. I taught community classes at Pima College for a few years and workshops at Womankraft where I still teach. I later added classes in my studio. I experimented more with different media, including monotype printing. After reading a number of books and looking at a lot of encaustic paintings, I tried it out myself and added it to my repertoire. I found out this paint works really well on my papier-mâché sculpture. My papier-mâché clay type and brand changed a lot through the years. Now I make my own using an online recipe. I also make my own encaustic paints. I have made my own oil sticks, but prefer buying them. I watch a lot of art related YouTube videos for all manner of ideas.

Recently, starting last year, I have really been getting into purely abstract painting. I had done the occasional abstract before, but now I am really delving into it in a big way. I was able to retire from my vet tech job last year and now have enough free time to take my time in all I do. Perhaps this newfound freedom is being translated into my new work, but I think I just had to experience a lot and work up to this new way of creating. I recently entered several of my new abstracts into a juried show in Phoenix and one large one got in.

I have learned, throughout the years that I have a need to do art. If I don’t do it regularly, I start on a road to depression that, if not halted, will lead deeper and deeper to a place where the desire to do art is destroyed. Yet, the only way back is to do art. I have learned that many experiences contribute to the creative life. I think of my creativity as a great gift – better than money. This is a good thing because I never learned how to live off my art alone. I tried, but I failed in that regard. I have come to a point where, now and then, I come across a few people I have never met before, who know who I am. There is a fantastic art community in Tucson where I have a strong network of artist support, recently including lots of young people. This gives me hope and I am buoyed up when a work of mine touches someone in a profound way. That is all I need now.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My husband, Jeff, and I are proud of Tucson being famous for Tucson style Mexican food, so we take newcomers to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. Many times it is Crossroads at 2602 S 4th Ave. Their food is always delicious and so are their margaritas. They also feature live mariachi music on the weekends.

We may head to Barrio Brewing for refreshing and delicious locally brewed beer and a variety of choices for food. They are located at 800 E 16th St right at a Union Pacific railroad crossing. If the train stops there, beers are a dollar off for as long as it remains stopped.

For a great view of the city, a trip to the top of “A” Mountain is in order. Of course a day spent at Saguaro National Park, ending at Gates Pass to watch the sun set is a must, as is a climb, by car, to Windy Point and maybe on up to the top of Mt. Lemmon, Summer Haven.

If there is time for traveling outside of Tucson, a drive to San Xavier del Bac, 1950 W San Xavier Rd is a uniquely southwestern experience and for more beautiful desert vistas, we travel on to Texas Canyon or maybe to Bisbee for the day.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Right from my beginning, my parents encouraged my interest in art and when I say, “beginning” I mean it quite literally. Because of this I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. During every step of the way, my parents steered me toward that goal. I was born in San Francisco and we lived near there across the bay where as a small child, I went to art classes at Pixie Park. It was there I first worked with clay. When I was seven, my family moved to Woodstock, Vermont where I took ceramics lessons at the local recreation center. The teacher, Betty Kodess, became my mentor and after I graduated from High school, I stayed on as an assistant to her for a little while. We communicated for many years after I moved to New Hampshire and then left New England for Tucson.

During my years in New England, I had another mentor, Mitch Hagar, a local fine artist and good friend of my parents, who worked as a commercial artist for a greeting card company for a living, but who was also a fine artist doing plein air painting and print-making. Mr. Hagar took me and my art very seriously and sent me postcards and letters about the art he encountered on his trips to Europe and closer to home. He critiqued my work and gave me advice about art in general and living as an artist. We kept in contact after I left Vermont until he was tragically killed in a car accident a couple of years later.

While I was still in school, my parents introduced me to a clay sculptor, Armand Henault, who lived in Quechee, Vermont, near Woodstock. Though he told them he didn’t usually take students, he made an exception for me on the basis of some clay work my parents had shown him. He had a studio with a big gas kiln where he created large hand built strange and whimsical animals. It was there I learned to go against traditional ideas of working with clay. I knew for sure after that, that I wanted to be a sculptor and not a potter. I had toyed with the idea of being a potter, but soon realized I just naturally gravitated toward hand-building.

In the summer of 1977 I moved to Tucson on a whim. I was itching to get out of New England to somewhere really different. A friend of mine, Mark Holt, suggested Tucson, where his family lived and also had a ranch about fifty miles Northwest of Tucson. He said I could stay at the ranch and see how I like Arizona. I took advantage of a Greyhound Bus special – go anywhere in the US for $75.00. I visited New York City and New Jersey on the way and then continued across the country to Tucson.

I got what I wanted, as Tucson was like a different planet to me. I learned to ride horses and was a cowgirl at the ranch until I found an apartment in Tucson. I got a job as a server at a drugstore with a lunch counter near the University of Arizona School of Music where I met my future husband, Jeff Panther who was a student there. Tucson was so full of color – color everywhere – compared to the green and white pallet of New England. For the first time, I really got into color and so I wanted to learn to paint. Jeff was already a painter as well as a trumpet player in the Tucson Symphony. He taught me some principles of painting and I dug in learning to paint. Throughout it all, Jeff has helped and encouraged me all the way to this day.

Website: www.mtdietz.com

Instagram: dietz3431

Facebook: facebook.com/marytheresadietz

Image Credits
Jeffery Panther

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