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Idaho Voices

Creating, teaching fill artist’s daily life

Sun., Sept. 20, 2009

Art teacher Diane Rowen Garmire, of Coeur d’Alene, sits with her 1996 acrylic and ink painting she calls “Things Four Told” Tuesday  at Coffee Social in Spokane. (PHOTOS BY JESSE TINSLEY / The Spokesman-Review)
Art teacher Diane Rowen Garmire, of Coeur d’Alene, sits with her 1996 acrylic and ink painting she calls “Things Four Told” Tuesday at Coffee Social in Spokane. (PHOTOS BY JESSE TINSLEY / The Spokesman-Review)

Diane Rowen Garmire is an artist who has fully integrated art into her daily life. Though she is fairly obscure in the art “scene,” she has a captured audience – hundreds of them have been enthralled by her artistic prowess and motivated by her creative energy. A teacher and advocate of the arts in education, Rowen Garmire said, “I don’t know how to teach without art. I don’t know how to be an artist without teaching.”

Rowen Garmire began her artistic journey at age 6, when she broke one of her mother’s crystal goblets and put it back together in the form of a sculpture. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho and then a Master of Arts in teaching from the University of Idaho in 1981.

She has lived in Coeur d’Alene for 34 years, teaching art there for four years and then working in the gifted education program in Post Falls for 11 years. She then worked as an art specialist for Spokane Public Schools for 10 years. In the summers she teaches teachers how to incorporate art into the classroom.

Currently she works with fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in the gifted education program at the Libby Center.

“As a teacher and an artist, I feel an intense responsibility to show my students the awareness I feel in being responsible and thoughtful about our earth,” she said. “In my classroom at Libby Center I try to reuse materials, such as the cardboard from cereal boxes, mint tins, glass beverage bottles, used clothing and fabric. I want my students to see the value in things that have been used up for one purpose and are now ready to serve another in a different functionality.”

When Rowen Garmire isn’t teaching others, she is creating works in her art studio. Her work is playful from the collage paintings of a fluffy crow admiring the striped sock on its “foot” to cats swimming in a fish bowl. She has created an ABC book and an accordion-style book worthy of a museum with its surprising texture and thought provoking images. She also has been working in a sketchbook, filling it with continuing images of people, familiar and sometimes hilarious, standing in line. “It’s funny how unaware they are of others around them.”

Her latest pieces are mixed-media abstract creations, representational of a time, a place or a feeling that begin with a highly textured surface that she makes by bonding thin paper to heavy felt. She then sews over it with random patterns and lines and paints the surface with gesso so it will receive the acrylic mediums she uses. The final pieces are embellished with found objects and appear ancient, like a symbolic language left on cave walls or animal skin.

“ ‘Grand Canyon Spirit’ is a piece that I created after a visit that my husband and I made to the Grand Canyon,” she explained, “I was moved by the entire environment in such a way that I wanted to put all of my emotions and experiences into one painting. In the collage I have representations of the condors I saw flying overhead, the Colorado River, Phantom Ranch, and the deep happiness and power of that place.”

Close to retirement, Rowen Garmire is looking forward to devoting herself fully to art but, she said, “My future will not be complete unless I spend more time as an advocate for the arts in education. I want to help bring all of the arts into a fully integrated curriculum in our schools. Why shouldn’t Spokane have an arts magnet school where the highly creative children can thrive? Because of my own childhood experiences I have thought once or twice about what might have happened if my fifth-grade music teacher would have known and shared my response about music being orange.”

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts. If you know an artist, dancer, actor, musician, photographer, band or singer, contact correspondent Jennifer LaRue by e-mail


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