In Memoriam: Diane Dorigan

The first time I met Diane, she was interviewing me for a job. I remember thinking that Diane was really nice. I ended up getting that job, and over the years working with and being mentored by Diane, I found out I was wrong — Diane was not nice.

Diane was passionate, talented and thoughtful. She cared deeply for students. Caring about politics, art, animals, justice, and education, she was well-read and curious, proudly a life-long learner. She cared about her friends and family and lived her words with action, whether it meant standing up for someone, raising her own awareness, advocating for those being marginalized, or volunteering time and expertise to make a difference in her community. Diane was quiet about herself, and a cheerleader for others.

Diane’s work is reflective of her personality — subtle, skilled, complex, intelligent and beautiful. Her work was constantly evolving and improving – she pushed herself, always engaged in making work, looking at work, staying involved in her studio work professionally. A photographer, painter, scientific illustrator and printmaker, she explored media and techniques, attended workshops, got involved in studios and of course, the GNSI.

Diane was a learner. She would periodically take a class to learn a new printmaking technique or a new medium to add to her already impressive arsenal of skills. Sometimes she would take a class on a subject she already excelled at — watercolor, perhaps — because she was interested in learning from a new person and seeing the subject from another perspective. She modeled for students and colleagues what it meant to pursue a passion with dedication and intent. She showed us that art was important and rewarding and could be woven into a purposeful and potent daily life.

The best kind of teacher, she was steeped in her subject matter, thoughtful, compassionate, profoundly generous, and passionate about learning. If you knew Diane, chances are you attended a class or lecture together at some point, and she probably gave you an article to read, post-it notes included. Diane loved to learn and she loved to share knowledge with others, through teaching, but also through her involvement in studios and professional organizations. She taught us that activism, as well as self-expression through art and education, could be powerful and empowering.

Diane with two of her works in group exhibit put on by the gnsi great lakes chapter in april of 2016, at the brushwood center at ryerson woods in riverwoods, il.  Photo © karen johnson

> Diane Dorigan with two of her works in a GNSI-Great Lakes chapter exhibit. April of 2016, at the Brushwood Center in Riverwoods, IL.  Photo by Karen Johnson.

Often, teachers or artists with big personalities receive a lot of accolades and time in the spotlight, but Diane didn’t really seem to want accolades or the spotlight. She wanted to share art with people. Diane connected with kids in a meaningful way through art and learning that had a profound impact on generations of high school students that came through her classroom door. Kids that returned year after year to visit her and thank her for opening up a world to them that became their life and often, their livelihood. Colleagues, like myself, who were guided and mentored by Diane so generously, benefiting from her willingness to share her time and knowledge. Her willingness to share a passion with others and watch a spark ignite for someone else. 

Diane’s legacy is one that will live on through the thousands of students and colleagues and friends that she touched along the way, who will pass on her love of art and learn through our own interactions. Her legacy will continue through the body of work she created in scientific illustration, printmaking, photography, book and paper, painting, drawing and more. Nice? Yes, Diane was lovely.

I hope you find a moment — quiet or lively, outside in nature or in the studio, or whatever rings true for your friendship with her — where you can remember and smile and raise a glass of wine in a toast to Diane.


This article appears in the Journal of Natural Science Illustration 2017, number 3.

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