Vermont Arts Council

Celebrating Circular Earth

It’s early March. Snow and rain take turns icing the roads as Dianne Shullenberger installs a new show in the Spotlight Gallery. She’s hanging twenty-one sculptures, all constructed with objects found in nature. This is mostly new work; an exhibit Dianne says she enjoyed putting together, “just because of working with something so large.” (She usually builds layered fabric collage.) “The materials were so specific, and that I love.” The materials are rocks, leaves, bark, seeds, and sticks. All but three of the sculptures are round. The rectangular pieces contain circular elements. The whole body of work is called “Circular Earth.”

Forty Years Collecting

Dianne is in Vermont most of the year and on the shores of Lake Michigan in the summer. Outdoor spaces inspire her; time in nature is a priority. She schedules time outside every day either hiking, skiing, or biking. “That is an absolute given, everything else fits around that.” Her art reflects these scenes. She picked gray rocks from the shores of Lake Champlain then embedded those in fabric to form a blue lake. “We looked for rocks with tree patterns in them,” she points out. Acorn tops make a sunflower. Bark depicts a forested landscape. “It’s all about mountains here. In Michigan, it’s all about water.”

detail from “Planet Earth”

Some media appear in more than one piece, but aren’t used the same way. Sticks and seed pods may be halved, quartered, attached from the reverse side, or x-ray cut. Feathers, pods, and grasses are pieced together in different forms—a sunflower, a totem, the planet Earth.

The Process

Dianne has worked as an artist the entire time she has lived in Vermont. “Oh… 43 years now?” She spends time on art every day, but not on a rigid time frame. “I don’t do a schedule by the clock. There’s a range that varies daily. If nothing else, I just go in (the studio) and observe something.” Observing means just looking at a work in progress. She works on one piece at a time; some take months to complete. “If something is not looking quite right, I will pull out other materials and see if something else might come into the equation. It’s almost like a puzzle.”

She doesn’t throw out pieces, she changes them. She reports she often told students there is no such thing as a mistake, but often a window to do something different.”

An Enviable Schedule

“My friends would say that I organize things very well so that everything is done nicely. I don’t like cramming things in.” She shares her secret formula: “You learn the word no.” What does she consistently say yes to? Time in nature, her family, her studio. “It’s a nice balance of things that are important. It is just so important to have easy access to do these things. I have the environment.” This balance comes to her art. “I love what I do. I find when you’re happy doing it, it makes the piece have happiness, and I hope that comes across.”

Dianne with rectangular piece

The happiness does come across. See for yourself. The gallery is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You can meet Dianne at an opening reception Friday, March 11 from 4 to 7 p.m.

“Water Journeys in Art and Poetry” will also be available at the opening. In this collaborative book, images of Shullenberger’s layered fabric collages are paired with a series of poems by Mary Jane Dickerson.

Dianne’s website

–Susan McDowell