There’s only a few days left for you to view a special exhibit in UNO’s Criss Library Osborne Family Gallery called "Diane’s Natural Art" - a tribute to the late wife of retired Biology professor Richard Stasiak.
I met Dr. Stasiak at the Library for a tour of Diane's work and asked him to provide me some background on his wife, a Bellevue school teacher, and what inspired her to paint.
As we crossed the threshold into the UNO library's art gallery, which features several dozen paintings, Stasiak's first thoughts turned to the high level of productivity of his wife's passion.
“For every painting you see in here, I’ve got like 5 or 6 more at home,” Stasiak said.
I asked Stasiak which one was his favorite and he pointed to the smallest frame in the center of the exhibit’s west wall - a beautiful winter landscape featuring a small grove of pine trees assembled in a loose row, standing solemnly in the middle of a wind-blown field of fresh snow pack. One tree looks like many of its branches paid the ultimate price in the last heavy snow fall. Purple and pink hues bounce off the sky and off the field of pure white powder.
The image would spring anyone's senses into motion. I begin to smell gingerbread men baking in the oven, and if I listen closely I can even hear sleigh bells off in the distance. It’s a simple landscape really, one you see a thousand times every winter in the Midwest. But Diane could capture it with her paint brush.
Diane Lee Stasiak passed away in 2014, but lived a long and full life. Among her many talents as an artist, she was also adventurer and a scholar. As a couple, Richard and Diane were globetrotters, exploring exotic locations stretching both hemispheres. From African Safaris to Deep Sea Diving, they loved getting out to nature; and these exotic locations became the inspiration for many of Diane’s paintings. But landscapes, wild game, and flowers seem to be her favorite subjects – judging by what’s on display at the exhibit dedicated in her name.
As scholars, Diane and Richard studied what they loved and they also gave it back. Diane taught Jr. High Life Science at Logan Fontenelle Middle School for decades while Dr. Stasiak was a constant fixture in UNO's Biology Department for more than four decades, teaching a wide variety of courses including "Vertebrate and Invertebrate Zoology," "Entomology," "Parasitology," "Fauna of the Great Plains) and "Ecology of Running Water" in addition to general biology. Prior to his retirement, Stasiak even earned an Outstanding Teaching Award last year before retiring from teaching at UNO.
Members of UNO’s Biology Department, knowing of Diane’s talent, contacted the Criss Library last spring to request her art pieces be put on display, posthumously.
“Last year was tough, I lost my wife and my dog,” said Stasiak, speaking of their little all white West Highland Terrier, Carlisle. “He was 16 years old.”
The library’s collection includes a portrait of little Carlisle, who’s likeness is almost perfectly represented by Diane’s mix of grey and white brushstrokes. In some respect, this exhibit is one of Dr. Stasiak’s last opportunities to introduce the world to his wife.
“She was the greatest," he said. "I had the best wife in the world."
For those inclined to purchase art for their home, office, or as a gift - a number of the paintings featured in the exhibit are available for purchase with the proceeds going to a UNO scholarship fund set up by Dr. Stasiak.
After talking with Dr. Stasiak and seeing first hand the passion Diane had for her art - and for the natural world - I would say there are few better ways to take a break from your offices, from researching, or from peparing to start the school year than to visit the world seen through Diane's eyes. Just be sure to do it before the exhibit closes on Friday, Aug. 14.