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Natural Awakenings Tucson

A Natural Born Artist: Mary Theresa Dietz

May 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Suzie Agrillo

Saturday Night at the End of the Road Café by Theresa Dietz

A visual artist and storyteller, Mary Theresa “Terry” Dietz was born with a passion for art. In her earliest memories, art shined through like a magical oasis of joy. She thinks of art as being something everyone should try, as a meditation for the psyche and a tonic for life’s woes. Over time, her obsession with art has only grown. “Art saves me,” she says.

Largely self-taught, Dietz had two mentors growing up, her clay teacher, Betty Kodess, and a painter, Mitch Hager. Both mentors kept up with her after she graduated. Also, her parents, especially her mother, encouraged her, praised her efforts and offered constructive criticism.
Dietz attended Haystack Hinkley School of Arts and Crafts the summer she graduated from High School. It was there that she discovered she liked sculpture and hand-building forms rather than throwing on the wheel. She also took lessons from a local clay sculptor, Armand Henault.

While Dietz started her career in sculpture, she is always trying new things and never stops learning. People admire the color, whimsy and humor in her artistic style. Though she has always liked trying new media, every 15 or so years, her subject matter and style changes. Lately, from doing almost exclusively animals, she has been adding more figurative and abstract work.

Raised in the northeast, she moved to Tucson from New Hampshire in 1977. Dietz initially wasn’t sure she liked living in Tucson because “I missed grass,” she reveals. She grew to love it and now feels a real connection to the desert. “I do love the monsoons,” she emotes. Her studio is located at the Steinfeld Warehouse, in the heart of downtown Tucson.

Q & A with Artist Terry Dietz

What medium(s) do you use for your art?
I use a wide variety of media, including oil sticks (oil paint in stick form) as well as tube oils, encaustics (hot wax paint), cold wax and paper-maché clay. Right now, I’m using acrylics for a base, using plastic bags for textural effects and then casein paint over that. For masks and sculpture, encaustic paint works best.

Which artists influenced you?
As part of my self-education, I studied books about the masters, devouring everything I could find about them. I remember loving Van Gogh and Rembrandt. DaVinci and Michelangelo were favorites, as well as the impressionists. When I was studying Diego Rivera, I came across paintings by his wife, Frida Kahlo. I liked her art better but could only find a couple of photos of her art back then. Wow! Times have changed!

Later I got into German Expressionism, which is still a favorite of mine. Paula Modersohn Becker is one I tell everyone about, since she is still relatively obscure, and she should be right up there with the rest. Munch is a favorite of mine along with Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and many more.

How does your husband assist you in pursuing your art career?
I met my husband, Jeff Panther, shortly after moving to Tucson. He is a composer now, but back then he also did visual art. Tucson is so full of color, I really wanted to learn to paint. I watched Jeff paint and took pointers from him. He has always been supportive of me and my art career. Another thing he excels at is producing names for my works.

What is your artistic philosophy?
I think of art as being something everyone should try. Without art, life wouldn’t be as vibrant, meaningful or livable. Art saves me.

What is the most challenging thing about being an artist?
Finances. I’ve always had to have a job outside of my art career because I never could earn a full living as an artist.

Speaking of finances, where can people buy your art?
You can visit my studio in the Steinfeld Warehouse on every First Saturday Art Walk or by appointment. I also have work at Art House Centro, Solar Culture and Benarda Veterinary Hospital. Get on my email list for current gallery shows.

You can also see my art as it progresses on Instagram. Write or call me. I even have flexible payment plans if you can’t pay all at once.

How would you describe yourself in five words or less?
Enthusiastic, silly, but serious, positive.

What advice do you have for aspiring amateur artists?
Keep on working. Never stop. Follow your heart. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Start locally. Get on art email lists, enter competitions and get your art in shows wherever you can, so your name will be recognized.

How would you like your work to be remembered?
Wonderful to look at over and over again. Up-lifting. Mysterious. Arresting and engaging. Memorable.

Do you have a favorite quote on creativity?
“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live only as you can.” - Neil Gaiman

What book is on your nightstand now?
In a Sunburned Country, a travel book by Bill Bryson about Australia.

Please fill in the blank: I am grateful for…
Art, my family, my husband, friends, pets and my life.

Describe your perfect day.
Sleep as much as I want, commune with my husband and pets, eat lunch, go to my studio. Immerse myself at work in the quiet of the night. Be with my husband and pets. Eat dinner.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you?
Just before turning 70 last January, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I am going to do as much art as I can until I can’t anymore if that day comes. If it does, I’ll start writing, because I also love to write. I like to draft short stories about my art. I wrote a fable about my painting “Raven and the Magic Tree.”

Connect with Mary Theresa “Terry” Dietz at 520-499-8946, [email protected] or find her art on Instagram @dietz3431 or Her studio at Steinfeld Warehouse is located at 101 W 6th S, Tucson.

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson, and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and human connection. Connect at [email protected].