By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON — Enter the room, and you feel the heat. Suited up with oversized leather gloves and safety glasses, Diane Burrell opens the door to a red hot furnace. She carefully wields a tool to reach into the 1500-degree space and pulls out her latest work in progress — a three-dimensional enamel and metal creation.
Burrell’s eyes twinkle. The 68-year old artist lights up the room with a delighted enthusiasm. The paintings, oil pastels and enamel works of the artist exude color, life and, very purposefully, hope. Burrell’s creative energy flows happily today, but it is informed by an all too personal look at darkness.
Sixteen years ago, Burrell was thriving. She had raised three children and was happily married to her husband Joel. After earning her degree at age 43, she taught in the Daleville schools. She was having the time of her life making art and teaching. She and Joel broke ground on a new house on a lake. Then, in the summer of 1997, it all suddenly fell apart when Burrell suffered a breakdown.
“I hit bottom. It was a disaster,” said Burrell. “I couldn’t think, couldn’t function very well, couldn’t plan. All my strengths were just sapped from me. My brain just stopped.”
The formerly vibrant wife, mom, artist, and teacher lay on the couch while her husband, sons and family laid the bricks on the new house. Family brought meals, packed for her and got her moved. Burrell lay on the couch for three and a half years.
It was long road back for Burrell, but she tenaciously chased her recovery down, and won.
“I pushed and pushed and pushed to come out of it,” said Burrell, who succeeded through her own sheer will and help from a psychiatrist who believed in her.
Today, the Anderson artist is in full stride, with two works currently part of the prestigious Hoosier Salon exhibit in Indianapolis. The rich enamel and metal pieces stand out even among the best of the best with their unique media and form breathed to life by Burrell’s imagination.
The artist’s home studio is a nest of creative process. Here, she paints, solders, cuts metals, sifts enamel powders, fires enamels and more. One side of the room is covered with books. A long metal bench holds bulky, heavy duty gloves, a large trowel, works in progress and two small furnaces.
On another table lays copper, carefully cut into a detailed willow tree. It is destined to become trapped inside a transparent enamel. Here, a roller mill. There a drill press, an acetylene torch, an easel. This woman is prepared to create.
Look for color, sunflowers, trees, people, and sometimes, words, in Burrell’s works. You’ll also spot seeds. Whether it’s in the necklace she’s wearing, in the sunflower painting, or in an abstract enamel work, Burrell deliberately plants the seeds of hope. Hope was one gift that sustained Burrell during her years of mental health challenges. She vividly recalls a moment in the hospital during her breakdown of 1997.
“I totally crashed. Passed out,” recalled Burrell. Then, however, she got up, turned around and approached the window in her hospital gown. She looked through mesh out over the roof of the hospital. She could see her reflection in the window, but then she saw more.
“I saw Jesus’ face on my face. I knew I was going to get well, I just didn’t know how long it was going to take.”
It’s part of Burrell’s mission to give that hope to others who suffer mental health issues.
“I’m very much an advocate for hope for people,” said Burrell.
Nowadays, the artist is careful to listen to her needs, to leave time to stop or slow down, to get extra sleep when she needs it. She continues to share the path with her husband of almost 50 years at her side.
Look for Burrell’s works among the 114 artists selected to be part of the Hoosier Salon 89th Annual Exhibition at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center at 450 W. Ohio St. ,Indianapolis. You’ll also find Burrell’s jewelry and paintings in the At Home with Valerie shop at 982 Logan St. in Noblesville and in other upcoming shows. Burrell’s business, Beneath His Wings, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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If you go: What: Hoosier Salon 89th Annual Exhibition Where: Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis When: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., now through Sept. 28 Admission: $7 adults, $6.50 seniors, $5 youth ages 5 through 17