Diane Lundegaard reflects on life through art in latest exhibit
By Melissa Arnold
When Diane Lundegaard set off for college in the 1960s, she took business classes, dreamed of going to France and hoped to build a stable career. Those dreams would ultimately come true, but not in the way she expected.
As Lundegaard marks her 70th birthday, the lifelong artist is looking back on her journey from student to teacher, environmental activist to educator at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery & Aquarium. To celebrate, she’s put together a stunning exhibit from nearly every chapter of her life so far, on display at the Cold Spring Harbor Library now through Sept. 11.
“I had an interest in drawing from the time I was very young. It seemed like a reprieve, and a beautiful thing to enter into,” said the Dix Hills resident. “My mother loved to paint, and with eight children at home, she only truly relaxed when she was painting. That inspired me.”
As a teen, Lundegaard would wander around her Deer Park neighborhood and the surrounding areas with a sketchbook, drawing houses and horses with a ballpoint pen, and the marshes of Babylon in charcoal. She went on to pursue a business degree at Staten Island College, and in 1967 she had the opportunity of a lifetime: a school trip to Paris.
“I didn’t have the money to travel all of France with my friends, so instead I stayed in Paris for the entire trip,” Lundegaard said. “I spent a lot of the time sketching the cathedrals and statues I could see from the room where I was staying.”
It was also in Paris where she had a chance meeting with a young man from Denmark named Hans who would capture her heart. The pair exchanged letters for several years before marrying in Copenhagen when Lundegaard was just 20.
Later, Lundegaard studied art history, education and social studies at Stony Brook University, where she received both a bachelor’s of fine arts and a master’s degree. She launched a successful writing career covering art as a freelancer in publications including Sunstorm Art Magazine, Newsday and the New York Times, ultimately becoming an art teacher at the East Woods School in Oyster Bay.
Along the way, the educator studied under the new realist painter Bill Beckman and later had the opportunity to study Asian techniques with May Wong Moy, a distinguished brush painter.
Outside of the classroom, she continued to draw and paint but admitted she struggled to find her own personal style of artistic expression.
In 2005, a sudden layoff forced Lundegaard to search for a new career. She found renewed fulfillment in pursuing her other great passion: helping the environment.
Lundegaard first developed an interest in environmental activism when, as a young mother, she grew concerned with plans to build a massive, multitown resource recovery plant adjacent to the former Pilgrim State Hospital. She later became involved with local civic and environmental efforts, including a federal water study.
In 1982, she received the Coastal Barrier Resources Act Commendation from the National Wildlife Federation.
Her commitment to the environment and love of teaching made for a natural fit at the hatchery, where she started working as an educational assistant in 2005.
The hatchery would also provide Lundegaard with the artistic inspiration and unique voice she’d always longed for.
“Working at the hatchery, I got to study pond life up close on a daily basis, and learned to draw and paint what I was seeing,” she said. “I feel that undersea art hasn’t been tapped into fully in the fine art world simply because people don’t often get to see what’s under there, if at all. But the hatchery allows me to visualize aquatic habitats and creatures from a perspective that most people don’t have regularly.”
The Asian technique of painting with a bamboo brush on rice paper works especially well for underwater scenes, the artist said. Her experience with the perils affecting the local environment made painting aquatic life deeply personal and meaningful.
“One of my goals for creating art is to share a concern for protecting aquatic environments. Painting expresses the beauty of nature so well,” she said. “I also hope to touch people’s hearts and make them want to become proactive in helping the environment, even if it’s in small ways. It’s a terrible thing to see people and animals that are suffering because of harm to the environment, and beauty is a wonderful way to open people’s eyes.”
Titled Looking Back, Looking Ahead, A Retrospective of Paintings, the exhibit will feature 39 pieces of Lundegaard’s artwork, from childhood scribbles to the cathedrals in Paris and contemporary work from the hatchery.
The Cold Spring Harbor Library has hosted Lundegaard’s work in previous solo and group exhibits, and it is glad to welcome her back, said adult program director Kathy Olsen.
“We like to promote environmental awareness here at the library, so Diane’s exhibit fits well with that goal,” Olsen said. “I took my children to the hatchery many times when they were small. It’s a very interesting place, and we’re pleased that Diane is calling attention to their work. From simple line drawings to colorful, impressionistic paintings, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy.”
A portion of the sales from Lundegaard’s exhibit will benefit the hatchery’s new Turtle Pond area, said hatchery director Steve DeSimone.
“Diane has been such an asset to us here at the hatchery. We are excited to celebrate her and her artwork,” DeSimone said. “ It has been a pleasure to watch how the fish hatchery and aquarium environments have taken on new interpretations through Diane’s beautiful work.”
See Diane Lundegaard’s retrospective exhibit now through Sept. 11 at the Cold Spring Harbor Library, 95 Harbor Road, Cold Spring Harbor. For hours and information, call 631- 692-6820, ext. 202 or visit www.cshlibrary.org. View more of Lundegaard’s artwork at www.lakeartstudiopaintings.com. For information about the hatchery, visit www.cshfishhatchery.org.
All photos courtesy of Diane Lundegaard