By Rebecca S. Cohen
“Here is my muse,” Dianna Shomaker tells visitors, mischievously pointing to a two-
dimensional red-haired figure painted on the concrete floor. The artist has transformed
spilled paint into this accidental companion. She smiles playfully while making the
At 88, Shomaker has a long history of artfully navigating the unexpected twists and
turns of life through her creative impulses. In fact, she attributes her trajectory as an
artist to a doodle she mindlessly scrawled on a notebook cover in high school. It caught
the attention of her art teacher who suggested Shomaker use the design to create the
linocut that would win her a college scholarship to study art at Central Washington
College in Ellensburg, Washington near her home.
The success of that naïve effort was a mystery to Shomaker who, at the time, was
unaware she’d accidentally tapped into the Abstract Expressionist movement about to
dominate the mid-20th-century art world. With little background in art history, her
path became a never-ending, self-directed exploration of a variety of media and
techniques that would enhance and give expression to her intuitive grasp of the
principles of abstraction.
Unable to continue her art studies when the scholarship ran out, Shomaker pivoted to
the practical and became a nursing student at Los Angeles County General Hospital where, true to her ever-present inclination to make art, she created a mural on paper to hang in the children’s ward during her pediatric rotation. While achieving advanced degrees in nursing, a doctorate in anthropology from the University of New Mexico and serving as both the Associate Dean of Nursing and Distance Education and then Director of the UNM Graduate Centers in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, she continued to make and exhibit her paintings and mixed media works and to receive recognition for her efforts. In 2000 she retired from UNM as a professor emeritus and began working full time as a studio artist and community volunteer.
No matter where she was living—Washington state, Texas, Colorado, Germany,
England, Spain or New Mexico—Shomaker sought out teachers through whom she
could advance her understanding of art. Perhaps the most impactful teacher early on
was Ray Cox in San Antonio, who advised her to approach a rough piece of paper with
a kneadable eraser in one hand and a piece of charcoal in the other, and to scribble and erase, turning the paper and then doing it all over again. “Eventually,” she says,
something starts to pop. It takes you out of wanting to do precious things.”
To this day Shomaker begins her daily routine in the studio with that same spirit of
experimentation and wonder. “I [just] set out some sort of substrate and some colors,
and if it turns into something, that’s really good. I’ve always said I’m an intuitive artist.
I’ve painted what I felt.”
When asked how she wants viewers to respond to her efforts, particularly her abstract
paintings, Shomaker responds eagerly. “The only thing I don’t like is when they truly
give it no attention. It’s not for them to figure out what’s going on inside of me, but what
goes on inside of them. Why else would you have art in your house unless it triggered
some emotion inside of you?”
Shomaker’s home is adorned with her own paintings as well as art by friends and
acquaintances. The house is anchored on one end by her meticulously organized studio
and on the other by the former garage, her original studio that now serves as a gallery
for the prolific artist’s production and where her muse lies underfoot.
“Butterflies and Hummingbirds”
Her current work includes oil and acrylic painting as well as monotypes fashioned by
drawing with encaustic cakes—beeswax, pigment and dammar varnish—across a hot
plate, scraping the surface with special tools. She then places paper onto the plate and
rubs the back to transfer the image, creating a monotype or unique image. On occasion
she embellishes these with paint, ink lines or collage. The imagery is most often
abstract, but occasionally features realistic faces and figures, an imaginary cast of
characters that are so full of expression and individuality they appear to have been
drawn from life.
In 2014 Shomaker was named a “Local Treasure” by the Albuquerque Art Business
Association and has received a host of other accolades throughout her art career. It is
therefore no surprise that she is being honored by the Placitas Community Library Art
Committee as its 2023 Legacy Artist.
The library presents a much-deserved retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work from January 7 through February 9 in the Gracie Lee Community Room. The public is welcome to attend a reception for the artist on Friday, January 20 from 5-6:30 during which Shomaker will speak about her art and the way that her creative impulse became an omnipresent thread in the complex tapestry of her life.
The exhibit includes work from private collections as well as pieces available for
purchase, with a percentage of sales benefiting the library.