KEENE VALLEY - If you are passing through Keene Valley on State Route 73 some day this month, you're bound to notice the Rivermede Farm store.
From the road, it is highly visible, bright and beautiful, a happy celebration of spring, with its stands of potted plants and flowery hanging baskets. While the bright display might look as if it had spontaneously come together, appearances are deceiving. Unbeknownst to the casual observer, there is planning, design, method and yes, artistry, at work here.
It is because of the machinations of Diane Brown that passengers shout to the driver "Stop the car!"
Diane Brown (Photo — Martha Allen)
Brown is the artist who for the last 10 years has arranged the rustic farm stand and store interior, the one who created the signage in paints and in chalks of every color (we want to see that blackboard back, by the way), the person who has piled the pumpkins, hung the balsam wreaths and generally established and maintained the look of the place. She is most visible as the manager of the farm store; but her work there does not by any means encompass the full extent of her talent.
Brown was born and raised in Boston, one of six children, each born a year apart.
"My mother was a saint," she said.
While her family may not entirely understand her work, she declares "I have the best mother. She is proud of me!"
After high school, Brown continued her education, starting at the New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University in Boston. Next, she took night classes at the Rhode Island School of Design, and then, back to Boston, to attend the Massachusetts College of Art. Finally, she was able to transfer to Parsons University in New York City, which, she said, had been her first choice all along. During her sojourn at Parsons, she stayed at the YMCA, 16 blocks from school.
"I was too poor to go out," she said.
For this reason, Brown stayed in her room and studied and consequently got straight As.
During her 11 years of continuing education, Brown studied fine arts, architecture, interior design, package design, graphic design and color as a science.
"I wanted to be a perpetual student," she said.
Instead, Brown married, had two sons, Jesse and Wyatt, and traveled. She lived in Atlanta, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Palm Springs and the Carolinas before moving to Keene in 2001.
In her various locations, Brown worked in the decorative arts as a painter of murals, furniture, floor cloths and glassware.
"I guess I could paint anything on anything," she mused.
Fat notebooks of photographs of work done for customers are a testament to this versatility. Stylized designs, animals, insects and flowers, painted in bright acrylics, cover the pages.
"It wasn't until I came here that I began painting on canvas," Brown said. "Now I'm into oil. I paint landscapes. ... I want to be more serious about my art."
No longer married, her boys grown and out of the nest, Brown enjoys spending time in her studio in Keene Valley. Inside the small building, a work-in-progress stands on the easel, flanked by a big glass jar of brushes and a paint rag daubed with green and blue that looks like a work of art in its own right. Oil paintings on canvas line a shelf behind the easel, most of them landscapes. I want to take a photograph of one I particularly like, a scene with grouped leafy trees, but Brown looks askance at this canvas and won't give permission.
"I keep changing that one. I'm not happy with it," she said.
Through the camera lens, the room - with the artist in it - is a picture in itself, a bright and happy scene that looks exactly the way a studio should look. Due, once again, to the talent and design sense of Diane Brown. Watch for Diane's artwork on the official poster, soon to be released, for this summer's Keene Valley Library Benefit.