Tag Archives: Diana Dale

My Mother-in-Law’s Legacy, Part III

What I didn’t realize until after my MIL passed away was that she had painted my first school–McKinley Elementary–where I attended kindergarten. My grandparents lived across the street, and I stayed with them during the day while my parents were at work. Grandma walked me across Emerson Street every morning for school. In this painting you can see my grandparents’ house on the other corner. Sorry that the image below looks a little crooked. There is glass over the painting and I had to angle the camera in order to avoid the glare.

The school is long gone, but the house my grandfather built is still standing. When I was a kid it was white, but then it was gold. Now it’s white again. The gray house on the other side of theirs is also gone. Here is the house today as I saw it in October.

Here’s a little tangent away from my mother-in-law. Although the house looks modest, it was a wonderland to me. I loved every minute I spent there–from the 2nd floor with the 3 bedrooms still preserved as my mother and her siblings had lived in them (complete with books and toys) to the kitchen where my grandmother made homemade doughnuts and delicious farm suppers to the money plants and strawberries growing out back.

My gigantic classroom at McKinley was at the opposite side of the first floor from my grandparents’ house. It had a huge window which opened out to a grassy field. We could walk out through that field and sit under an old thick-trunked tree while the teacher read to us or we played post office. I do wonder sometimes what it is that makes us tear down public buildings that well served generations. Why do we need new?

My MIL’s paintings captured many buildings in Kalamazoo that had new facades put on or were destined to be destroyed. How sweet of her to paint my first school.

P.S. We discovered the painting after Diana passed away, and my husband and I gave it to my mother because it was her school, too!


Filed under Art and Music, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Research and prep for writing

My Mother-in-Law’s Legacy, Part II

Last week I wrote here about my mother-in-law’s painting in New York City in the 40s and 50s. If you haven’t read it, check it out to see samples of the murals of jazz celebrities Diana Dale painted for the Birdland club.

When my husband was in elementary school, his family moved from New York to Michigan.

Here is my MIL standing beside some of her art at the Art Fair at Bronson Park in Kalamazoo.

In Michigan, the subject of her paintings gradually changed. While she still occasionally painted portraits, she began to paint the architecture she found in and around Kalamazoo, Michigan. She also added the surname Castle to her professional name.


The above painting of the A.M. Todd factory was painted just before it was torn down.

In the first year I dated my husband, Diana sat in her “burnt orange” Opel, painting the bank building downtown and the old Monarch paper mill. She was hired to paint local restaurants, restaurant chain stores, and the downtown mall.

Here’s a little aside.  It has to do with my MIL, but it takes a moment to get to that part.  While hubby and I were living in our first house, but before we had kids, I was told I needed to get my impacted wisdom teeth removed. Since I thought the recommended oral surgeon was high on something when I went for a consult, I chose a different one.

Impaction means you need to be “put out” and have the teeth dug out. During the middle of the surgery, suddenly I became conscious and, without yet realizing what was going on, I opened my eyes. You should have seen the look on the doctor’s and assistant’s faces! They were horrified. After quick instructions from the doctor, the assistant ran out to get more medication. Soon I was blissfully out of it again.

But that was just the beginning of a terrible experience. Within a day my face swelled up like a very large jack o’lantern. The swelling didn’t go down for a month. I was on Demerol and began having hallucinations. I woke up  in terror, thinking I was being choked to death by all the long bead and chain necklaces hanging on a rack on my dresser. My two sweet dogs wouldn’t go near me; they were terrified. I soon discovered that men wouldn’t look at me. My neighbor, hubby’s friend, every man whose path I crossed: they glanced at me, looked away with a horrified expression, and then refused to look at me again.

The worst part was that I couldn’t eat at all–for weeks. My face was too swollen. So my great MIL came to my house every day. She stayed with me while hubby was at work, helping me with anything she could Best of all, she made homemade soups and then ran them through the blender so that I could swallow them.

She also doted on my dogs and for many years, she babysat them for a couple of hours a day while hubby and I were at work.  Needless to say, when we adopted our son, she was his first babysitter!


Filed under Art and Music, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Research and prep for writing

My Mother-in-Law’s Legacy, Part I

I frequently find myself missing my mother-in-law. She passed away on my daughter’s 16th birthday, ten years ago.

She was a great MIL–a warm and slightly eccentric and very talkative woman–who didn’t care if my house was clean ;). She went out of her way to be kind to others, especially children and animals.  As a bonus, she was a talented painter.

Although my MIL grew up in Canada, when she was very young, she left for New York City to study at the Art Students League of New York, where she adopted the professional name Diana Dale.

Diana Dale 1947 roof of Art Students League of New York

While living in New York, her favorite subjects were of musical people (Broadway stars and jazz greats) and the people of her neighborhood, such as the Chinese man who ran the laundry she frequented. She hung out in Broadway theatres, painting actors like Katharine Cornell, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, and Ezio Pinza. This image is the best I could manage because the glare from the glass was terrible. It’s Patricia Morison, the star of the original Broadway cast of Kiss Me, Kate.

Patricia Morison Kiss Me Kate original Broadway cast

Patricia Morison Kiss Me Kate original Broadway cast

She also painted celebrities like Duke Ellington on the murals that graced the walls of the Birdland nightclub.

Duke Ellington from "The Birdland Story" Mural by Diana Dale

Duke Ellington from “The Birdland Story”
Mural by Diana Dale

I recently found a line written about her by the uber-famous Walter Winchell: “The Birdland walls are from the easel of Diana Dale, a part- time hatchick there.”Hatchick?! Well, I did know that she was a hatcheck girl and a cigarette girl in the Harlem clubs. Her murals created much of the visual ambiance of the Birdland. 

Billie Holiday from "The Birdland Story" Mural by Diana Dale

Billie Holiday from “The Birdland Story”
Mural by Diana Dale

Here is a photograph I found online of members of Stan Kenton’s band and Count Basie‘s Orchestra. I hope it’s ok to use this photo; I’ve linked to the site it comes from. It was signed to Gabe Baltazar (4th from left).



Notice that the Diana Dale painting on our left behind the men is one of Count Basie. The painting in the center is Dinah Washington. I’m not sure about the right; any ideas? Since the date associated with this photo is 1962, the murals must have stayed with the club until it was closed in 1965 (it has reopened since then).

For awhile, the paintings were in a temporary display at the Smithsonian. In the book The Birdland Story the Birdland murals are described this way:

These murals that you have viewed on the preceeding [sic] pages hang on the walls of the Birdland as a permanent exhibit. We have printed them in this book in answer to the many requests of Birdland patrons who have asked for copies. They are recognized as the finest collection of contemporary drawings of jazz personalities extant.

Jazz and art critics have hailed these works as the finest, therefore, it is with great pride that we have the exclusive privilege of presenting these wonderful copies in “The Birdland Story” to you, the coolest people in this gone world, our patrons and our fans.

All these drawings were conceived, designed and executed by Diana Dale.

Note: “gone” here is jazz slang and means fabulous.

I knew my MIL for thirty years. She painted until almost the end. But she never neglected her family, choosing to lavish them with her time. In a newspaper article about my MIL when my husband and his sister were about 7 and 3, she was asked: “When does a housewife and mother of two lively youngsters find time for painting?”

Miss Dale said that she does most of her painting late at night. She often gets very little sleep, she said, but that doesn’t seem to bother her. As she says, “Nothing worthwhile comes without hard work.”

More to come on my MIL and her work.


Filed under Art and Music, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Research and prep for writing