Elena Diadenko is an artist, an animal lover, a teacher and a native of Ukraine. A resident of Chicago for more than 30 years, Diadenko uses her talents to teach a traditional form of folk art and raise awareness about the ongoing war in the country where she was born.
In March of last year, Diadenko sold her artwork at the Ukrainian National Museum to benefit the Red Cross in Ukraine — ultimately raising nearly $50,000.
Many works were painted on glass.
Now the artist, a Golden Apple Award-winning teacher, is giving lessons on how to make this traditional form of folk art that first flourished in the 16th century.
“It is a cultural tradition,” Diadenko said. “Basically self-taught artists started to paint on glass in reverse, and the scenes were mostly from the Bible, so you can see a lot of Virgin Marys, icons and saints.”
“A few 100 years later,” Diadenko continued, “a lot of self-taught artists who lived in different villages started to paint on glass in reverse, but their scenes were mostly village scenes, so they would draw peasants, animals, fields and flowers. It was a primitive style of painting, but it looked very nice, very authentic, very bright, and always with a black outline.”
Diadenko still raises money for the war effort, and she has a new cause. Her friend — a parish priest near Kyiv — has been caring for the many animals displaced by the Russian invasion.
“He start picking them up from Eastern regions and start feeding them and giving them medical treatments with his friend, a veterinarian,” Diadenko said. “I asked him, ‘How many cats and dogs did you save?’ I say, ‘100, 200, over 200?’ He told me, ‘After 200, we stopped counting because we were just saving them and saving them.’”
To benefit the animal shelter, she now leads classes on how to make paintings using glass as a canvas.
“My first class had about 23 people,” Diadenko said. “I had a dentist, a journalist, teachers, an accountant — and some of them had no idea how to paint. I told them not to worry. I have a lot of sketches of my own that I gave them because I’m really careful about copyright issues.”
“I’m doing this because I just cannot not do it,” Diadenko continued. “I have to do it to stay sane. It helps me because I feel, like, what’s the point to cry? You have to pull yourself together and think what you can do to help, like a soldier. That’s how I see it.”
Diadenko will teach again at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art on July 21. Classes cost $60 and benefit veterans of the Ukraine War and displaced animals and pets.
Diadenko can be reached at [email protected].