Dancing Her Way Into Owning A Gallery

It once was said “the art one chooses to collect becomes a self-portrait.” Visit the West Millcreek home of Diana Hopkins Denniston, owner of D’ Hopkins Denniston Gallery of Fine Art, and the self-portrait you see is eclectic. It is modern and traditional. It is landscape paintings, photographs, tile mosaics, and glasswork. It is African and American. But it is all about tasteful choices made by a woman who lets the art speak to her.

“I buy art that I love and that I feel. It is the same advice I give to people who come into my gallery. Art is an expression of a journey of that artist. I want that journey to speak to me,” Denniston says.

Denniston’s journey in the arts didn’t start with an interest in paint and canvas but with ballet slippers and song lyrics. Growing up in Philadelphia, she studied dance and voice, eventually moving to Pittsburgh where she received a BFA in dance from Point Park University.

While having a strong connection to the arts grew in Denniston, her Bahamian parents didn’t see it as a sustainable career path.

“My father said ‘I had to have a real job,’” Denniston says.

So her teen and colleges years were also spent working in dentistry. A family friend who had a dental practice trained her to become a dental assistant. Denniston thought, like Herbie in “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer,” that maybe she wanted to become a dentist.

“I had time pinning down what I wanted to do. I worked my way through college as a dental assistant. I always did dentistry but the pull of the arts was too strong,” she says.

It was her time living in Pittsburgh that the fine arts also became a passion. She bought her first real piece of art, which still hangs in her Millcreek living room, when the people who had rented the place before her started moving out.

“As I was moving in, I thought it was beautiful piece and asked them how much it was. I wound up buying it at a reasonable price,” she says. As Denniston made money performing, she began buying more art.

“I started buying pieces to decorate since I love interior design. I always liked to have a nice place, “ she says. However, Denniston says her purchases quickly became less about the decorative aspects and more about the art and how it spoke to her.

Denniston moved to Erie about 20 years ago as a pharmaceutical consultant. A successful sales year sent her to Australia as a company reward. It was there the seeds of owning a gallery were planted. She visited a gallery owned by an Aborigine.

“At that time, I wasn’t thinking ‘gallery owner’ even though I loved going into them,” she says. “I met this owner and he shared his culture and his experience being a gallerist. That was a great experience. You never know why people are going to come into your life.”

The experience made her recall that, while living in Pittsburgh, her neighbor retired from his job in the steel industry to open his own gallery.

“I didn’t think anything of it at the time but he always shared with me how much work went into the gallery. Again, this happened earlier on in my life and I never thought about it until now. Maybe it was preparing me for what I am doing right now,” she says.

A success in sales, she married her husband Baron, a local physician, and together began raising a blended family of three children. The idea of opening her own art gallery started taking shape.

“Sometimes you never know how things will pan out in life,” Denniston says. “I was always building, controlling and managing business (as a pharmaceutical consultant) which lead to the business of owning and operating a gallery.”

In 2012, D’ Hopkins Denniston Gallery of Fine Art opened in downtown Erie, next to the Erie Playhouse. It features two floors of art in a setting that rivals any “big city” gallery. The art, like what is found in Denniston’s home, is eclectic and tasteful. She carries the work of international artists as well as many local artists.

“Erie art scene is so vibrant. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without the art scene. We have a lot of talent here. I keep my doors open and always looking for talented artists, “ she says.

Denniston says she wants to earn a Masters degree in Fine Art. She believes that art can not only enrich a person’s life but heal it as well. Her dream is to make the gallery as helping with the health of the Erie community.

“I am interested in offering art therapy. We don’t have anyone yet to do it but I believe as it become more widely accepted and used, we could offer it here at the gallery — bringing health, healing and the arts together,” she says.

Denniston also believes that Erie has a potential to grow with the help of artists and galleries like hers. She encourages diversity in the art she choses and says that it is diversity that can improve Erie both artistically and economically.

“I believe I was meant to be doing what I am doing. You know how you know deep down that you were meant for something? It is a power than is even stronger than art. The art is there but hopefully it is a vehicle for me to do other things that improve in this community, “ she says.