Two Local Women Artists Reach for the Stars

And Those Stars Have Landed in Their Hands

Photo Supplied By The Artists
Story By Christina Heintzelman –

“Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman

Harrisburg is filled with amazing artists making their mark in our community and beyond. Reina 76 and Dionn Renee both recently exceeded their local recognition and have moved on to national and international renown. They have reached for the stars, and, after much work, those stars have landed in their hands.

Dionn Renee and Reina 76 met six years ago at HMAC and began a friendship. Dionn Renee already having an established following and Reina 76 just beginning to come into her own. Although their stories differ, they both offer compelling narratives and exhibit the strength, patience, and passion necessary to succeed in the creative world.

Along with nine other world-wide contestants, including three from the United States, Dion Renee’s art has been chosen to create theatrical release posters for the movie, The Woman King, based on a true story about the Agojie, an all-female warrior unit that protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey from colonization and the slave trade in the 19th century. The movie was co-produced by and stars Viola Davis, the only African American to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting – Oscar, Primetime Emmy, and Tony Awards. The movie premiered at the International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, in early September 2022 and was released shortly after in the United States.

A friend would often send her info on what was happening in the art world and what kind of art competitions were going on. “I never looked into any of them but when he sent me the info on the poster competition for The Woman King, I decided to go for it. At the time I was studying for my blue belt in kick boxing and learning jiu-jitsu – doing all these strong woman things and I found this contest to speak to who I had become – a whole different person to who I was while growing up as I now have confidence in my physical abilities.” This was the first competition that she ever entered. “It was a global competition – open to everyone on the planet. I wasn’t worried about winning, I just wanted to do the art,” she states.

Within days of her winning the competition her poster rendition was sent all over the world to outlets who would be screening the film. “After I won, it finally began to register with me what I had won…it is mind blowing with Viola Davis mentioning me on social media and different cast members now following me on Instagram. Everything is happening really fast.” She adds that she has also met the Editor in Chief of Ebony Magazine who wants a copy of the poster. “I’ve even spoken on social media with my favorite boxer, Hanna Gabriels, world champion in four weight classes. I want to paint her!”

Dionn Renee started drawing at the age of four at the kitchen table with her mother. But even with this early beginning in art, she went through school with the idea that she would become a doctor – “a cardiologist or anesthesiologist,” she says – adding that she often created her own small sculptures of the human body and its organs, then dissected them so she could study anatomy, not thinking that her work in creating anatomy was really a move forward in her art. It was only when she was voted ‘most artistic’ in her high school and asked by fellow students what art school she was going to attend that she realized she might have a career ahead of her in the field of art. “Up to that point the only career artists I was aware of were dead Europeans,” she laughs. She decided to attend Temple University and graduated with a degree in fine art and graphic design.

Dionn Renee, herself, could be viewed as a warrior, overcoming earlier in life the diagnosis of the auto-immune disease Lupus. “The diagnosis was like a huge obstacle distracting me from life, telling me to try to do everything perfect because I might not be alive too long. The doctors never told me anything because I was a child, but I heard them talk when they thought I was asleep, saying how sick I was and that I would probably only have a short life. I was just 13 years old, and I began thinking in sick-kid ways.”

She states that the illness fueled her into making every act in her life a positive one, so as to have a life that was as full as possible even if it was a short life. She adds that, at that time in her life, “I was seeing more of hospitals than I was of galleries.”

Although Lupus is thought of as a life-long disease, Dionn Renee believes she overcame it through her power of positive thinking. “While in California, I met Davetta Sherwood, a star in the series The Young and the Restless, and when I told her I had Lupus she said, ‘don’t say that – don’t give it words.”

In 1999 she started a series of paintings, The Upgrade Theory, in which she put all her energy into creating works focusing only on her positive feelings regarding her future, understanding that what she truly believed would begin to come true. “I wanted to make my life the best it could be – the diagnosis fueled me into becoming the best I could be… It got me on the road to doing quality stuff. Imagine, if you think you only have a short life span, you want to do everything good that you possibly can. As I got happier and happier, I became less sick and no longer had to take medicine”

Fast forward to 2006. Dionn Renee was reading The Secret, a book by Rhonda Byrne whose message is that positive energy attracts positive things into your life, governs your thinking and actions, enabling you to use the power of positive thinking to achieve anything you can imagine. She feels that by the age of thirty-seven she cured her Lupus through positivity in attitude, creativity, and lifestyle.

Even though this new-found Hollywood fame is a heady thing, it is driving Dionn Renee back to her roots so that she can become a part of her family’s business, Full Circle Music Inc., located in Harrisburg. “My father has a record label, Strait Jacket Records, and along with my cousin owns a radio station, WHBI 93.1 FM. My uncle owns a recording studio, and I own an advertising business. So, we will be a one stop shop for the entertainment industry, and an event destination location for any type of gathering imaginable.”

She then closes, saying, “So many artistic people think of Harrisburg as being a crab in the barrel place – they can’t get out. They are trying to get out, but they don’t have the resources – we are hoping to assist them as part of our goal in helping others.” She invites artists to reach out to her for branding and artistic growth discussions.

Very shortly, Reina 76 will be jetting to the U.S. Embassy in Moldova for an opening of the Art in Embassies exhibition, featuring her work, being exhibited at the residence of Ambassador Kent D. Logsdon in Chisinau, Moldova. Not only will she attend the opening, but she will participate in outreach activities with the arts community in Chisinau.

This came about through a few sources. The Ambassador of Moldova is from Pittsburgh, PA, and he had asked his staff to assist him in finding some PA artists for the Art in the Embassies program. Her art often contains the keystone symbol of PA, and the match was perfect. “I received an email from the embassy and my first reaction was, yeah – this is spam. I didn’t respond and two weeks later I got another email and realized this might be real,” Reina 76 says.

Reina 76 also has a piece of art in the office of Timothy DeFoor, Auditor General of Pennsylvania, which may have also provided a connection to the Ambassador’s office. DeFoor and Reina 76 met at various functions when he was Controller of Dauphin County, and she was donating art for the events. He became a fan of her work, and she created a piece entitled “The Keystone King” for his office. 

In addition, TheBurg did a story about her painting now residing in the Auditor General’s office. “The story ran and Genevieve Fitzgibbon, Deputy Director of Keystone Human Services, came into my studio afterwards and explained to me that they had a contract with Moldova to provide services for disabled Moldovans and she would work toward getting some photos sent to me of my work in the Ambassador’s home and office.” And the rest is history with a bit of synchronicity thrown in.

Reina 76 has aways considered herself an underground or outsider artist, mostly due to style and self-training. She was a graduate of Howard University and worked in Washington D.C. for ten years as a business consultant, working in the hotel industry while involving herself with politics. She realized this was not for her. “It was destroying a part of me and the only way I can explain it was that it felt just like a parasite. I lost my job and my mom suggested that I come back to Harrisburg to regroup. That was about seventeen years ago.”

She came back to a job as a secretary for a Catholic Church, and then moved on to a job with Giant supermarkets, still not making that move to art. She began meeting various artists in the area and attended the first meeting held at Midtown Scholar for the formation of 3rd in The Burg, because of her interest in the developing artistic community.

What moved Reina 76 to art was a domestic violence situation, which hospitalized her. “My emotions were so mixed and at times I didn’t know if I wanted to live or die. A co-worker knew I was suffering.  She bought me a gift certificate to A.C. Moore and told me to get a canvas and start expressing myself through creativity. This is what started the Reina 76 brand and I’ve been painting ever since.”

Both of these artists are fixtures in the Harrisburg art community and can be reached through social media – Dionn Renee, on Facebook at The Dionn Renee Studios, Instagram @dionn_renee and on YouTube. She will also be available at Full Circle Music, Inc. at 2201 Woodlawn Street, Harrisburg.

Reina 76, on Facebook reina76artist, Instagram @reina76artist, her website, at The Millworks in studio 318, and on YouTube.