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Nancy Dine, filmmaker and muse of artist Jim Dine, dies at 83

Nancy Dine, a filmmaker whose documentary about her former husband, artist Jim Dine, earned her an Academy Award nomination, died Sept. 6 at a hospital in Manhattan. She was 83.

The cause was complications from lung cancer, said her son, Jeremiah Dine.

In 1958, Nancy and Jim Dine were 21 and 22, and married just a year when they moved to New York City from Ohio. They were immediately swept up in the art scene. Along with Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenburg, and others, Jim Dine was an impish instigator of so-called Happenings, performance art pieces that both rattled and inspired the art world. In one instance, Dine doused himself in paint and pretended to drink it.

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Nancy Dine was his project manager — part hostess, seamstress, aide-de-camp, and audience, whatever was necessary.

She was also his favorite muse, as he went on to make more enduring work, sometimes affixed with objects, mostly tools, and sometimes body parts. Over the many decades of their marriage, Jim Dine made hundreds of drawings and prints of his wife.

“I’ve looked at her a long time,” he told interviewer Charlie Rose in 1996, “but it’s a face that inspired me since I first knew her.”

Nancy Lee Minto was born March 7, 1937, in Cleveland. Her father, Robert Earl Minto, was chief metallurgist and quality control manager at a steel company; her mother, Ann Marie (Garrity) Minto, was a homemaker.

Nancy met Jim Dine at Ohio University, from which they would drive all night to New York City to visit the galleries there. They were eager to leave Ohio.

Once in New York, they dove into the heady downtown scene. Unlike many of their young art peers, the couple were already parents, having had three sons in their 20s. It was Nancy Dine who kept the trains running on time.

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Caustic and witty, she was a formidable personality, a skilled photographer, cook, gardener, and seamstress who for a time made her own clothes. Yet Nancy Dine took on the role of artist’s wife, not the easiest job, with “grace, style, and blinding efficiency,” as Barbara Jakobson, an art collector and a friend to the couple in that era, said in an interview. “Nancy was a brilliant manager of complicated lives.”

When Jim Dine was anointed as a wunderkind, and overwhelmed by his instant fame, Nancy Dine helped him cope. In 1967, with the New York art world “closing in” on him, as Jim Dine put it, they moved to London and into the high bohemia of the era. Mick Jagger once broke up a fight among the Dines’ boys, who liked to play soccer in their townhouse, smashing a few windows as a result.

After four years there, the Dines moved to Putney, Vt., returning to New York in the 1980s. The boys grew up in extraordinary settings, orchestrated by their mother, alongside Picassos, Matisses, and portraits of Nancy, among other work, and were largely left to their own devices as their increasingly nomadic father decamped for Europe for months at a time.

“They treated us like adults,” said Matthew Dine, noting that he and his brothers called their parents by their first names.

In the mid 1990s, Nancy Dine made a trio of short films about her husband. One, “Jim Dine: A Self Portrait on the Walls,” documented his project covering the walls of a German museum with enormous charcoal images, a frenzy of drawing produced in a punishing deadline of six days, that was painted over after the project’s unveiling. It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful film for which she earned an Academy Award nomination for best documentary, short subjects, in 1996.

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Another film, “All About Looking,” captures a class Jim Dine taught in Salzburg, Austria, at which the students also learn a lesson in process and impermanence, as they smudge out the day’s work and draw over it. Stephen Holden, writing about the films in The New York Times, described them together as “a cleareyed portrait of a seasoned fine arts professional in the swim of a successful career.”

When the couple appeared on the “Charlie Rose” show to discuss the film, Jim Dine explained how he had asked his wife to document his work. “It’s been 40 years of my trusting her eyes,” he said, “so who else could do it but the person who knows me better than anyone in the world?”

Nonetheless, Nancy Dine had him sign a release waiving his right to dictate the finished product.

“Nancy was a creative force in her own right,” said Patsy Orlofsky, a textile conservator and historian who, with her late husband, Myron, was a collector of Jim Dine’s work. “She was a stylish, urbane woman. Her sense of aesthetic was original, bohemian, brave.”

In addition to Jeremiah, Matthew, and a third son, Nick, Nancy Dine leaves a brother, Robert Nelson Minto; eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. The Dines separated in 1997 and divorced 10 years later.

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In 2016, after three decades in the West Village loft she had once shared with her ex-husband, Nancy Dine moved to a postwar high rise overlooking Lincoln Center. Nick Dine, a designer, reworked his mother’s new apartment into an eye-popping contemporary show place, with a bright red door, pink Italian furniture, and window frames sheathed in bronze vinyl.

Nancy Dine had jettisoned her old life with gusto, said Nick Dine. “She was fearless about letting go of her stuff,” he said. “It’s one of the pleasures of my life to have made something great for her. I called it her spaceship, which was going to send her to the next realm.”