Friday, February 1, 2019

Get To Know The SAA Board & Staff

Insights Into Current SAA Leadership ~ Part I

~ Reneé Bemis ~

     Reneé Bemis lives in St. Charles, Illinois and has been an SAA Signature Member since 1991. She is the current SAA President and a Distinguished Signature Member. Reneé started working as a professional sculptor in the late 1980s.  Something important she has learned in her life is to "pivot" and that "change" is exciting. She started out with aspirations of being a professional golfer after having gone to college on a full golf scholarship, and for a few years after college stayed an amateur, but played in some professional events, including two U.S. Opens. Reneé was a member of the golf team representing the USA in Israel for the Maccabiah Games, where she won the gold medal! Her first pivot, was when she realized she wasn't going to turn professional and started playing in clay.  She began creating subjects she was extremely familiar with, and being an avid fisherman, her first sculpture was of a Marlin. Upon walking into a store that sold marine goods, she asked to speak to the owner and proceeded to sell her first piece while it was still in clay. Reneé never looked back, and over the last 30 years she has had the honor of working with some of the most amazing people, which have enriched her life and she cherishes all of those moments.  

She has proudly served on the SAA board since the mid 90s, having served as the Treasurer for a long time, until  being asked and humbly accepting to be the SAA President in 2014. She absolutely loves working with the diverse group of the most creative artists, which she has enjoyed getting to know, and for those which she has not had the pleasure of meeting, she looks forward to meeting you sometime in the near future!  Reneé’s second pivot was in 2012, when she and her husband started a distillery in Baraboo, Wisconsin in conjunction with their other occupations. They create hand crafted spirits, bourbon, rye, vodkas, gins, brandy and a few specialty barrels, having over 5000 barrels aging in their rick houses and are considered one of the top five craft distilleries outside of Kentucky. They are also very proud to be a sustainable distillery, grain to glass and back to farm, recycling 100% of the water and spent grains that go into making their spirits. Last year, their distillery was #316 on the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies in the country as well as #280 on Entrepreneur’s 360 best privately-owned businesses in America.

Reneé loves fishing with her husband Brian

~ Brent Langley ~

      Brent lives in Edwardsville, Illinois and has been an SAA Signature Member since 2008.  He currently serves as the SAA Secretary.  He grew up in Wichita, Kansas, part of the "Great American Desert" as it was called in the 19th century, when the fertile, biologically diverse prairie looked very unappealing to European and east coast migrants who were used to cooler, moist climates.  But as a young boy with interests in art and nature, the surviving prairie ecosystem, especially a nearby undeveloped flood-control canal with water for ducks and geese, grassland with meadowlarks and dickcissels, and cottonwood groves for woodpeckers and orioles, was very appealing.  

As Brent grew older, exposure to the works of Louis Fuertes and Walter Weber provided a level of excellence to strive for.  But art remained a hobby until he retired from a career with the U.S. Government and, assisted by seminars with John Seerey-Lester, Paco Young, and Robert Bateman, began a second career as a wildlife artist.  Now he and his wife/best friend/best art critic/birder par excellence Barbara Scott, travel to natural areas throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world where they gather reference material for paintings.  Brent is honored to be a member of one of the world's great art institutions, the Society of Animal Artists.  His goal is to produce works of art that remind us of the beauty and diversity of life on this planet, and that it will hopefully instill the desire to preserve it.  

Brent with his wife Barb, in Denali National Park

~ Bob Mason ~ 

     Bob Mason lives in Berthoud, Colorado and is a non-artist SAA Board Member, providing financial counsel to the Board as the SAA Chief Financial Officer. He has an MBA in Finance and worked for several corporations as a business manager, audit manager, technology manager and telecommunications director before retiring in 2001. Bob’s first exposure to the SAA was when his wife, Diane, became a signature member in 2002.  Bob went to his first annual exhibition opening weekend with Diane in 2003 at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, where he fell in love with the organization and its members. When Diane joined the board in 2004, Bob would accompany her to the board meetings at the Salmagundi Club in New York and occasionally provide support to the SAA Administrator during the meetings. 

When Diane was asked to run for the SAA President in 2008, one of her requirements was the New York office be closed and the business operations moved to Colorado. This was when Bob became immersed into the running of the SAA. He took over the duties of the Administrator and began the process of computerizing most of the operations. He also started to take on more duties previously performed by the President so, after two years, Diane was able to get back to her art. Prior to that the SAA President pretty much gave up their career during their tenure. At that time, the Administrator’s position was retitled to Executive Director to better represent the functions being performed. When Reneé Bemis agreed to take over the top job from Diane, her only stipulation was Bob continue as Executive Director so there would be a smooth transition of leadership. After 10 years of serving as Executive Director, Bob was ready to retire for the second time and turned the reins over to Wes Siegrist, who made the conversion seamless.  Bob says he has truly enjoyed all of his experiences with the SAA and as a result has made so many life-long friends all over the world, and he hopes to meet and add more friends in the coming years.  Bob now has more time to read, mostly historical fiction or just plain fiction for fun, and take afternoon naps with his furry kids Herschel, Lucy and Ace. He also enjoys wildlife photography, with plenty of subjects right around their home.

Bob hiking south of Lake Tahoe in California

~ Diane Mason ~

     Diane Mason lives in Berthoud, CO and has been an SAA Signature Member since 2003.  She has served the SAA in a variety of roles including past President.  She is currently one of the SAA’s Vice-Presidents and serves as the SAA Treasurer. Diane grew up in the country, in the Chain-of-Lakes region of northern Illinois, where her family always had animals including ducks, chickens, dogs, a lamb, etc. as pets. They raised baby birds that had fallen out of trees, baby squirrels, and even a raccoon!  Diane didn’t like dolls, and when people would give her one as a gift, she'd take off the doll clothes and put them on her chickens, that were very tolerant. Her father was an avid hunter and fisherman, and she'd sit with him while he cleaned the ducks and pheasants, and he'd hand her the heads, feet, and wings to study.  Her sister and she would also dissect things like fish and mud puppies on the picnic table in the back yard, just to see what they looked like inside.  Diane loved to draw and would draw the animals around her and the boats out on the lake. They had a stable across the road, which for a few years was owned by a little traveling circus.  When the circus wasn't on the road, they'd go across the street and watch the Asian Elephants get their baths in the afternoons. They’d also hitch up the zebras to a circus cart and drive them up and down the road. 

With no available art instruction in school, Diane never had that opportunity to improve her skills, but was certainly immersed in the world of animals from her earliest years.  She feels that’s what ignited her desire to study animal behavior (ethology) in college, and to explore the medium of scratchboard on her own, in her late 20’s, as well as seeing a lion by Sally Maxwell at an art show.  After discovering sculpture in the mid-1990’s, Diane’s life really took another dramatic turn.  She discovered Loveland, CO and once she and husband Bob moved there from Minnesota, she really immersed herself in taking workshops with sculptors she admired, with most of them being SAA members, although she didn’t know it at the time. Once Diane started casting her work and participating in art shows, her world started to expand in ways she never dreamed.  She joined the SAA in 2002, becoming a Board Member in 2004, and since then she and Bob’s lives become richer, with their ‘extended family’ expanding with each passing year.  Their home is filled with the work of many of their SAA friends, and the connection continues to bring daily inspiration. Diane LOVES her fellow members and wakes up every morning grateful for the chance to create, live in their Colorado wonderland, and to have her art connections to such a wonderful group of talented artists who are also passionate about animals.

Diane atop Mt. Evans in Colorado 
 ~ Jan Martin McGuire ~ 

     Jan Martin McGuire lives in Tanzania, Africa and has been an SAA Signature Member since 1994.  Jan has served on the SAA Board in the past and is a Distinguished Signature Member.  She currently serves on the SAA staff as the Social Media Chair for Facebook. Most everyone knows of her love affair with Africa. It captured her heart and soul immediately when she first went in 1997. She has tried to go back every year since then, however that just fueled her desire to be there, instead of quenching it. 

Jan's husband James, a nature photographer, and she finally decided that they weren't getting any younger, and if they wanted to live in Africa, it was time to make that decision. So, they put their house on the market, had an estate sale and moved to Tanzania. They chose Tanzania because they have friends there, and James speaks Swahili, not fluently but enough to get by. So they moved, and currently live on the slopes of Mount Meru, which is a close neighbor of Mount Kilimanjaro. Jan has a saying... "When writing the story of your life, don't let someone else hold the pen".

Painting in the field in Tanzania

~ Terry Miller ~

     Terry Miller lives in Takoma Park, Maryland and has been a Signature Member of the SAA since 1993.  He is also a Distinguished Signature Member and currently serves the SAA as the head of the Exhibition Committee. Terry attended art school after High School, thinking maybe he’d become the next Picasso, while splashing paint on canvas or trying his hand at clay. Neither seemed to be fulfilling, so after graduating from art school, he worked as an architectural draftsman in New York City, with no plans of becoming a professional artist.  Then one day in 1972, while standing on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater in northern Tanzania, contemplating what excitement was about to unfold during the descent into the crater, a spark ignited that took another six months to fully flare up. Six months after returning from the first of seven subsequent trips to the African continent, he picked up a pencil and made a few scratches on a sheet of drawing paper, and the rest is history.

Twenty years later, Terry returned to school, got a teaching degree and spent a decade working in Special Education, while also selling ladies shoes at Macy’s.  Then he drew a few pictures, which received a positive response at his first large-scale group, animal-themed art show, and he became a member of the SAA.  Over the nearly three decades which Terry has been a professional artist, he continues to spend time in the field, studying, learning and attempting to hone his skills with pencil and paper. When Terry's not in the studio sitting at the drawing board, he's thinking about being in the studio and sitting at the drawing board! On the ever increasingly rare occasions when he's not doing or thinking about art, he enjoys listening to good music of all kinds from a CD library of currently over 3500 discs.  He also enjoys puttering in the yard, while stopping to watch birds at the feeders, visiting museum exhibitions to study works by favorite masters, and feeling like he's making a positive contribution to decisions that will benefit the membership of the SAA by being a Board Member.

Terry in Yellowstone National Park

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 ~ Rachelle Siegrist for the SAA

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