SAA’s 58th Annual At The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art!
By Rachelle Siegrist
Wow . . . I can’t believe it’s already been a week ago that Wes and I were kayaking and snorkeling amongst the beautiful clear springs in Crystal River, FL! I’ll be sharing amazing photos and stories from our two awesome days enjoyed there next week, but this week it’s all about the Society of Animal Artists’ exciting opening for the 58th Annual Art & The Animal Exhibition at the gorgeous James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, FL. Wes and I spent our first morning in sunny St. Petersburg at nearby Sawgrass Lake Park, where we were delighted to see numerous birds. A highlight of our walk around the boardwalk trails, was getting to watch an immature gallinule eating the delicate lavender petals off the hyacinths. Walking up to the blossoms, it pulled off individual flowers, swallowing it whole, appearing to quickly suck down the entire blossom in mere seconds! Having never seen them do that before, this was a real treat indeed!
We were also thrilled to see a couple of alligators, turtles, and snakes while walking above the water soaked marsh areas below the tree lined boardwalk, and through the oak hammock.
A gator soaks up the sun and a Striped Mud Turtle
Back at the hotel that afternoon, I enjoyed the first of many delightful swims in the hotel pool located on the 7th floor. Surrounded by palm trees while floating in the warm water, it felt like a personal oasis, and instantly became a daily highlight for this water baby!
Later that afternoon, Wes and I manned the check-in for artists just arriving for the weekend festivities, and it was great seeing the numerous smiling faces of artist friends once again! That evening we all enjoyed a meet and greet party, filling the air with lots of conversation and laughter as we ate. A favorite of the meal was the potato bar, where one filled a large martini glass with mashed potatoes and topped them from an assortment of delicious toppings, and it was as much fun to look at and make, as it was to eat!
The next morning everyone headed in different directions to enjoy some sightseeing, birding and the likes. Of course Melinda and I enjoyed another relaxing swim in the pool that afternoon, and were joined by a few others as well. That evening the group enjoyed participating in a trivia game, where questions about the SAA were asked by Wes, granting points to the groups with the correct answer. The team that won received a great prize of having their jury fees waved for next years exhibition! Friday morning while Wes was working at the museum, fellow artist Millie and I went for a walk along the water. With clear blue skies above accompanied by a lovely ocean breeze, we enjoyed sightseeing in the area, while watching and photographing numerous birds!
We greatly enjoyed watching a beautiful egret eat sand fleas off the seawall. It was obviously one of his favorite buffet restaurants, as he was grabbing them at lightening speed with his long narrow beak, one right after another! We also watched as a crow removed several items from a garbage can in a park, and laughed when this squirrel seized a perfect opportunity to lick a little container clean!
We walked for a long ways while enjoying the view of the water and numerous birds, and came upon a palm tree arboretum, which was quite impressive, showcasing hundreds of palm trees from all around the world. Needless to say, being a lover of palm trees I was in heaven! We made it back to the hotel in time for another relaxing swim in the pool before I headed over to the museum to take part in an SAA presentation about artists in residency programs. I spoke about our wonderful experience while doing a residency at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum last fall. Afterwards the audience enjoyed seeing an SAA presentation called “How I Got My Start” featuring photos of a group of artists from childhood throughout their career, including Wes and myself.
That evening we were all in for a royal treat at the James Museum and were completely blown away by this fabulous museum and their southern hospitality! Emily and the staff were all so friendly, making the artist feel very special and so welcomed from the moment we stepped in the door!
Upon entering the angled, stone-faced building, we were greeted with several large bronze sculptures, with this piece below being my favorite! Behind it was a waterfall which changed water patterns every so often making it even more impressive and fun to view!
Everywhere we turned we saw amazing art and stunning architecture, with large stone lined rooms and hallways, making you feel as if you were walking through canyons. Not only was it a stunning building and exhibition venue housing a delightful staff, but the food we enjoyed during the artist reception was fabulous as well!
After dinner, we headed upstairs to the gallery where the SAA exhibition was beautifully arranged! The docents were extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the museum and its art, including our show as well, making our experience even more impressive.
Saturday was filled with multiple demonstrations by different SAA artists and the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve graciously treated us with being able to sketch and photograph two of their gorgeous resident owls, which they brought to the museum.
That evening we attended the awards banquet at the museum, and upon walking in were greeted by tables covered in gold linens topped with an arrangements of bright yellow flowers and sand-filled glass containers, holding an assortment of paint brushes. As we talked, we enjoyed scrumptious fare once again! Then came the moment Wes and I, as well as many others, have been waiting quite sometime for. Our very dear artist friend Janet Heaton, thought she had been asked to attend the dinner to announce Wes as the new executive director for the SAA, not knowing that the real reason was to present her with the SAA’s Bott-Borghi-Branson Animal Artist “Legacy Award, which is a great honor! As you can imagine she was totally surprised and speechless!
Then came time to present the award winners for this years show, and I was totally surprised and thrilled when my name was called for one of the Awards of Excellence!!!
Following the awards presentation, came the “Little Gems” swap, where each artist brings a small piece of art and draws a number corresponding to another piece of art, so that everyone goes home with a new piece of art. I must say I was thrilled to get Pokey Park’s bronze of a large salamander which looks like the hellbenders we have here in the Smokies, and for Wes to receive Bryce Petit’s bronze sea turtle! Needless to say I left the delightful event with a big smile on my face!
Wes and me ~ Diane, me, Janet and Wes
Wes and I would like to extend a BIG heartfelt Thank You to the James Museum and to Emily and the rest of the delightful staff for making this such an amazing weekend for the SAA!
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Until next time . . .