I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website
each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
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The sculptor and her legendary subject, Pete Johnson
By Barry Schrader.................................October
Renee Bemis has been sculpting for some 20 years but Peter
Johnson has to be her most handsome individual subject. She agreed
with my assessment, but of course most of her major works have
been generic people figures, animals and fish.
wanted to find out how she got the image of him to look remarkably
lifelike, so I met her and Pete at the Sycamore High School football
field statue a few days after its Oct. 8 dedication.
uses an ancient process called the lost wax method to create
her masterpieces. To capture Petes likeness she took several
close-up photos of his face, nose, eyes, ears and hands.
Then she had him sit in her studio while she studied
his features before crafting the head and hands. Pete said it
makes him look 50 again, and he is pushing 88.
explained that it takes some 15 steps to convert a sculpture
from the first clay cast into the finished bronze product. This
is her first public statuary in the DeKalb area, but by no means
Some of the bigger monuments she
has crafted include ones outside VA hospitals in both Florida
Currently she is completing the
National War Dog Team Memorial at the new U.S. Army Museum outside
Washington, D.C. Some of her other major works include statuary
at Texas A&M, art for some large hospitals and a cancer
Her path to becoming an artist began in
Palm Beach, Fla., where as a girl she took clay in her hands
and crafted animals and people for fun.
Sculptor Renee Bemis and legendary former Sycamore football
coach Pete Johnson look at the statue Bemis created of Johnson.
(Barry Schrader photo)
However, her first career was as a golfer and she even got as
far as the U.S. Open. But at some point she realized she would
not make it as a pro, so she took a new path in a completely
As she states on her
website, www.sculpturesgallery.com, work (sculpting) for
me is not a job; its my passion.
success can be seen in the long list of awards and exhibitions.
It was just a few years ago that she landed in DeKalb County,
married to car dealer Brian Bemis, and now working out of their
home in a spacious new studio.
Pete was still
basking in the glory from the dedication of the life-size sculpture
where hundreds turned out for the unveiling. Afterward they adjourned
to The Stratford Inn where nearly 400 people gathered.
paying him tribute at the ceremony adjacent to the high school
football field included emcee Jerry Henderson, Bud Trapp, Bert
Fredrick, Mike Maveus and Chuck Criswell. Jerry and another former
Sycamore High athlete Ray Larson, also present that night, were
his team co-captains the first year he coached there in 1951.
Trapp was quarterback the second year of Petes
career at Sycamore, and Fredrick was quarterback on one of his
eight undefeated teams. Criswell is a success story who went
through Petes vocational education co-op program.
among those in attendance was Chicago Bears board chairman George
McCaskey and his wife. Pete said the McCaskey family has been
very good to him and his wife, Charlotte, by inviting them to
their private box for Bears games several times.
the Stratford later that night, other players like Norm Racine
and Bob Hill, sung his praises. Hill even composed a lengthy
poem read aloud in his honor. I asked Pete what could be next
for him he holds the record for the most winning seasons
in a row at Sycamore, has had a book written about him, and now
a statue erected in his honor. He thought for a moment and then
said: Turning 88 on Nov. 18, thats something I can
look forward to.
I imagine the post office
will have to add a second mail truck on his route that week to
cart all those birthday cards to his door. He is truly a living
The columnist can be reached via email at :
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PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115