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Barry Schrader


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 19, 2010

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.
I 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.
She uses an ancient process called the lost wax method to create her masterpieces. To capture Pete’s 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.
She 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 her largest.
Some of the bigger monuments she has crafted include ones outside VA hospitals in both Florida and California.
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 center.
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 different direction.”
As she states on her website, www.sculpturesgallery.com, “work (sculpting) for me is not a job; it’s my passion.”
Her 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.
Speakers 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 Pete’s career at Sycamore, and Fredrick was quarterback on one of his eight undefeated teams. Criswell is a success story who went through Pete’s vocational education co-op program.
Also 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.
At 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, that’s 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 legend.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115