By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography by Adam Mitchell
From artist to community arts leader, Angee Montgomery’s career has come full circle as the director of the DeSoto Arts Council.
An artist views life through a different lens, moving through each chapter hopefully as a means to a creative end. When Angee Montgomery put her name in the hat for the executive director position with the DeSoto Arts Council in Hernando, Mississippi, she wasn’t just applying for a job but taking one step closer to the idea of her life’s pursuit.
From a young age, this native Mississippian knew her own heart. Originally from Sardis, Montgomery has worked and lived around Senatobia, Como, north Mississippi and Memphis her entire life so she knows the area well.
“I’ve always wanted to do art.” And so, she did. At 12, she began studying oil painting with the well-known north Mississippi landscape artist Carol Roark, developing her own talents during her adolescent years.
After high school, however, life took an unexpected turn in 2007 when she found herself a young, single mother. Like so many artists faced with the realities of life, she switched gears searching for a practical career path. She enrolled in the Baptist College of Health Sciences sonography program only to discover health care wasn’t her calling. Like earlier in life, Montgomery turned to Roark for guidance.
“I decided I wanted to go to art school and Carol helped me build a portfolio, which in turn landed me a scholarship to the Memphis College of Art.”
When she entered art school, Montgomery knew she wanted to do something different than painting. “I just wanted to try everything I could. There were pottery classes, kilns, printing presses and screen printing among many other classes.” She found she liked to do installation work both in outdoor spaces and interiors. She tried her hand at mold making, body casting and videography.
It would take another five years and a program switch before Montgomery finally earned her degree in fine art from the University of Memphis.
Following graduation, Montgomery found herself in another new work environment that continued to build upon her creative skills. As a pre-press artist for a Memphis printing press and media company, Montgomery had the opportunity to hone her graphic design skills, eventually taking on a position as a senior graphic artist who also recruited interns.
“I enjoyed it and learned a lot. I also traveled to help recruit interns,” says Montgomery. She eventually moved into another position where she learned more about bookkeeping and finances. Despite working in different fields, Montgomery joined the council in 2014 to get involved in the local art scene.
Montgomery comes to the Desoto Arts Council on the heels of former executive director Margaret Yates who retired. She officially began in February, the start of a busy season for the arts council. Since her arrival, the DeSoto Arts Council has held a wine-tasting fundraiser, the Bloomin’ Art event, and Brushes & Blossoms, their first spring festival.
Reserved and thoughtful, Montgomery smiles readily and seems quite at ease despite stepping into the busy position. “I feel like this role is a work-in-progress for me because there is so much to learn. I had the opportunity to spend February shadowing Margaret, and she’s still only a phone call away!”
Since its early days in the late 90s, the DeSoto Arts Council has grown from a collection of friends who wanted to show art together to a full-fledged arts council with a group of enthusiastic volunteers and more than 200 members. Early pioneers like potters Joe Echols and Jim Anderson can still be found creating, working and showing after two decades. Today, artist members can submit to any of the 10 shows or exhibits held throughout the year.
Montgomery believes the council brand is finally maturing but has evolved depending on its location. Once located in “the little house” on the Banks property, the organization then moved into the grand Banks Home itself until the property passed into private hands. Now, the council’s gallery and offices are located on the square in downtown Hernando in a city building, although the DeSoto Arts Council has no affiliation with the City of Hernando.
“Our looks have changed from the upscale elegant Banks house to this new, hip highly visible brick building. It used to be the jail house and there’s still a jail in the basement!” she says.
While Montgomery has plenty of ideas about what she’d like to see happening, her humble nature drives her thinking.
“It’s not up to me but the members. We did a survey and a few of the responses from the community is they’d like to see more classes for children and public art.”
The studio space today invites artists and makers to come “make art” for free. “In the past, DeSoto Arts Council has had artists teaching bonsai, soap carving as a prelude to wood carving, and knitting on our Saturday craft day.”
A decade later, Montgomery has come full circle in her own career, ending up in the arts where she always wanted to be. And whether talking canvas or community, it’s clear she’s already made her mark.