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Programs: Striving for Excellence

By Holly Henson

On February 19, attendees of the PSA Meeting were treated to a presentation by Nancy Honea and the recent recipients of both Member of Excellence and Member of Merit status.

First, Nancy described in detail the various levels of membership in PSA, and the accreditation process for each level. The five levels of membership are Associate Member, Juried Member, Member of Merit, Member of Excellence, and Honorary Member. Nancy explained that when a member first joins the Society, they become an Associate Member (AM). An Associate Member is eligible to apply for Juried Member (JM) status after meeting two requirements: completion of two years of regular volunteer service and acceptance into three different exhibitions with three different works of art.

After a member has achieved Juried Member status, he or she is eligible to apply for the next two levels of membership, Member of Merit (MM) and Member of Excellence (ME). The process of selecting members for these levels occurs periodically and is awarded by a select jury of three nationally accomplished and respected portrait artists, each with different backgrounds. These three judges use a ten-point grading system for each of 11 categories. The 11 categories, in summary, are draftsmanship and craftsmanship, overall consistency of quality, design, composition, relationship of the individual(s) to other elements in the painting, values, color, treatment of edges, spiritual quality or essence, style, and quality of the digital presentation images. An applicant who receives an overall average score between 7.0 and 8.9 is awarded Member of Merit. An applicant who receives an overall average score between 8.91 and 10 is awarded Member of Excellence. The process is spearheaded by a chairperson, usually the immediate past President. In this round of judging, Michelle Smither served as chairperson and our three remarkable judges were John Howard Sanden, Margaret (Peggy) Baumgertner, and James Tennison.

PSA members who earned Member of Merit status during this process are as follows: Carol  Costello, Cheryl Mann Hardin, Lora Hill, Donna Leonard, Nanybel Salazar, and Katherine Schuber. Members who earned Member of Excellence status are as follows: Melissa Crawford, Carol Baxter Kirby, and Leah Mantini.


Following Nancy’s presentation, many of the artists who achieved Member of Merit or Member of Excellence status during this process shared the images they had included in their portfolio for judging. While the images were projected on a large screen, each artist shared feedback, both positive and negative, from the judges, which was helpful to everyone who aims to improve their own work.

Overall, there were themes that emerged from the presentations. One important topic of discussion was that sometimes judges did not share the same opinion about a specific painting. While one judge may have considered it a strong piece, another may have found it to be weak. This was a lesson in seriously listening to criticism with an aim to improve future work, while also keeping it in perspective. Another overarching theme shared by presenting artists was how important consistency across the body of work was to the judges. They praised work they found to have interesting composition, good body language, and variety in edges. Sensitivity was a very important quality to all the judges. Perhaps the strongest criticism came from John Howard Sanden with regard to smiling subjects. He stressed the importance of using restraint in expressions, not a “garish” or “silly smile.” This led to a useful discussion on how to work with clients who have requested a broad smile in a painted portrait, and tips for helping them look at the goals of a portrait from a more sophisticated perspective. A valuable and inspiring quote from Sanden on this topic was, “Portraiture is not about cuteness. It is about the greatness of the human spirit.”

Photo credit: Vinod Sharma