The Bennett Prize

The Bennetts

Steven Alan Bennett

Steven Bennett

Steven Alan Bennett has spent his professional life leading the legal departments of large, complicated businesses. After stints at several Fortune 100 companies, Bennett retired in September 2015 as executive vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary of USAA, a financial services provider specializing in serving the needs of America’s military. Today, Bennett spends his time collecting art, writing an art blog, producing a podcast and participating in various philanthropic projects.

Steven and his wife, Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt, are art collectors who specialize in realist paintings of women by women. Their collection includes works by some of the most innovative and cutting-edge women working today as well as works done by prominent deceased women artists. The Bennett Collection of Women Realists was featured in the March 2017 issue of American Art Collector, July/August issue of Fine Art Connoisseur and in the May 2019 issue of Beautiful Bizarre.

The Bennetts base their collection on two similar but different beliefs. First, while women painters have produced remarkable work for centuries, they have not received the same degree of acceptance as their male counterparts. This lack of acceptance is demonstrated in a variety of ways -- the number of museum exhibitions and solo shows granted to women, the smaller presence of women on visual fine arts faculties, and the lower prices paid to women artists for their work, among others. These actions have impaired the recognition of these painters and their work and tended to discourage them at the earliest and most critical moments of their artistic careers. As Steven says, “The Guerilla Girls are RIGHT!”

Second, in addition to the gender discrimination that has prevailed against women painters, over the course of time, figurative realism has come to be disfavored in many art schools, universities and galleries, disdained by academics and art establishment professionals whose preference for abstract or conceptual work has led them to ignore or repudiate the realistic depiction of persons or figures.

Bennett and Dr. Melotti Schmidt are also involved in various philanthropic pursuits. Among these, they are avid supporters of the Friends of Kenyan Orphans, a charity which provides food, shelter and K-12 education to orphans in Kenya. In addition, Bennett is a founding trustee of the Center for Thomas More Studies, an advanced studies institute at the University of Dallas. He is also a director on the board of the Studio Incamminati, a realist art school in Philadelphia where he and Elaine sponsor a lecture series, The Bennett-Schmidt Lectures on the Higher Aim of Art.

Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt

Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt

Elaine M. Schmidt, Ed.D. is a lifelong educator who has dedicated her career to providing education for young learners. She has served as a preschool special education teacher, gifted specialist, pre-kindergarten teacher, and elementary and early childhood principal.

Elaine received her doctorate in Leadership and Policy Studies from Temple University in Philadelphia and has worked in or consulted for schools on three continents in countries including England, Israel, Jordan, Palestine and the United States. With a special passion for reaching children living in poverty or born with learning or physical differences, Elaine’s areas of specialization include early childhood education, special needs education, second language learners and at-risk student instruction.

Named the inaugural principal of the Isaacs Early Childhood School, a large, public preschool for special needs students in a Dallas suburb, Elaine collaboratively designed the building, developed the curriculum and assessment tools, and selected and trained the staff. During her tenure, the school grew to become one of the largest public preschools in Texas, at one point consisting of 850 students and 110 staff members. Elaine served as principal until 2013, when she retired to pursue her artistic and philanthropic interests.

She lives with her husband, Steven Alan Bennett, in San Antonio, Texas where they are involved in various cultural and philanthropic pursuits. One held very close to their hearts is an orphanage in Kenya that cares for and educates orphans. Elaine and Steven are co-organizing two art shows in 2021 in conjunction with PoetsArtists, “Iconic” and “Painting the Figure Now IV,”  both of which will be exhibited at Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art and will feature original figurative realist paintings.

In addition, Elaine and Steve are art collectors who specialize in realist paintings of women by women artists. This undertaking has afforded them the opportunity to meet women artists, many of whom struggle with gender bias and discrimination, and to create a collection of paintings of women from all walks of life. The art, but more importantly, these relationships have made their lives richer in countless ways.