MDWFP’s Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
STAFF SPOTLIGHT: SAM BEIBERS
Sam blends his artistic talents and love of nature to create amazing, unique experiences for the museum’s visitors.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED FOR THE MUSEUM?
As a full-time employee I began working at the museum about four years ago.
However, from 1988-2013 I worked as a freelance illustrator/designer, mostly doing watercolors, pen and ink, and pencil drawings of Mississippi’s native wildlife and plants.
WHAT’S YOUR WORKDAY LIKE?
The best part of my day IS my day! If there was ever a job meant for a certain type of individual, it’s this job for me. I love animals and I love exhibit design.
How many people actually get to do what they love, especially when it is as specialized as I feel that my job is?
I come in everyday and make sure the traveling exhibit is working correctly.
Then after a maintenance/trouble-shooting “walk-thru” with my coworkers over the rest of the museum, I settle into my list of duties, some of which may take a few hours while some others may take weeks or even years.
My work basically consists of designing for exhibits and promotional materials, illustrative work, copywriting, exhibit repair and improvements, and coordinating two traveling exhibits per year, with each one bringing from one to four 18-wheeler loads of items to assemble for each exhibit.
One gratifying aspect of my job is that I get to work with research biologists, educators, grounds and maintenance employees, administrators, gift shop workers, volunteers, and have occasional visits with our visitors.
My coworkers are amazing folks. They have always been generous in helping with traveling exhibits, loading, unloading, assembling, and disassembling. Even though it is often exhausting, it’s really a great time being around them and discovering their talents.
ANY FUNNY WORK STORIES?
The true stories that occur here are many, varied, and often funny. Humor is always, yes always, knocking on the door either subtly or blasting its way through.
These researchers and educators are so smart and cunning, even when they are working their bums off on something serious, the humor comes through.
One story I remember was during a Christmas Bird Count about four years ago. Several of us from the museum went out on a cold and misty, late December, Saturday morning. At one point we were at Ross Barnett Reservoir and we were counting Hooded Mergansers that were on the water maybe 300 feet offshore. Later in the day one of the less experienced birders of our party spotted more Mergansers and yelled, “Look! More Ebenezers!”
About fifteen years previous to that, I was out with David Watts and Dr. Bob Jones. I tried to sound like a Barred Owl calling – but I didn’t sound like one at all! After laughing their heads off, David said, “Sam, I think you scared off all of the owls, but two vultures just landed in that tree.”
WOULD YOU SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
I received my AA at Northwest Jr. College, my BFA at Delta State University, and my MFA at Mississippi College. I also took some classes in theology and missions at Wesley Biblical Seminary.
Although college provided and prepared me for many aspects of life, it was my boyhood that started steering me in some sort of direction.
I was born in Memphis in 1957 and grew up in Northwest Mississippi between Walls and Horn Lake, just about a half-mile south of the Tennessee state line.
To grow up in the country with the culture of Memphis basically a stone’s throw away was a great experience.
My sister and I romped in the woods with our dogs, rode our horses, pretended to be Indians, made stick huts, and ate blackberries.
My Dad and I hunted squirrels and rabbits. I also worked in the garden a lot, rode and operated the hay mower pulled by Dad’s tractor, and fed the dogs, horses, and chickens.
In Memphis, our parents took us to minor league baseball games, the Brooks Art Museum, classical music concerts, the Pink Palace, Overton Park Zoo, dirt-track stock car races, rodeos, and other neat activities. So, our childhood was rich.
I started drawing somewhere between 2-3 years old, by copying my mother’s art as she drew horses. My drawings were crude and primitive, but I enjoyed doing it … even on the walls (oops!)
On the first day of first grade, I went to school with a brand new Blue Horse primary tablet, a fat pencil, and a brand new box of 8 Crayola crayons.
We were supposed to be learning how to draw circles and lines, but after getting bored of that stuff I started drawing animals, faces, tractors, whatever came into my head. School seemed GREAT!
Then my teacher came by, looked at what I was doing, flipped through my tablet and saw that I had drawn on every single page. Then, she rapped my knuckles with a ruler. After that, she and I got along great, and she gave me opportunities to draw also. All kids like to draw, I just never stopped!
As a teenager, I became interested in birds while feeding the horses in the winter months. Little birds hung around to nab any stray grains the horses dropped. One afternoon after putting a few scoops of sweet feed in the horse troughs, I noticed an open knot hole in the side of the barn.
I sprinkled sweet feed on a fence post and board that were just on the other side of the knot hole. Then, I pulled up the collar of my coat, wore socks on my hands to keep them warm, sat on a bale of hay, and watched the birds eating the grain. They were only inches from my eye! And I watched them many afternoons until it was too dark to see.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS CAREER?
One reason I chose art was because I started out majoring, unsuccessfully, in Wildlife Biology at NWJC.
In Chemistry I eked out a D, but in Trigonometry after about four weeks, my average was below 30.
So, I soon changed over to art which I was interested in enough to do my required work and got enough encouragement from my professors and parents to keep at it.
Even during school I always had a job, sometimes part-time, sometimes full. After graduating from DSU, I worked in lumber retail, upholstery retail, as a dish washer and cook in Colorado, I finally got a graphic design job at Mississippi Educational Television. I think I was 23 years old.
It was at ETV where I “married art,” but didn’t “fall in love” with it until a few months later, thanks to my boss. He was a cranky grouch, but he was also really funny, and I admired and liked him very much. His own work habits of getting up early to paint every morning, going to work, then painting more when he got home, showed me that whatever you are doing, you can still find time to do what you love.
In 1983 while working at ETV, I contacted MDWFP’s Mississippi Museum of Natural Science – which was on Jefferson St. near the fair grounds – to see if I could borrow a taxidermied animal to draw from. Mr. Gandy, the director at the time, sent me to Libby Hartfield who graciously lent me a woodcock that I took home and drew several times.
In 1986, I was hired by the MS Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks as art director of the department and Mississippi Outdoors. Around this same time I started getting to know some of the folks at the museum. I only worked at Wildlife for a couple of years, but started freelancing for them and the museum for many years thereafter.
Bill Quisenberry, Jack Herring, and Libby kept me busy for a long time. Bob Jones spent many hours helping me identify species and finding jars of salamanders and endangered fish that I could work from. He and Paul Hartfield also provided me with endangered fresh water mussels to work from.
I helped with newsletters, logos, exhibit illustrations, brochures, posters, collecting dogwood branches for a bird exhibit, etc. In the early 2000s, Charles Knight, who was about to become assistant director, hired me to design several outdoor signs for the nature trail here at the new museum, and I also helped with the Shumard Oak Tree exhibit, and the Ice-Age Sloth exhibit.
HOW DOES YOUR JOB CONTRIBUTE TO CONSERVATION?
No matter what area of work we are in, we can contribute to conservation.
My job as an exhibits designer allows me to help educate others.
3-dimensional exhibits design is the museum’s main vehicle for the clear and effective communication of ideas. So, when we have a certain message we want to get across, it is important to choose the best way to do so.
Sometimes the “take away” we want the visitor to get is a message simple enough to translate through a small case that describes a single specimen and its importance.
For more complex ideas that include the representation of multiple species, processes, and depth of knowledge, it may be worthwhile to design an interactive exhibit that leads the viewer through a logical series of “roads,” “stops,” and “rests” that take them as shallowly or deeply as they have time to explore.
Through studying the natural world around us, whether urban or rural, we learn.
Through visual design, we learn about the natural world and are able to share the information with other people.
ANY ADVICE FOR A STUDENT INTERESTED IN AN ART, BIOLOGY, OR MUSEUM CAREER?
Yes. Get out there and get started. Education is good, but it is also important to develop a strong work ethic and show up every day at the drawing page, at the lab, or wherever.
Begin your science education right now in your own backyard or looking for life under the bricks of the city.
Meet people, particularly in the fields that interest you. Get to know them.
Study the arts, visit museums, read the classics, watch birds. Be curious just because, if nothing else, it’s a lot of fun.
Draw in your sketchbook everyday. It’s only paper, who cares if most of your drawings are crummy? Just keep doing it. That’s how you improve.
Keep a sketchbook at your home, one in your car, and one at your job. Even abstract artists are inspired by nature. So, study nature.
Whatever you do, work hard at it, and be open enough to fall in love with it.