Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lana Artemoff: Former Insurance Agent by Day, Now Award Winning Artist in Retirement!

This left brain right brain stuff never ceases to amaze me.  Lana Artemoff has one of those brilliant minds --- a woman who could quote detailed insurance code sections and policy provisions in one sentence --- and then later head out to her garden or art studio to become immersed in an astoundingly gorgeous creative endeavor.   Svetlana Artemoff, her professional name in the art community, has become an award-winning artist --- immensely talented, she creates simply beautiful and stunning pieces of art.

I’m going to guess that most readers have had the pleasure of getting to know Lana (formerly of Marina Associates) over the years, so without further ado, I’ll just let you reacquaint yourselves --- and perhaps get to know another side (or two!)  of Lana you never saw before!  Loving wife, mom, grandmother and sister, as well as talented artist, generous volunteer and so much more, enjoy reading about good friend and client, Lana Artemoff.

 Lana visiting Zurich, Switzerland.

You and your sister, Marina Devoulin, have been very important women in my life, Lana. I’ve known you for well over 30 years not only as a mentor and as my own insurance agent, but also as a trusted advisor to many of our mutual clients over the years. How did you and Marina end up working together? Was this a planned career path for you?

Thank you, Lynn…I am flattered that you feel that way.   I always thought how great it was to meet someone like you, someone who shared my work ethic, was excited by the opportunities of providing a professional service and committed to a sense of personal balance.  I was thrilled by our brainstorming sessions.

As for my career, insurance was never my planned path.  I had visions of art, architecture or archeology.  I obviously got stuck in the “A”s!  However, marriage and children changed that game plan.  Reality dictated a need for supplemental income, and I started looking around for options that would fit.  At the time, my sister, Marina, was working at a local insurance agency and put me in touch with another agent who needed some part-time help.  Can you believe that $2.50 an hour was the going rate those days?  I spent almost 10 years at Bernstein, Lovell & Co., learned the ropes, secured my license and was ready in 1977 to join Marina when she bought out her employer and took charge of her own agency.

 Thanksgiving with Mom (now 92!) and family.

Tell us about your childhood --- where did you grow up and what were (and are!) your parents like?
My parents, Julia and Konstantin Grediakin, came to the U.S. in 1947 from Shanghai, China.  They were part of the collateral damage of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Communist takeover in China.  Luckily, they had the vision and ability to find a better path. My dad was an electrical engineer, graduate of the Harbin Polytechnic Institute, and worked for 34+ years in that capacity at PG&E.  Mom kept the home fires burning with exceptional skill.  At her 80th birthday, all of the family accolades focused on how her culinary abilities made us feel loved.  Dad died in 2004 and Mom just celebrated her 92nd birthday this year.  I was born and raised in San Francisco’s Haight/Ashbury district.  Our home was a Victorian, built in 1907, and I can’t go back to that neighborhood without a strong sense of nostalgia. Our family stayed in San Francisco until 1990 when, in search of a bit more sunshine and a reasonable commute, we moved to Sausalito.  In 2005, thanks to the internet and being able to work anywhere in the world (with an internet connection!), we decided to settle in a more peaceful setting in the wine country area surrounding Ukiah.

 Lana, George and friend.

Your husband George had a distinguished career as a San Francisco Fireman. How did you both meet and what was life like as the wife of a firefighter in one of the trickier cities to battle blazes in the world?

I never had a strong identification with being Russian, but it’s something that follows you around like your hair color.  There was always a vibrant Russian-American community in San Francisco.  And so meeting my husband, George, was part of that Russian connection.
Firefighting in San Francisco in those days seemed to me a bit like war.  The firefighters had to be ready 24/7, the bells would ring at each station, citywide, and the responsible company would be out the doors to face who knows what. There were some huge 5-alarm fires, sniper attacks from neighbors, and the overall risk of the job.  It became easier when I knew there was nothing I could do to make it safer or better.  I just had to trust his good sense, ability and the terrific backup of the other members in his company.

Another thing I’ve always admired about Marina Associates is the very family friendly and nurturing nature of the business. I think each of your children (and maybe grandchildren?) have had the opportunity to work in the “family business.” How did you manage to make that possible? What were the challenges and successes that stick most in your mind?

I can’t take any credit for that…Marina was and is the biggest supporter of a family business. She deserves her own spot on that point.  I certainly benefited from and supported the concept that we wanted to balance the needs of family and workplace and welcomed the chance to mentor our own family members whenever possible.  Flex-time was a given in our agency, long before it became a corporate tool.  As for a virtual office and telecommuting, we dreamed of that happening and jumped on the chance that it gave us to be sensible about resources.  Less overhead meant more service to our customers. Less stress on our staff (flex work hours/no long commutes), meant greater dedication to the job.  In some ways, the challenge was to keep us all from working all the time, which is what technology makes possible.  The other challenge was “where can we get the next family member?!?” and wondering if age 5 was too early to start them with filing!  I think the greatest success was that we were able to demonstrate that being an insurance broker was a career worthy of their fine minds and commitment.

 Lana enjoying a quiet moment in her studio.

For years I’ve loved chatting with you about our mutual love for gardening. But only recently have I really had a chance to learn about your love of painting. Tell us about both these passions and how you fit them into your life as wife, mom, full-time career woman, and now recently, retiree.
Gardening is and always will be a great love of mine.  Even when I was immersed in my career, I always made time for working in the dirt.  Some years it would be a major renovation, others just a small trial plot.  That’s the beauty of gardening – it’s whatever you can handle.  Art isn’t that easy.   Somehow it took more time, more energy and definitely more focus.  I started painting in oils more than 40 years ago and kept it up until I couldn’t really find a spot for it.  It wasn’t until 2001 that I decided to try watercolor.  By chance, someone offered me a studio (cheap!) and the next thing I knew, I was painting regularly.  It was an important turning point.  I realized that it really helped to have a space devoted to my creative work.  That was one of the first things I found for myself when we moved to Ukiah.  I’m lucky that now we’ve been able to build a small studio on our property and I can go there…whenever!  And that’s the reality of retired life these days --- “whenever” is filled with aging parents, growing grandchildren and all those wonderful wish lists we’re all working on.  I’m painting in oils, watercolors, pastels, colored pencils, pen/ink…whatever works for the subject.  I love painting flowers (isn’t that a bit like gardening?), and have taken on numerous commissions for pet portraits.  I still can’t live without my daily planner or calendar to keep me on track!

 Brooklyn--notecard created by Lana.

Master time juggler that you are, you and your sister not only found time to have lunch together pretty much every day you worked at Marina Associates, but you also found a way to pattern your work schedules so that you could each indulge in a particularly beloved passion: travel! Where have you been, where do you still want to go? Please share with us some of your favorite trips and travel stories.

It was a real bonus that my sister and I could accommodate our indulgence for travel.  Once the business and family were taken care of, the next agenda item was when/where was our next trip and can we put it into the calendar for the next year?   My husband and I took a great trip last year on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  We’d been to Russia before, but we’d only hit the tourist spots.  This was a chance to slow down, take in the scenery and absorb a bit more.  Both of us have family that came from many of these Siberian outposts.  Although revolution, war and time has erased their traces, it was enough for me to breathe the same air and look around at the same vistas that they would have seen long ago.  Next year we’re working on taking a road trip to Alaska on the Al-Can Highway in our new VW Camper Van.  It’s a long trek, but it will be fun to figure out a way to combine some camping, some great lodges, a ferry ride and some gorgeous scenery.  I have figured out how to take my art along, and my pastels and pencils are ready to go.  As for 2013, well, I’m  hoping for Egypt, Turkey and Greece…or geez, where is the atlas!

  George at the Great Wall.

Travel is becoming increasing taxing and difficult it seems. What are some tips you can share with our readers about ways to globe trot and still have fun and protect your sanity (and pocketbook!).

Travel is actually cheaper and easier than it has ever been…and more accessible.  I used to go to the library, check out the travel books, write to various places and then wait for a reply and a brochure if I was darn lucky.  Now there is a plethora of options.  This is more of a challenge than our anti-terrorist security measures.  People are finding themselves locked into decision anxiety --- “is this the best/cheapest/etc. way to spend my  “X” days of vacation?”  My tip is to figure out where you want to go, and then address the “how” part.   All of us have a personal comfort level, so just check out these trigger words:  escorted, tour group,  individual, rugged, adventurous, posh --- I think you get the drift.   Then, given your parameters, you can set your budget.  Otherwise, you’re likely to apply for the wrong job…aka wrong trip!

Tell us about your current life as an artist. Do you think of this as your next “career”? What upcoming shows do you have planned?
I’ve always been an artist and I can’t think of it as a career, it’s more like being blonde or blue-eyed.  But, I do have some aspirations!   February is usually the Russian Festival in San Francisco, June is the Taste of Redwood Valley Wine & Art Tour, September is our local Studio Tour and I’m hoping to have a show at Scharffenberger Winery in the Anderson Valley for 2013.

 Dahlias by Lana.

What are your favorite volunteer activities and what charities are you particularly supportive of? 

The Redwood Valley Outdoor Education Project is a nonprofit that owns 40+ acres of beautiful land bordering the Russian River.  They have put together a program, which all the students in the Ukiah Valley School District can access in the form of daylong field trips where they are introduced to this marvelous “outdoor classroom.”  Topics range from bird watching, plant identification, soil building, composting and the environment.  There are only two paid staff workers.  All  the rest is accomplished with volunteers.  I’ve given them some help this year and hope to do more in the future.  I’ve also volunteered to help with my grandson’s home schooling.  We’ve had some great cooking classes and have put together a kid-friendly cookbook.  Later this year, I’ll be facilitating a mural project for one of his home schooling groups.

 Soccer dude, Rowan, Lana and George's grandson.

I think many readers would love to reach out to you, Lana, and also attend your art shows or visit your gallery! What is the best way to reach you? Do you have a website?  And one thing readers should note:  as a professional artist and within the art community, Lana is known by her full name, Svetlana Artemoff.

I have postponed having a formal website for now, but am sending out a quarterly “Art Newsletter” to my clients, colleagues and friends, which will give them information about new work and upcoming events.  I also have a digital portfolio that can be shared upon request.  Therefore, the best way to reach me is either by email – or phone – 707-462-3279.

It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know as much about Lana’s amazing artistic talent while she was working, because I would have pestered her endlessly and there’s no telling how much more behind all my questions might have put her in her day!  Meanwhile, I hope her generous thoughts encourage all of you who are also talented in oh so many ways and on oh so many levels to make time for whatever inspires you --- be it your inner artist, musician, volunteer or simply citizen of the world.
I know Lana would love to hear from any and all of you who knew her in her working days, just to say “hi” or perhaps to volunteer with her.  We also have a lot of “home-schoolers” in our audience, who may want to share ideas with her.

As I take this moment to thank Lana for sharing her life with us, and her extensive family, I’m going to wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving with your family, friends and all loved ones as well.