Tales from the Mississippi Flyway
A mission to give back, coupled with the goal of celebrating the unique culture and tradition of American sportsmen, culminate in Wild Abundance Publishing, a division of ArtsMemphis led by Susan Schadt.
interview by Shana Raley-Lusk
A true testament to the striking beauty of the sporting life along the Mississippi Flyway, A Million Wings takes readers to a world of stunning natural scenery. The book gives a detailed, firsthand look at the finest and most exclusive duck hunting clubs in the South. Through its 260 pages of incredible photography by Lisa Buser, the book displays for readers the ultimate in all that the great outdoors has to offer in this region. Personal stories from the owners and members add to the book’s insider appeal. A Million Wings is the third and latest release from Wild Abundance Publishing, which was launched by ArtsMemphis as a fundraising arm building on a series of connections within the Memphis area. The first two books, First Shooting Light and Wild Abundance, also focus on the sporting clubs of the South. Each beautiful and powerful in their own right, these books make beautiful and collectable additions to any home library.
How did the publishing company get its start?
Susan Schadt: Wild Abundance Publishing grew out of an initiative founded in 2005, Conservation Through Art, which was a partnership between ArtsMemphis and Ducks Unlimited to commemorate the Federal Duck Stamp competition moving from its 72-year history in Washington, D.C. to Memphis. The event was a resounding success and we decided to continue holding it biennially, even though after 2006, the competition began moving to other sites around the country. In the course of planning for this unique, ongoing philanthropic program linking the arts and habitat conservation, it has been my privilege to spend countless hours in the company of some of the most avid and well-known duck hunters and conservationists in the world-famous Mississippi Flyway. Struck by the depth of their passion for the great outdoors and highly entertained by colorful stories of life at their private retreats, it came to me that we had the makings of the perfect arts initiative. ArtsMemphis would chronicle a rare peek inside these revered hunting clubs. Beautiful photographs, coupled with stories, history and ritual based on the hunter’s own words and recollections would surely capture the sporting culture. We launched First Shooting Light in the fall of 2008. Now, thanks to the cooperation of so many people, we have published two additional books, Wild Abundance (2010) and A Million Wings (2012). Over the last year, we founded Wild Abundance Publishing, a division of ArtsMemphis with its own brand and mission to chronicle, celebrate and preserve the unique culture and tradition of sportsmen and their intense devotion to land and wildlife. Wild Abundance Publishing serves as an earned income stream for ArtsMemphis, as well as an excellent way to engage a wide variety of stakeholders in the arts and wildlife conservation.
What is the aim of the publishing company?
SS: Photography is at the very core of each book, as we are devoted to sharing the irrepressible lure of the natural world’s astonishing beauty and captivating expeditions.
What is your favorite aspect of the business? What makes working in this region special?
Ss: Surely it’s the relationships that develop and prosper through such a project. Hunters embrace a brand of camaraderie steeped in tradition and commitment to one another and their legacy of preservation. To be welcomed into this extended family, one is struck by a sense of home, belonging and trust. The lodge owners and club members become friends, mentors and partners, open to sharing their stories and hospitality. They embraced the vision, the spirit of abundance and the need to commit to preserving their culture. I have shared the pleasure and intensity of anticipation, the beauty of silence and the sight of the first flight of ducks along the Mississippi Flyway from St. Charles County, Missouri, to southwest Louisiana. I have journeyed far and wide and many a seasoned hunter has expressed the desire to ride alongside me and the Wild Abundance team. I have also seen firsthand the excitement that all hunters feel when they see the books; whether they hunt at a private club or a back bayou, they share the same emotions and are committed to preserving the wildlife. They share an authentic love of the outdoors and desire to pass it on to future generations. On the business side, I am extremely committed to the design process — from working with the photographers to editing, brand management, and now, even writing.
What plans do you have for the future? What is on the horizon for the company?
Ss: We are currently working on the concept and execution of our next book, which is on mission and celebrates the great outdoors and the pursuit but does not involve duck hunting.
Please talk a bit about A Million Wings. What was most enjoyable about the process?
SS: A Million Wings is special because it features a wider geographic reach of clubs and lodges along the Mississippi Flyway. We began our journey in St. Charles County, near St. Louis, and followed the Flyway all the way down to the coast of Louisiana. Visiting the 12 clubs and lodges was a great experience because we witnessed a variety of kinds of duck hunting. The clubs and lodges in A Million Wings also have great histories. In St. Charles County, all three properties date back to the late 1800s and members are committed to carrying on the traditions of their founders.
Which book is your favorite so far and why?
Ss: That’s akin to asking me to choose my favorite child. I love all three of the books for different reasons. First Shooting Light was the beginning of Wild Abundance Publishing, even if we did not know it at the time, and opened so many doors into the duck hunting world. Wild Abundance was a fun project because the chefs and cooks featured on those pages are wonderful to work with and are truly visionaries committed to “sky-to-table.” A Million Wings is exciting because of its geographic scope and the unique stories that it tells.