If you ever find yourself in Toledo, Ohio, it’s highly likely that somewhere you’ll see the work Peachtree City resident Vanessa Snyder has left behind there. It’s everywhere… a highway overpass, zoo exhibits, murals in public buildings, and some of the exhibits and interior design of the city’s science center, Imagination Station, in the downtown area.
One would think that after retiring twice as Creative Director from two different Toledo cultural institutions, suffering a mild stroke, and the rehabilitation that followed, Vanessa would settle for setting up her easel in the park or just staying at home doodling in a sketchpad, but no. She and her psychologist husband were both aware of neuroplasticity and the need for new experiences to rewire the brain and protect against cognitive decline. New adventures in life and art were beckoning and Vanessa wanted to confront them head-on.
As much as Vanessa loves her hometown, a visit to Peachtree City where her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren settled, convinced her to leave the city of her birth and move to Georgia. A new climate, a new neighborhood, a new house, and exposure to new cultural centers could all provide the new experiences she and her husband were craving. After touring several communities, the couple initially decided on a home in Trillith, attracted by the energy generated by this community of makers. She soon grew out of the 100 square-foot studio in her home at Trillith and moved to Peachtree City, where the entire third floor of her new house gives her the expansive space and beautiful light she needs to stimulate her work.
While looking forward to having the time to paint, post-retirement, Vanessa found herself missing the socialization that came from working with the teams she created as an Art Director back in Toledo. “Making art is a solo endeavor,” she states, “but in this area, there’s so many resources and amenities for artists. I’ve loved my visits to the High Museum, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and the Cyclorama. Not to mention the wonderful private galleries, such as Dogwood Gallery in Tyrone, and Chatt Hills in Serenbe.”
Craving even more inspiration and a creativity reboot, Vanessa applied to the MFA program at SCAD’s Atlanta campus and was both delighted and anxious when she found out she had been accepted. It has been more than 40 years since she graduated from college…could a baby boomer keep up with the digital natives who would become her classmates? “It’s been a challenge,” Vanessa admits. “I'd be totally lost if I hadn’t had the experience of working as an artist using art production software.” She had plenty of experience prepping art for reproduction and working with the Adobe Suite software, most commonly used by professionals. Her experience designing 3-D exhibit spaces was thrilling but gave her no expertise to deal with the hurdles of library database searches, required for her classwork. What she did know was that these challenges offered yet another opportunity to grow and reorganize. “Thank God for SCAD’s librarians,” she says. “They are frequently consulted!”
So, what’s it like being the artist whose distinguished career is in the rear-view mirror working with classmates who are just starting out in the field? Does she give them advice? Does she counsel them about future career choices? “Absolutely not,” she laughs. “When I told my son that I was heading back to school, he said, ‘Mom, don’t be that old person in the class who thinks they know everything.’”
Besides, she is finding that she is learning more from her Gen Z artist peers than she could ever teach them. “I am fascinated with the fearlessness of youth in this evolving art culture. And the professors have been so supportive in helping me learn and adapt to a constantly changing art world.”
Vanessa’s style as an artist is varied. As the Art Director for museums, while simultaneously freelancing from her private studio, she had to use many different styles in her work. “I was a work-for-hire artist,” she explains. This led to experimentation in many different genres. While one series of paintings is of oversized fruit and vegetables rendered so realistically, you would think they might be photos, another group of paintings is totally abstract. A different collection is figurative. When asked about her varied style Vanessa says, “I haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up yet.”
But that’s what attracted Greg Blair, owner of Dogwood Gallery in Tyrone, to Snyder’s work. “Her range,” he said. “She can do figurative, hyper-realistic, abstracts...she does it all!” He agrees that her style is varied and suspects at some point she will settle on a single expression of creative skill but until then, “There’s a cool tension in her work. Her still lifes are modern, contemporary and fresh. Even her abstract works have a molecular feel. The viewers’ eyes bounce around and make her paintings very believable. Her art has great movement. Style is not what you paint,” he insists, “It’s about brush strokes and the composition of the canvas.”
Her experiences at SCAD have her looking in a new direction. “I’ve been feeling a magnetic lean towards a hybrid of abstraction and representational subjects,” she claims. Is this new focus proof that the drive to keep those neurons and synapses humming is paying off? A look at her latest works tells you it surely is. What does the future hold? “More paintings, new ideas, and continuing to learn from my professors and fellow students,” predicts Vanessa.
Leo Tolstoy wrote, “True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” It makes one wonder where the big changes lead.
Locally, Vanessa’s work is displayed at Enzo Steakhouse in Trillith, the Dogwood Gallery in Tyrone, and has been included in the Magnolia Festival. To see her full portfolio, go to vasnyder.myportfolio.com.
"The grey overcast days on the Ohio-Michigan state line couldn’t compete with the blue skies and fluffy, cumulus clouds of Georgia."
- Vanessa Snyder