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Drawing with Charles Wilbert White

As Snowden recollects, “I was in love with Charlie’s way of doing things. I was privileged to work with him before he died in 1979. He used to pick up blue chalk and draw a center line down the front of his nude model in a technique that allowed him to see the visual placement of contrapposto or other torsions in a complex posed form.  He always felt the figure was the challenge of the classic master, where competency tended to elude casual practitioners. He thought that evoking the figure was the defining line as he termed it, between the master and the amateur. But he was essentially relaxed about it. He whistled an old New Orleans jazz tune when he drew on the living model and he hummed to himself when he worked at his easel. His easy grace reminded me of a panther circling on his artistic prey.” White encouraged Snowden’s desire to bring exquisite levels of draftsmanship to large anatomical forms that were being drawn onto two-dimensional picture planes.

Charles Wilbert White 

An Athletic Approach to Sculpture

Charles White’s fluid dancing approach to making art deeply impressed Snowden to pursue her sculpture and drawing in terms of an athletic handling of materials. From working with White, art became a full-bodied expression, not just something centered on hand movements.  As Snowden remarks, “Every work I’ve subsequently created is crafted from a standing position which affects how materials are laid onto and into the core of a work. The athletic motion of the sculptor conducts the profound energy that powers the motion of form.” Snowden’s studies with Macdonald-Wright, Majoli and White, led to number of professional painting commissions Snowden carried out in the 1980’s.[1]



[1] Snowden created a number of commissioned painted portraits including a life-size canvas of Ambassador Hon.Leonard Firestone for the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) that is now in a private collection. Snowden also created a 20 foot mural, entitled “Olympic Triumph” created for Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, CA. 

Reviving the Technique of Rodin’s Drawing Master

Excited by the possibilities of sculpture and drawing, M.L. Snowden sought to expand her artistic horizons. She insisted on reviving Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran’s 19th century technique of drawing and sculpting from memory. Indeed, as Rodin’s drawing teacher, Boisbaudran made nude models appear and disappear in the French countryside, instructing his students to draw what they had seen. As Hoffman had once explained to M.L., while Rodin admired Boisbaudran’s theories, he eschewed his teacher’s methods. Rodin preferred live models for every work that included hiring professional acrobats to pose for his studio drawing studies as well as Italian nudes for his Gates of Hell.  

Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran

Dispensing with Living Models   

Unlike her father and every other sculptor before her who had used models, in the 1970’s M.L. Snowden dispensed with professional live models. The sculptor found new sources of design through looking into the swirling abstract whorls of her clay, where the natural folds and nuances of raw material suggested sculptural figural forms. To Snowden, mining raw clay seemed no more exotic than the Chinese art form of identifying artful natural rock formations and mounting them into objects of sculpture. Snowden’s time in the studio was transforming into an entirely imaginative conversation with her physical mediums. There is no question that Snowden felt Boisbaudran’s methods were successful in freeing her from studio references in order to pursue the figural dreamscapes of her art.

Exploring Mysteries of Sculpture

Where Snowden filled thick volumes of disciplined anatomical drawings penciled from memory in the spirit of Boisbaudran, according to Snowden, “I made such studies in order to internalize every motion and circumstance of human form, burning anatomy into my mind’s eye over a period of years. Through intimately knowing the figure in every position, I felt I was more able to recognize and capture the anatomical, biomorphic passages that were seeming to naturally take shape in my materials; shapes that were coming forward as I was energetically touching clay, feeling my way toward a mutual vision. If I compressed clay in a certain way, a whole torso would suddenly and effortlessly seem to rise up on the other side of my hand.”


Snowden continued to remark on a  central mystery that surrounds her art, observing that ´What is not generally known is that I don’t set about to create a specific geological or astrophysical formation. I’m never engaged in an illustrative process. What comes about is more of a dance between my dream-state perception and the reality of the clay transforming like a deep diving membrane forming within a fathomless and clouded sea. It’s only upon finish and contemplation that I can see what I’ve made. It seems that my sculpture is accurate to the core and scaled proportions of the phenomenon the work comes to be named after. And those names are almost always scientific terms even in the case of a sculpture such as ‘Windscarf’; which is a type of geologic formation rather than a romantic title.  Again, mine is not centrally a programmatic or illustrative art.”


Thus the works of the Geological Coreium embody the shapes of the natural phenomena they’re scientifically named for, but according to Snowden, the shape is revealed first, the phenomenon is discovered and identified later. According to Snowden,  “The geological program is more of an introductory and  diverting road map that intentionally obscures the core essences of what the work is really about, which is for me, at root, an unalloyed energy arc of spirit. The work houses the deep dream that once came to me and is with me still and remains always. The power of the dream is incarnate here in these bronzes in the foundry. Bronze is a continuous, fluid revelation housing markings, written letters, forms and dissolutions, where sources of shifting light move against the terrain of the metal, revealing new qualities each time the observer sees it.”


Further Thoughts on Sculpture

In a recent interview Snowden remarked, “It’s a quantum material. It literally makes what I feel and think. And it communicates back.  Being steeped in the figure mentally, my materials show figures to me. From the beginning, I’ve wanted to capture these forms, not over-work these gifts. When you touch my bronze today, you can feel the raw natural fist of my handwork, but also the independent fist of larger cosmic creation that is a deep and powerful force that resides in and is condensed within the metal. The form you see and touch and feel that has come to be separated from me… is quite like the child born of an asserted and independent destiny.”[1]



[1] Ibid., Snowden Interview, Hagel.

Clay and Bronze Vistas

In M.L. Snowden’s art of metallurgy, casting bronze naturally follows the biomorphic tendency of clay. As Snowden comments, “All kinds of imaginative human forms reside in clay and bronze. Working alone with Rodin’s floating armature, I can see moving figures. They also reside in marble. We hear that Michelangelo felt his role as a sculptor was to free the human forms that he could see imprisoned in various blocks of marble.[1] Perhaps the essence of such an insight is that we’re spectators engaged in rearranging pre-existing elements of creation into new vistas.”


Observers of Snowden’s art often cite feelings about the work that “encompass qualities that are inherently fundamental to life, enclosing and projecting the onward organized flow of an indomitable spirit.  M.L. Snowden’s work is a mighty, prevailing, and eternal motion of artistic processes that are cardinal and predominant to the forces of life.“[2]  In one’s critic’s view, "Snowden’s art combines material and immaterial elements into a continuous bronze state that is at once an overwhelmingly intellectual, spiritual and tactile phenomenon.” As noted international gallerist and dealer Eve-Marie Bilodeau explained in a Chinese state cultural interview:


Q: Can you use three adjectives to describe the sculptures created by M.L. Snowden? Do you remember your first response when you saw her works?

A:The work of Snowden can be described as a magnificent expression of nature's powerful energy: breathtaking, impressive and monumental. The first time I had this profound connection with Snowden's work is when I saw her sculpture called "Spiral Helix Y." It felt like everything stopped around me: time, sound, people. This is a very precious moment, when you fall in love with an artwork and it becomes like a magnet for your soul.[3]





 “One of my devotions as a sculptor is to not impose actually making something with these earth materials.  It is far better that clay and I breathe together, touching and meeting each other to the point we recognize one another.”                  

                                                                                                                        M.L. Snowden


[1] A notable reference on Michelangelo is by Ascanio Condivi The Life of Michelangelo, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999

[2] Interview, Jack Hagel, Dr/ Lois Banner Moderator: Portrait of M.L. Snowden, University of Southern Calufornia,. 2007

[3] Shanghai Daily, Sculptures of Rodin’s Sculptures Brought to the City/ M.L. Snowden, November 2, 2014

Perspectives on Bronze

As Snowden comments, “I find it deeply moving to consider that my materials have lain in the earth for eons before coming into my sculptures. In my studio, I see and feel all kinds of natural energies that come from touching my materials - all of which seem to evoke larger phenomena which speak of humankind and the cosmos. Yes, on touch, my materials naturally want to figurate. Years ago, I began to say, ‘I’m not a figurateur because I inherited a grand tradition from Rodin’, where it’s probably better defined in saying ‘I respect and recognize these energy summaries that appear as figures.’” 

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