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THE ARTIST

Early Influences

For the young sculptor living in New York City, part of the positive potential of sculpture was nurtured through family friends Salvador Dali, Paul Manship, and Isamu Noguchi; all of whom encouraged M.L. Snowden at an early age to pursue her love of art. As Snowden recalls, “Actually I felt Dali liked children. When he was showing my mother creative furniture he’d designed, he made me take my chewing gum out of my mouth. He told me to take my wet gum in my fingers and had me roll a little worm which was a snake and a ball which was an apple. He said all natural forms are based on these two little shapes, whether they’re stretched, melted into other things, or are left alone. He told me my arm was a snake and my head was an apple. I had received an art lesson and I was delighted!”[1] Such family associations sprung from the time when George Snowden joined Dali, Manship, and Noguchi in creating commissioned art for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.[2]

 

[1] Interview, M.L. Snowden with Norman Fried, Moderator. 2008.

[2] Jack Hagel Building the World of Tomorrow: The Social and Aesthetic Significance of (George Snowden’s) Consumer’s Pavilion and the Development of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. University of the Southern California Department of History Archives 2006;George Snowden and the roster of World’s Fair artist participants: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/federal-writers-project-ny/new-york-city-guide-a-comprehensive-guide-to-the-five-boroughs-of-the-metropoli-hci/page-61-new-york-city-guide-a-comprehensive-guide-to-the-five-boroughs-of-the-metropoli-hci.shtml. 

Portraits of Salvador Dali, Paul Manship and Isamu Noguchi

G.H. Snowden’s colossal Triad, the Labors of Man/ Consumer’s Pavilion, illuminates the night sky at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

Growing up, M.L. Snowden experienced a range of rare and important friendships on both coasts. In particular, the Southern California scene offered many rewarding associations with mentors who pivotally stepped forward, enriching and shaping M.L. Snowden’s formative years.

Early Friendships:
Margery Wilson, Olive Kackley and Irene Harrison

M.L.’s early years were mentored by three extraordinary women, one of whom was among Hollywood’s first women film directors, Miss Margery Wilson, (1896-1986).[1] With an acting career that spanned more than 50 movie roles stretching back to the silent era, Margery came to renown starring as Brown Eyes in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. Wilson went on to become a noted author and advisor on women’s careers.[2]

 

[1] Anthony Slide. Early Women Directors, Da Capo PR, 1984

[2] Margery Wilson authored numerous books including Double Your Energy and Live Without Fatigue, and The Woman You Want to Be

Margery Wilson in the 60’s

Immensely elegant and prosperous, Wilson stepped forward as a gracious albeit pro-active second mother to M.L. Snowden. Through the example of her own work as a director, she inspired the young sculptor to excel in a demanding artistic field. Wilson’s close friendship and encouragement lasted until her death in the mid 1980’s. 

 

Wilson arranged M.L. Snowden’s first art exhibit with the Los Angeles Patrons of the Fine Arts who had helped build the Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles under the patronage of Mrs. Dorothy Chandler of the Los Angeles Times Newspaper.[1] Margery delivered an unforgettable introductory speech that opened Snowden’s successful first art show. Wilson’s fine speaking ability, accomplishments, and personal image lent decisive momentum to M.L. Snowden’s aspiration to be a sculptor in a largely masculine profession.

 

Another dynamic figure of importance was Miss Olive Kackley. During the War years working with Eleanor Roosevelt, Kackley rose to become a national radio personality with legions of women fans across the country, particularly in the mid-west.[2] Olive and the young, rather shy M.L. were close companions, with Olive encouraging the sensitive artist to relish challenge and not be afraid of achieving large goals.[3]

 

Kackley’s warm and generous personality led to her fine reputation as a source of wide social connections in the cultural circles of post-war Southern California. Always an avid card and letter writer who sent the artist weekly inspirational notes over a period of years, Olive’s influence significantly encouraged M.L. Snowden’s developing personality and artistry.

 

 

[1] Snowden Archives, Invitation, Los Angeles Patrons of the Fine Arts. News.clippings.

[2] Olive Kackley was nationally recognized for her syndicated radio programs geared to women: “Dramatize Yourself, Your Home, Your Table.” Her significant contributions and message kept women’s spirits up during the anxious WWII years. A retrospective of Olive Kackley’s career was held at the University of Iowa. http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/tc/id/35686

[3]http://sdrcdata.lib.uiowa.edu/libsdrc/details.jsp?id=/kackley/1 

Radio Personality Extraordinaire, Miss Olive Kackley 

The entrance to Stn Hywett Hall, Akron, Ohio

Importantly, M.L. Snowden was mentored and championed by the American heiress, Irene Seiberling Harrison. As a young person, M.L. and her mother were houseguests at Irene’s estate, Stan Hywett Hall in Akron, Ohio.

 

During their visits, the sculptor became steeped in the knowledge of Irene’s’ historic personal friendships with Edgar Cayce and Thomas Edison. Irene communicated to M.L. many of the specialized chemical formulas, recipes and water lipid innovations that came from Cayce and Edison.

 

The estate housed artworks by the English painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds and M.L. Snowden’s family friend, the American sculptor, Paul Manship. Irene fostered Snowden’s keen interest in the natural sciences and mathematics, including chemistry. With great aplomb and esoteric insight, Irene advised and encouraged the development of Snowden’s intellectual life and future artistic career. [1] 

 

For Snowden, her close relationship with her mother and friendships with extraordinary women, disclosed people “who were fully engaged with life and lived as models of beauty and intellect, opening a view onto what might be achieved through enlightened paths.”[2]

 

 

[1] Letters from Irene Harrison, the Snowden Estate Archive, 19705-78.

 

Irene Seiberling Harrison before her death at age 109

The Influence of Music

When critics explore early influences that were pivotal in the development of M.L. Snowden’s sculpture, they tend to cite Snowden’s natural love of music. Yet, little is known about her foray into music that moved to create Snowden’s strong sense of self definition as a visual artist. As a child, she enjoyed playing classical piano and composing music on her own.

 

A Momentous Musical Meeting

In a life shaped by artistic relationships, young Snowden’s musical talent came to the attention of the legendary pianist Madame Ethel Leginska in 1965. Meeting Madame Leginska came about when Snowden played piano at Olive Kackley’s celebrity birthday party in Los Angeles. As Snowden recalls, “The hosts insisted I play a piano in Plummer Park but they misplaced the bench, so I played standing up. I wore a starched skirt that somehow had folded up in back. I was sure their delight in my performance was not about my talent!”

 

Ethel Leginska: In the Grip of Music

As a result of her performance in a sudden move, Snowden was invited into Leginska’s Hollywood music studio for formal training at no charge. Leginska wanted to nurture the young teenager’s abilities in hopes of developing Snowden into a professional concert pianist. [1] As Snowden remarks, “My parents were unconditional in their support of me, but I was also aware that music was probably going to be a more socially acceptable career for a girl than heavy sculpture. Looking back, I was raised in the era before the advent of second-wave feminism. When people heard I was going to be a musician they smiled. When people heard I really wanted to be a monumental sculptor they wore puzzled expressions. Perhaps only my father, Margery, Olive, Irene and my mother understood my aspiration to create bronze art. As a result, I felt I needed to be very clear who I was. I knew it would require strength.” Over a four year period, Snowden made remarkable strides. As Leginska’s last student billed as an extraordinary young musician, Snowden was scheduled to play for Leonard Bernstein in New York City in 1969.[2]

 

[1] Snowden archives: signature documents. Snowden perfected Chaminade’s Automne, concert Etude for Piano Opus 35 No.2, under Leginska’s tutelage along with selections from Bach, Chopin and Czerny. A notable reference on Leginska  is provided by Arnold C. Schonberg. The Great Pianists from Mozart to the Present. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1963

[2] Leginska papers,autographs. Snowden Archives.

Ethel Leginska portrait and music studio view

M.L. Snowden’s Career Defining Moment

Snowden’s music training ended with Leginska’s passing. As Snowden recollects, “Leginska died two weeks before my debut. She was a genius. Over four years she had become like my mother and father, since like them, she made me believe girls could attain achievements equal to those of men. It was an idea which was still a cultural novelty at the time I was a young person.” As Snowden further comments, “A chapter closed on Leginska’s death. I was 18 and I had come into my strength, into a clear view of myself. I knew that I was a visual artist. The fact I was a sculptor, was never clearer to me than when I was being pushed into my piano debut. I was not a musician. As such, it was pointless to keep my audience in New York waiting. I cancelled.”[1]  Yet classical music remains a lifelong passion for Snowden. Her love of music continues to inspire rhythmic harmony in her art. Today when Snowden is called upon to speak about her art, she tends to evoke musical imagery to describe her métier.

 

[1] Ibid. Snowden Document Archives.

An American Monumental Heritage: D.C. French

Throughout her developing years, M.L. Snowden was passionate to learn about sculpture. Besides Rodin’s methods and techniques, George Snowden met his daughter’s interest in teaching her about the American side of his artistic heritage. Indeed, the elder Snowden communicated a range of grand Beaux-Arts techniques from Daniel Chester French.

 

Notably French had used his special know-how to shape projects such as the Lincoln Memorial located in the National Mall in Washington D.C. Early on, M.L. Snowden was impressed with French’s sense of grandeur and the possibilities he had trail-blazed in bringing large-scale sculptural dreams into reality. Looking back it can be said that M.L. Snowden gained her monumental dreamscape perspectives pouring over her father’s historic photographs that had been a gift from Daniel Chester French. The pictures showed French’s colossal statue known as The Republic. Indeed, The Republic had been famously mounted in the Court of Honor’s central pool as a symbol of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair Columbian Exposition.[1]

 

 

[1] Norman Bolotin and Christine Lang.The World's Columbian Exposition: The Chicago World's Fair o 1893 University of Illinois Press, 2002. G.H. Snowden, Weinman, Saint-Gaudens and D.C. French  are considered in Jack Hagel’s account of the Columbian Exposition,  Courting the Pleasure of Amusement  p. 3-5, University of Southern California Department of History Archives.

Photograph of Daniel Chester French; French at work in his studio

Historic views of the Chicago’s World’s Fair, the 1893 Columbian Exposition

The central lagoon of the Court of Honor pictured at night and in daylight, featuring French’s “The Republic” in the  foreground

Reflections on Monumental Scale 

As Snowden commented at the millennium, “I was literally brought up in the spirit of the immense architectural and sculptural outlays of the Columbian Exposition. It was a spirit of nobility and positivity  that carried over into my father’s sculptural monuments. To see those pictures of the White City of the Columbian is to understand my early ethos.”[1] Snowden further remarked, “I was always fascinated that my father was connected to a professional group of artistic strivers who were unafraid to dream the big dream. Scale was not just an outward expression of art, but an inward motion of spirit. To this day, I love certain art because I can sense the expansive truth of the artist in their work.”[2] On another occasion, Snowden commented, “Looking back to Rodin, to Eberhard, to Saint-Gaudens, to French, to Dali, and to my father - each of these artists was a uniquely large and generous force. On a remarkable personal level, everyone in our circle encouraged one another, which was an octave of grand artistic outpouring.” Indeed, French and G.H. Snowden were brought together when French, admiring Snowden’s work, wrote letters of recommendation in support of Snowden’s winning the 1927 Prix de Rome.[3]

 

 

[1]Among a range of monuments, G.H. Snowden was the sculptor The Majesty of Law Monoliths, flanking the entrance to the Mario Merola Courthouse; which rank among the largest free-standing marble monoliths in America.

[2] Father Richard Vosko. M.L. Snowden Interview. Archives of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles.

[3] Archives of the American Academy in Rome, New York.

The Imprint of Saint-Gaudens

G.H. Snowden also taught his daughter Augustus Saint-Gauden’s sculpting techniques. Indeed, Saint-Gauden’s métier remains famously evident in Boston’s Shaw Memorial and New York City’s General Sherman Monument at Central Park. He had been trained by Antonin Mercie΄’s teacher in Paris, Francois Jouffroy.[1] Moreover, Saint-Gaudens’s jeweler’s-level numismatic relief artistry, reflected in his famous Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle gold coin, was directly influential in M.L. Snowden’s jeweler’s know-how in shaping the Cathedral Angels. Indeed today, Snowden’s Great Golden Angels Main Altar installation is considered the largest gold bullion religious bas-relief in the world.

 

M.L. Snowden’s artistic acumen also came through her father’s apprenticeship and professional collaboration with Saint-Gaudens’s favored protégé, Adolph Alexander Weinman.[2] Where G.H. Snowden and Weinman’s works were celebrated in the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibition, “Sculpture in the Federal Triangle”,[3] art scholars were also noting that M.L. Snowden was uniquely forwarding the ethos of American masters in creating a new visionary kind of sculpture.[4]

 

[1] Burke Wilkinson. Uncommon Clay: the Life and Works of Augustus Saint Gaudens, New York, Harcourt 1985

[2] Among a wide range of noted works , A.A. Weinman was the author of the Mercury Dime. Beatrice Gilman Proske.  “George Snowden Biography” Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture. Brookgreen Sculpture Gardens Trustees, 1969

[3] George Gurney. Sculpture and the Federal Triangle, “George Snowden” Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985

[4] Ibid. Busco forward

Photograph of Augustus Saint- Gaudens, the sculptor’s studio

A.A. Weinman at work on “Riders of the Dawn” and a view of his studio circa 1906

Expanding Artistic Horizons into Painting

Through spending significant time between living in Italy and Southern California as a young person, M.L. Snowden hungered to explore other octaves of art. Snowden discovered a new-found interest in color that came from a lengthy stay on the Italian Amalfi coast in the 1960’s. On returning to Southern California, Snowden’s father gave her an extensive painting set that was augmented with an antique collection of bottled  transparent French dyes that had come from Eberhard’s time in Rodin’s studio. According to Snowden, “In those days, I filled the four walls of my room from floor to ceiling with translucent paintings of Italy that were colored with the fantasy of remembrance.”

 

In 1968, she undertook informal studies in Pacific Palisades with her father’s friend, Stanton Macdonald-Wright. Contemporary art historians consider Macdonald-Wright to be a significant pioneer of modernist abstract painting in America.

The Influence of Stanton Macdonald-Wright

As Snowden remarks, “Stanton was trying to branch out and create sculpture with an Asian tinge to it; I guess he really liked oriental art. Happy with my father’s critique, he launched into describing how sculpture occupies space, but that color describes a progression similar to experiencing a symphony.” As the seminal founder of the American abstraction movement known as Synchromism, Macdonald-Wright enthralled Snowden with his novel approach to color. Under Macdonald-Wright’s tutelage, Snowden became steeped in the Synchromist idea that painterly color possessed qualities that could be orchestrated to evoke the emotions and moods of music.[1]

 

[1]Will South, Color, Myth,and Music: Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism, Raleigh: North Carolina Museum of Art, 2001

Stanton Macdonald-Wright in his studio

Synchromism and Sculpture

As Snowden recollects, “I never told Stanton what I thought, since in those days I was shy, but I believed sculpture could also move, be energized with a living sense of dynamic life, much like the music of color he was describing with Synchromism. For me, sculpture could move through progressive time, since every dimension waited to be discovered. Thus to this day, I don’t create statuary or “statues” as Rodin, Saint-Gaudens or as my father saw their art. Instead, I create “sculptures” - which is a word that moves away from a static concept to better embrace the flowing dynamism of my bronze.” Macdonald-Wright’s color theories later influenced Snowden to explore the metallurgical possibilities of incorporating color into her historic Fournier bronze patinas; colors that could be produced through variable heats interacting with her unique bronze amalgam.

 

 

A Painterly Approach to Sculpture

Snowden looked forward to incorporating techniques of painterly brushwork in shaping her primary clay models. She also developed a highly innovative range of brush techniques that allowed her to bring her foundry bronze waxes to an exquisite level of finish. To this day the sculptor uses a combination of Rodin’s historic sculpture tools that are augmented with a range of handmade brushes that are used to delicately sweep dimensional details into place.