Bright Star at Night

Mary McNichols

Gilda SnowdenGilda Snowden, from Bright Stars at Night series, 2010The Detroit art community lost an irreplaceable member, Gilda Snowden (b. 1954) — painter, sculptor and educator — to heart failure on Tuesday, September 9, 2014. She taught at the College for Creative Studies as professor of fine arts for 31-years, and previously at Wayne State University.  Her work is installed in many corporate, private and public collections.  The Detroit Institute of Arts owns five of her pieces.

One of Gilda Snowden’s most exuberant series of paintings was entitled, “Bright Stars at Night.”  In viewing examples from the “Bright Stars at Night” series shown here, it’s easy to see the artist, herself, among that luminous host. 

Her funeral was attended by hundreds of people who loved her.  It was standing room only.  In addition to her family and friends, mourners included her students and colleagues from CCS—and those students and colleagues were numbered among her many, many friends—as well as numerous other members of the Detroit-area art community.

Gilda Snowden, from Bright Stars at Night series, 2010 Gilda Snowden, from Flora Urbana seriesGilda was an exceptional person, artist and educator.  She never stopped giving of herself to her family, friends, students and colleagues. 

We viewed her as the "unofficial" archivist of the Detroit art community.  She attended virtually every opening and took still photographs as well as video of the events.

We are blessed to have known such an exceptional person.  As I write this, tributes are pouring into her Facebook page and the Center Galleries has announced that it is presenting “a gathering of (Snowden’s) recent works to celebrate and honor this most amazing artist, woman, teacher, mentor, worker, friend, wife and mother.”

Gilda!, October 7-25, 2014. Opening Reception: Saturday, October 4, 6-9 P.M, Center Galleries, 301 Frederick Douglass Avenue; Detroit, MI. 

In 2010, the print edition of the International Review of African American Art published an article that I wrote about Gilda (IRAAA, vol, 23, no. 1).  Excerpts from that article follow.

The Worlds Inside Gilda Snowden’s Brooklyn Street Loft 

Gilda Snowden, from Storm in Self series, 2011 Gilda Snowden, from Chairs series, 2011Detroit-based painter and sculptor Gilda Snowden often observes to her students at the College for Creative Studies that her studio is larger than her house, an appropriate arrangement, she suggests to them, in the life of an artist.  Snowden’s studio, located in the Corktown area of Detroit’s inner city, and to which she refers as “…Paris, so I can say that I’m ‘going to Paris’ when I paint” celebrates her life and her art. 

A visit to her working space is, in fact, an exercise in exuberance as one is inundated with the rich textures and ebullient colors of the paintings and sculptures which seemingly occupy every square inch of the area in her Brooklyn Street loft.  While the forms and colors of her images are more vibrant than the more restrained linear webs of Jackson Pollock’s “drip paintings,” they function as calligraphic renderings of the artist’s personal experience.  Although abstract, Snowden’s work is, ultimately, a narrative of her identity as an African American woman, a member of a close community of family and friends, and as a Detroiter….

Cathartic and, ultimately, therapeutic, Gilda Snowden’s oeuvre is the narrative means by which she defines herself.”

Mary McNichols is a professor of art history at the College for Creative Studies.