As obligations fall away, artist Lee Wilder Snider is listening more to her inner voice. It is telling her to paint.
Lee knew she wanted to be an artist from an early age. Coming from a family of writers, she wrote her first storybook in first or second grade. That led to a perplexing conversation with her father about quotation marks. Out of that confusion came clarity: “I knew from then on that I’d rather draw than write.”
Her passion for art is paired with a love of sports. Sports dominated during her college years, but she got back into painting when she and her husband, Craig, settled in a small town in Utah. Their children were born there, and Lee began teaching art.
Craig’s job brought them to Benicia in 2003. Lee became active in the community, joining the boards of Arts Benicia and League of Women Voters Benicia plus volunteering at Benicia High. She headed a working group that led to creation of the city’s Arts and Culture Commission and served four years on the commission.
She remains a member of Arts Benicia and the local League of Women Voters, but her leadership commitments are behind her. Lee, 58, now has time to focus full-time on painting. She is an enthusiastic member of Gallery 621, an artist co-op on First Street.
As she recalls her life, Lee often pauses, smiles and says, “I’ve been lucky.” She warmly remembers people she met along the way: her high school art teacher, a housepainter who primed a wall for a mural in Oregon (“I don’t think he charged anything”), a disabled woman whose face was included in the “Faces of Fairfield” mural, a youngster who proudly helped paint a school mural. Her joy is evident when she talks about backpacking, Benicia’s water views and its running trails, and living in remote areas. “I’ve had really rich experiences living in some remote areas. … I realized there are many, many ways we walk in the world and many viewpoints.”
What inspires you in your painting? Skies inspire me. When it’s a gray day and a bit of light pink comes through, that light inspires me.
What led to your love of landscapes? One of my dearest memories is backpacking in Yosemite with my aunt and cousins when I was a teenager. She took me on my first backpacking trip. We went out of Tuolumne Meadows for two weeks. … I was hooked. From then on, I loved landscapes. My time spent outdoors has informed so much of my art and who I am.
How has your art evolved over the years? For a long time, my paintings got larger. For a while, it evolved into murals and scene painting for theaters. When I was teaching, there was a big chunk of time spent loving art and finding ways for others to catch that feeling.
Now I’ve found a quiet spot in here (patting chest) and I’m painting from there. It has come to the point where I understand that I want to please myself, and that may come at a cost of pleasing others. I’m saying no to more outside activities to allow myself to paint from the heart.
With that shift in priorities, how much time are you able to devote to painting? Right now I’m very fortunate that I can focus on my painting full time. I haven’t always had that. It’s pretty magnificent and scary at the same time because there’s stuff deep inside that I want to put in paint form, and I hope I have the skill to do it.
So I can determine the amount of time. But being the person I am—I love engaging in life—it’s very easy for me to get pulled into things that sound wonderful. As I’m aging, I’m learning that outward engagement can come at a cost of inward development. I’m trying to spend more time painting. I’m working to set a structured time to work in the studio—it is progressing. I love life.
Where is your studio? I paint at my studio upstairs at my home. Right now I’m working on a couple of landscapes.
I had a studio in the Arsenal for eight years, and I miss being at that studio. The community down there is incredible. Being with other artists elevates the whole thing. It was a very, very genuine experience.
When did you sell your first painting? I think I was 16 or 17. Four seniors got our own booth at an art show in high school. I think I sold three paintings, including one to my art teacher and one to my PE teacher.
Oils or acrylics? Mostly acrylics but some oils. I have painted in oil. I love the rich luminosity that comes with oil, the butteriness of oils. I might go back to oils. But you can layer in acrylics.
What role does marketing play in your life as an artist? Marketing is very important. For me at Gallery 621, we gallery sit two times a month, help set up shows, help take down shows, help at receptions.
The organizer part of me says I should chart the time I spend on PR because now I do it as necessary.
How do you define success as an artist? It’s very gratifying to sell work on a number of levels. First, there’s the practical level that it allows me to paint again. Another level is that I’ve touched someone. I want to be driven by what will move someone rather than what will sell. As artists, we have to paint from our core, our heart, regardless of what it means monetarily.
What advice would you give a young person who wants to pursue art as a career? Follow your love. Paint what matters to you, what comes from inside. As much as you can, be flexible about the ways you do it. There’s more than one way to do art.
What artwork is in your own home? The triptych hanging here (in Gallery 621) was at home on my own walls. Nothing of my own is hanging right now. I have a Joseph Mele I bought at an Arts Benicia auction.
Really what I have a lot of is children’s work that parents didn’t pick up from Bonnie Weidel’s studio. I’m toying with the idea of pulling together a library show of Bonnie’s children’s work. I also have a lot of books from her years as a teacher.
What do you do to relax? I have a yellow lab that just turned 3 years old, and one of my favorite things is to run the trails behind Matthew Turner School with Lucy.
What’s next for you? We’ve just come back from two weeks in Alaska, much of the time at Katmai National Park. What caught my eye most was the small town of King Salmon on the beach. … There was this huge gray sky with white peeking through and the texture of the beach below. I was stunned by the light I saw. The richness of the grays was so moving. I want to capture them in some way.