A drive across the country in 2009 — our route took us:
• From Shallotte, NC to Pittsburgh through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
• From Pittsburgh to St. Louis to Denver on I-70 through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado.
• Rocky Mountain National Park to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
• Idaho, Montana, Idaho (again), and Washington’s Palouse and Columbia River Gorge.
• A ferry from Seattle to Whidbey Island, Washington.
• A train from Seattle to Eugene, Oregon.
• A drive to Oregon Dunes State Park to complete sea to shining sea with my toes in the Pacific (58? and raining, so those toes were cold).
• And then a drive up to Cape Perpetua, Oregon to put the “shine” in shining sea!
The street that I live on ends (or begins) at the Shallotte River in North Carolina, and the river feeds into the Atlantic Ocean, just minutes from my home. My journey began at home, and the road unfurled from there, like ribbon off a spool. The highway dipped and turned as I observed the rise and fall of the horizon line.
If I wasn’t driving, I was sketching. If I was driving, I would ask my 13-year old companion to take photographs out the car window. States that I had never seen or thought much about took shape and color and light and shadow before my eyes. Landscapes that some might think boring revealed as much beauty as the more familiar vistas of postcards of tourist sights. (And Kansas is NOT boring!)
I often say it’s hard to keep up with the excitement brought by each moment of traveling through this natural world, but this cross-country trip was one long, continuous revelation of scenes that would become strong visual memories. Then, reawakened by my notes and sketches, those memories distilled and have become the subjects of the pieces in this show.
This body of work includes pastels and oils ranging in size from small 3 by 10 in., to 24 by 48 inches. Every state we travelled through is represented in this exhibition. Longer visits at Rocky Mountain and Grand Teton National Parks allowed time for more in-depth observation of mountain vistas, accompanied by local friends acting as wonderful tour guides. I want to thank all those friends, including my travelling companions, Grace Nordhoff and Jo Nordhoff-Beard, for their encouragement and support, and for making this show possible.
ABOUT SUE SNEDDON: BECOMING AN ARTIST
One of my first memories of drawing was trying to figure out how a dandelion flower turned into a ball of small seeds with fluffy tops that could be carried by the wind. I was probably five at the time, and at that early age I was drawing what was in front of me—bugs, flowers, clouds, trees—realistically, so I could attempt to understand how nature worked.
I grew up in the beauty of the Allegheny Mountains and Laurel Highlands area of western Pennsylvania, in a family where creativity was highly valued. My mother and three aunts were all artists, and my father was trained as a classical violinist, but became a jazz enthusiast, along with my mother. My fascination with Carolina landscapes began on childhood vacations to Southern beaches.
I had my first thought of being a painter was when I was 13 or 14. My mother and I were discussing whether the pink in a bank of oyster shells was a reflection of the pink sky or in the shells themselves. We were on the south end of Pawley’s Island, SC witnessing a glorious sunset. I said to myself, if I could paint the joy I feel in this moment, then I could be a painter.
Most of my work, as it turns out, is exactly that—fleeting moments of light in the sky, on water, or on wet sand. These moments do something to me that I can only express by trying to capture them on paper or canvas. I continue to realistically approach a subject at first, so that it gets filed in my brain somewhere, to be called on when I want to express how I feel about the moment of a sighting that has moved me.
I live for these moments of joy and wonder and reverence. Whether or not there is a human figure in the work I create, I may also be influenced by a conversation, visit, walk, or relationship associated with a particular moment I am trying to capture. And although water-related subjects are the ones I most frequently choose, there are other landscapes that I have painted over the years, particularly rural settings of trees, fields, and aging barns and houses.
Mixing a palette of colors for an oil painting is very intense for me. This ritual signifies the commitment of many days, weeks, or months of painting to capture this one moment. The application of a medium onto a surface can transport me to that first inspiration. I may hear the water, wind, birds, or a song I was humming. My senses are filled as if I were witnessing it for the first time.
I work from memory. My memory is sometimes sparked by the notes/sketchbooks that are filled with these moments that I don’t want to forget. There are a lot of notes and sketchbooks. Sometimes I do see something and immediately paint it. But there can also be a long process of distilling an experience to its essential elements and then working to capture those in my work.
Oil, pastel, acrylic, pencil, gouache, watercolor, oil pastel, pen and ink, and mixed media all have a station in my studio. I like to have options in my choice of medium, and also in the music that accompanies my work day. My tastes there are eclectic, as well, ranging from jazz to rock-and-roll, to classical, to folk and other genres. All of my artwork seems to have a soundtrack.
I am fortunate to have a studio that gives me access to my main sources of inspiration and allows me to mark my time by sunsets, tides, moon phases, solstices, and equinoxes. My studio looks out onto the marshes of a tidal river, the Shallotte River. And a 10-minute drive takes me over a bridge to the Atlantic Ocean, the place I feel most alive, where that powerful body of water meets the soft sand, with the ever-changing play of light on water. There is no check-out time. I am so very thankful.