It’s gallery season again, school is back in session, there are openings all the time. Maybe it’s a Third Thursday. You’re amongst Detroit art crawlers, people you see at events on a regular basis, you know, family. You also happen to be standing in front of a large triptych: unapologetically vibrant, swirling colors, non repeating patterns, aggressive strokes but it still embodies an incredibly welcoming and wonderful feeling. It has personality, it’s unmistakable, it’s a Gilda piece.

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Gilda Snowden enters the building, camera already on and recording everyone and everything. People smile and pass hugs around the room. Politics and talk of art and other shows bounce off of exposed brick and white walls. Pools of directional light make statements. Things are electric and this is apart of Gilda’s legacy. Shortly after receiving her M.F.A. From Wayne State University, Gilda began her inspiring career as a teacher and mentor as an adjunct instructor for a design class at CCS. In 1985, already curating at the Willis Gallery in the heart of the Cass Corridor for a couple of years, she gained title as professor at CCS. Students, colleagues, and friends credit Gilda for many successes, theirs and hers. The love Gilda carried for art went beyond her pieces which are apart of some highly esteemed collections. Neiman Marcus Corporation, Detroit Receiving Hospital, Ameritech, the Dayton Hudson Corporation, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan, the Art Center of Battle Creek and the DIA (Detroit Institute of Art) can all boast her work. In 1987 Gilda took up as curator at Detroit Repertory Theatre which she upheld until the present. She gave lectures on public television about Detroit artists and art history. Gilda has also been in several publications, sharing her wealth of knowledge and ideas.

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There are many reoccurring themes in which we can explore in the body of Gilda’s creations. Her tornadoes are violent and boldly colored. She would say that a lot of these were expressive of something violent in her dreams or challenging in her personal life. How fantastic to see something that may have come from darkness take manifestation as a tornado under the hand of Gilda. Chairs were a theme she used as experiments with abstraction and were representative of power, which is plainly clear with her lines and juxtaposing color themes. Further expanding her visual language, the self portraits and assemblages with her silhouettes carry the pulse of Detroit. A bunch of lavender and her dreads being thrown into the air, maybe just some graphite on 300 lb. aches paper. Her Flower Urbana series, bright encaustic, abstract flowers coming through a city setting also strike a very familiar Detroit feeling. Now that Gilda has passed away, I actually cried looking at her Bright Stars at Night series.

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The love she gave everyone, the support, the community, the encouragement, the leadership, her art, will be long lasting in the city. She was an icon and often the subject of accomplished portraitists. Many have even spoke of doing a show entirely devoted to Gilda. There’s currently the selfie show still up at Cass Cafe, of multiple Detroit art figures having a moment with her. The impact this amazing person had on all of us is profound. We see you up there, Gilda, now one of those bright stars at night, just as you painted. We miss you and appreciate you and thank you. Much love to Boswell and Kate, and of course to Gilda, the woman many of us adored, who was larger than life.

Check out more of Gilda Snowden on her website and flip through the full feature and other exclusive content in the ZIPR Magazine Issue #1. Read all of the ZIPR Magazine exclusive artist features on our blog.

Words by Marianne Audrey Burrows | Nov ’14