Artist Profile: Bellingham artist Denise Snyder contributes to new design exhibit at Lightcatcher

Bellingham artist Denise Snyder is among the nearly 90 artists showing works in "Reaching Beyond: Northwest Craftsmen at 60," an exhibit opening Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014 at Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher.
Bellingham artist Denise Snyder is among the nearly 90 artists showing works in "Reaching Beyond: Northwest Craftsmen at 60," an exhibit opening Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014 at Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher. COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Bellingham artist Denise Snyder is among the nearly 90 artists showing works in "Reaching Beyond: Northwest Craftsmen at 60," an exhibits that commemorates the Northwest Designer Craftsmen's mission to promote excellence of design and craftsmanship and to encourage an appreciation and interest in fine arts, opening Sunday, Sept. 14, at Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher.

Snyder discusses her love for the arts:

Question: What was your childhood like?

Answer: I grew up as an Army brat and lived for seven formative years in Germany and also in Hawaii for three years. In Germany, my home was surrounded by forests and so I spent as much time as possible roaming them. Even then I started making small, three-dimensional objects out of branches. I never considered it art, but I always liked making things, being craftsy, and was more interested in form than function.

Q: When did you consider pursuing the arts seriously?

A: I became enthralled with weaving and especially tapestry weaving while I was in college at Western Washington University. I thought that I could make a career of this, so I went to Sweden to study at a folk school that offered a five-month course in weaving at Saterglantan Hemslojdens Gard in Insjon, Sweden.

I had already spent many summers in Norway working for and living with a wonderful family, the Gjermstads, on their potato farm. I did a bit of tapestry weaving when I was in Norway.

Q: Does your heritage influence your art?

A: My mother's family is Norwegian-American and comes from a little Norwegian farm community in Minnesota. That made me want to go to Norway and experience it for myself. My mom had always had this sort of clean, simple sense of design in our surroundings at home.

I saw more of this sense of design when living in Norway. Being there, in Norway and Sweden, solidified my own design sense in that direction. I still go for clean lines and simple direct forms; I think that these concepts are more timeless and lasting.

Q: When did the public's interest in your art begin?

A: When I returned to the U.S. I managed to do pretty well in tapestry and was featured in a number of prominent shows. But one day I received a phone call from an interior designer in New York who asked me to create seven huge raffia wall pieces for the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas. They had seen an ad that I posted in a sourcebook for designers and architects and that is what led them to me. These pieces are still there today in a Bellagio restaurant.

I never looked back at this point and just went forward with creating three-dimensional art pieces out of natural materials and sometimes metal or glass.

Q: Where can people see your art?

A: My latest hotel commission was for a lamp, seven feet in diameter, which is hung in the lobby of a Marriott hotel in Westminster, Colo., in the Denver area. The lamp is made of metal that holds peeled branches in a circular ring. Creating a lamp was a really big leap in creativity for me, but I really got into it honestly. I would love to do more of that.

More locally, I was asked by the Willows Inn on Lummi Island to make this really fun wraparound viney wall piece that was 32 feet long for their dining area this last spring. That was right up my alley; what a fun project.

Q: What artists do you like?

A: I admire the work of Martin Hill, who creates outdoor transitory installations sort of in the style of Andy Goldsworthy. Also, Patrick Dougherty, who creates large outdoor installations of branches with community involvement. Both of these artists are not afraid to pursue their ideas to completion.

My mentors are my art group and other artists in our community. AnMorgan Curry of Mindport is one of my go-to people for advice in design and form. She has an excellent eye and sense of design.

Q: What brought you to Bellingham?

A: I came to Bellingham with my now-husband, Brett Baunton, because he was offered a job at the old TV station KVOS in 1990. Since I had already been going to college here I really loved being back; it felt like coming home. We had been living in Seattle. My studio is our home, pretty much the entire place, poor Brett.

Q: How did you become interested in showing your work in the Northwest Designer Craftsmen exhibit?

A: The Northwest Designer Craftsmen has made a big difference in my life artistically, I think the biggest actually. The NWDC is made of excellent artists and their shows are amazing. I am so inspired by this group of people and the caliber of the work that they do. I am so pleased that the Lightcatcher Museum is hosting one of the NWDC shows in Bellingham; it will be a treat to see.

The piece that I made for the NWDC show had been pestering me for a long time. I really wanted to create this spiral of fine, peeled branches that was all about occupying space and creating an inner space at the same time. Finally, I just couldn't put it off any longer and got down to business of making this idea into reality. The show was juried and I am so pleased to be included.

Q: What's in the works for you?

A: I would like to make more lamp pieces. It was so interesting to work with engineers, lighting techs, welders, and not work entirely alone. Plus, making something functional and beautiful is a new direction for me. I have taken a short break from creating art and am recharged and full of ideas.