William Snyder III always saw art as language; but his latest work, “Wild Geese,” is inspired by words themselves.
Growing up in Bedford, Pennsylvania, Snyder, an adjunct assistant professor in Penn State’s School of Visual Arts, showed a childhood talent for drawing and took private lessons once a week throughout elementary school.
Snyder quickly learned to see art like a language.
“[It] just became a part of how I understand and see things,” Snyder said.
Before his latest project — a multi-colored mural in downtown State College — took flight, he had to figure out how his own creativity worked.
Though involved with the arts growing up, Snyder said he gradually realized his desire for a creative career.
In high school, he studied abroad in a French town roughly three hours south of Paris. A fan of Van Gogh, Snyder had the opportunity to enthusiastically explore the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay.
In 1998, he enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Snyder eventually transferred to the integrative arts program at Penn State, his father’s alma mater.
After graduating in 2003, he went on to earn his master’s degree from Penn State as well.
That’s when he took “Art and Social Activism” with Lonnie Graham.
“[The class] was really pivotal for me to think beyond just drawing or painting a pretty picture, but how my work and I could engage with the world to make a positive difference,” Snyder said.
Graham said Snyder showed “extraordinary levels of talent” in general renderings, drawings and artistic ability.
But there was a distance at that point between the art he was creating and the social matters he was passionate about.
Soon, Snyder went out and began his first large-scale project about the Rwandan genocide, called “800,000 Acknowledge. Remember. Renew.” It consisted of 2,500 books, displayed in 100 crates, designed to evoke memorial and storytelling. Most of the pages are empty, Snyder said, but people are allowed to print their hand in clay on a page.
The project was first shown at the Zoller Gallery at Penn State for Snyder’s graduate thesis in 2006. It was later on display in the U.N. Secretariat Building Lobby in New York in 2014.
Snyder spent two years working on the project, adding a third year of graduate school to complete it.
He worked with community and high school groups, creating an instructional kit for them to learn how to bind 800,000 pages to represent the 800,000 people killed in the genocide.
Snyder has since moved onto other large-format projects, like #BigVespas, in which he created sculptures of Vespas, as well as “Wild Geese,” a mural where geese fly over a geometric pattern. Graham looks forward to seeing what his former student creates next.
“It's very exciting to see an artist that has that range, that has these multiple levels of visual conversation,” Graham said. “I love to see him continue to broaden his scope to deepen the level of his efficacy.”
In his everyday life, Snyder, a juried artist, now teaches a drawing course for non-visual arts majors and a foundations course for those new to the major.
“Getting back to teaching has been really fun because it’s challenged me to reflect on what I know,” Snyder said.
He hopes his interest in performance will also help further engage students.
While Snyder was working at the Zoller Gallery during his graduate program, he met Rick Bryant, the executive director for the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
Bryant said he admires Snyder’s work ethic and considers him an asset to the community.
“He's not a person who's going to sit there and let the world come to his door, and I think that that's great on his part,” Bryant said. “More people need to do that.”
Snyder, who had a full-time job until the end of 2016, is adjusting to pursuing art as a full-time career. In addition to teaching, Snyder will be closing out the group exhibit at West Chester University by giving a lecture.