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Bayou Artists

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Artist
Jan 28th, 2020



For artists and arts enthusiasts, the power of art to connect people is self-apparent, but research has proven this unique power of art as well. In a joint study called “Soul of the Community” that was conducted by Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, they surveyed 43,000 people in 26 communities and found that art is a more powerful source of connection than they thought, even more powerful than education or jobs. According to Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation, “Art binds . . . and strengthens a community’s character. Art brings people together physically—at galleries, museums, performance spaces—and culturally, through its capacity to tell a community’s shared story, to inspire reflection, and form connections that transcend differences.”

Not only does art have the power to forge connections on a large scale, but also on a small one, even binding people together in love. For local artists Linda Snider-Ward and Robert “Bob” Ward, art has been a binding force in their marriage for 26 years. It brought them together initially and has continued to reinforce their bond. Linda said, “I think it has strengthened our marriage because that’s what we were interested in. That’s what we talked about. That’s what we did.” Bob agreed, adding, “That’s what we lived.”

The two were also somewhat established as artists when they met, which Bob believes made things easier. They create individual work, and they weren’t competing with each other.

Bob is originally from Peoria, Illinois, and earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Illinois Wesleyan University. Afterward, he continued his education, earning a Master of Arts in painting from the University of Iowa and a Master of Fine Arts in painting from Louisiana Tech University. Along the way, he also gained teaching experience through local organizations and at the university level, which prepared him for a 42-year career as a professor of art at the University of Louisiana in Monroe.

Linda was born in Ringgold, Louisiana. Although her family moved every 2-3 years because her dad was in the Air Force, they returned to Ringgold when her dad retired, and she finished her senior year of high school there. Afterward, her gypsy spirit took her back to Missouri, then to California and to Florida before she returned home to be closer to family. Linda received her Master of Fine Arts in painting and drawing from Louisiana Tech University, as well as a Master of Arts in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Louisiana in Monroe.

“I think being an artist isn’t a choice,” Linda said. “It’s something that you have to do. You have to be able to express yourself. To deny it is probably detrimental.”

Both Linda and Bob experienced memorable moments of affirmation early in their artistic careers. For Linda, it was when she exhibited work with Clyde Connell and several other women artists in Shreveport. Clyde gave Linda many words of encouragement for future work. Although the experience of graduate school was painful at times, Linda said she felt compelled to learn more about art. She attributes much of what she now knows about drawing to Charlie Meeds, who was a professor at Louisiana Tech and served as her primary mentor during her graduate studies.

For Bob, winning a prize in a national print-making show during his junior year of college was affirming, but he said becoming an artist was a process. “It happened brick by brick,” he said. “The more I was at it, the more I was doing better things.”

In terms of style and inspiration, Bob and Linda are very different. Bob is a colorist whose style is influenced by post-impressionism and abstract expressionism. While his early works were largely figurative, his more recent works have tended to feature what he calls refigured landscapes. “I can do more creative things with a landscape,” he said. Because they lack the same parameters as figures, he said he’s felt freer since making the switch. In terms of process, Bob starts with an idea or an image, which he draws out in pencil on the canvas, but once he starts painting, the original idea changes completely. “It evolves, and some strange force takes over,” he said.

Since taking on landscapes as his primary subject, Bob hasn’t struggled to stay inspired. He and Linda live among the landscapes that provide the initial sparks for his paintings. “I’m a city boy,” he said, “but she got me out to the pasture brushing horses.” Living in the country now, Bob said it’s harder to avoid inspiration. Each time he goes outside, he’s practically stepping in it.

In contrast, Linda’s inspiration comes mainly from animals. Like her dad, she loves them. “I just think they’re better than people, especially dogs,” she said. “They’re kind, and they forgive us for all our misgivings.” Fish, horses, dogs, cats, and other animals appear in her work, which typically starts with an ink drawing that she allows “to meander across the page.” Linda and Bob both called her work whimsical, but Bob said there’s a subtlety to what she does that he admires. “She does things I don’t do and does them quite well,” Bob said. “She can do whimsical things, and they don’t look sweet or fairytale. They’re adult.”

Linda hopes people will take something away from her art that they didn’t have before, whether that’s a new idea, an insight into themselves, or some other surprise. It makes her happy to see viewers of any age make these kinds of discoveries. “I think you need to try to look with new eyes daily,” she said, “or you’ll miss the storytelling complexity.”

But a fresh outlook isn’t just good for art’s viewers. It’s also good for artists themselves. It contributes to growth. Bob said he was accused of changing too much and too often when he was in school, and he had trouble creating a cohesive body of work, but he doesn’t believe artists should be criticized for following inspiration and views change as a form of growth. As Linda pointed out, Picasso created in many different styles of his own creation. She said, “As a growing artist, I think if you get in a rut and do the same thing over and over again so people can recognize your style, I’m not sure that’s great.”

Lately, Linda has become interested in realism and has taken up en plein air painting. The challenge of being more traditional keeps her growing and pushes her out of her comfort zone. Realism has certainly been done before, but she said, “If you’re gonna do realism, you still need to do it your way.”

Even though Linda and Bob have distinctive styles and approaches and prefer to keep their studio spaces separate, they’ve been known to show work together on occasion and have even created some collaborative pieces.

Linda said, “I always felt weird showing with Bob because he’s a colorist, and I’m not.” Bob said she prefers for her work to be hung separately. But over time, she’s begun to add more color, which is probably the most significant way Bob’s work has influenced hers. At the same time, Bob has been known to include motifs from Linda’s work in his, such as her popsicle trees and little red dresses. In one work, he also painted the two of them arm in arm in the same pose used by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in a portrait of the famous artist couple.

Like Kahlo and Rivera, art is something Bob and Linda share. It has connected them to their friends and to each other. When they were younger, the pair were responsible for selecting the art exhibited in the Monroe Civic Center’s lobby. One of the shows they arranged was an exhibition of Bob’s former students’ work. When they had hung the show, they realized there was a gap on a wall that needed to be filled, so they improvised. The work they hung to fill the gap was by an artist named Hamilton Crosby. The moniker was combination of Bob and Linda’s mothers’ maiden names, and the piece was one they had created together.

If the work hadn’t looked so much like Bob’s work, he and Linda might have gotten the piece by the rest of the artists in the exhibition without them noticing, but someone in the group was brave enough to ask about the artist none of them remembered and to point out that his work had yet to truly depart from Bob’s influence. When questioned, Bob and Linda admitted that they were Hamilton Crosby, and they’ve continued to use the name for works they’ve created collaboratively.

Whether working together or alone, Linda said being an artist can be hard. But according to Bob it’s not really work because it’s fun. “My vocation is my avocation,” he said. In art, life, and love, there will always be an unpredictable mixture of hard times, good times, and delightful surprises. But according to Linda, consistency is the most important ingredient to being successful in art, life, and love. Bob agreed, adding that it better be a “dogged consistency.” Even though their work has evolved over time and they’ve been influenced by life and each other, their commitment to art and each other hasn’t wavered.

For a listing of Linda Snyder-Ward’s work see her website at www.gallerylinda.com