She is an Artist & Photographer Well-Known for Her Photographs of Nature & Wildlife. Meet Denver-Based Visual Artist Wendi Schneider
Wendi is widely known for her ongoing series of hand-gilded photographs, States of Grace –– illuminated impressions of grace in the natural world. Drawn to the serenity she finds in the sinuous elegance of organic forms; she embraces photography to preserve vanishing moments of beauty in our vulnerable environment. She has perfected a gilding process in which her images seemingly dance on the paper’s surface amidst reflections of light on precious metals, creating a synthesis of technique and subject.
Q: So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
WS: I am a visual artist illuminating moments of grace in the natural world with photography and precious metals. My journey has been a rich and rewarding one. I’m still drawn to the scents of oil paint and turpentine - a sensory fragment from childhood that brings to mind my mother and grandmother painting at their easels at our home in Memphis. I spent most of my childhood outdoors or drawing and painting and reveling in the fashion and design magazines of the 1960s and 1970s that nurtured the love of art in my sisters and me. I later studied art history and painting at Stephens College in Columbia, MO, before transferring to Newcomb College in New Orleans to concentrate on painting. I had fallen in love with New Orleans as a young child on a balcony overlooking Royal Street eating beignets and drinking café au lait. The air there is heavy with humidity and history and it resonated with the melancholia of dusk - my favorite time of day. To this day, my work is influenced by the lush, plush landscapes of the South.
After a brief stint in the hotel and restaurant world of the French Quarter, I worked in marketing at The Times-Picayune newspaper for seven years as a creative, designer and editor. It was at that time in the early 1980s, that I bought a camera to reference models for my paintings. Mesmerized by the possibilities of the photographic art form and the alchemy of the darkroom, yet missing the sensuousness of oils, I began to layer oils on my prints to manipulate the boundaries between the real and the imagined. Exhibitions and publications of these hand-painted photographs followed.
My last project in New Orleans was a highlight in my career: the re-creation of the 1901 Picayune’s Creole Cookbook to celebrate the newspaper’s sesquicentennial. Over the nine-month project, I spent hours poring through vintage photographs at the newspaper and at the New Orleans Museum of Art, studying vintage book design and the Newcomb Pottery I had first seen in decorative arts class at Stephens. I haunted antique shops for props for the 40 chapters of heading photographs that I created for the book. The project allowed me to combine my love of cooking, antiques, and design to re-create this incredible document of New Orleans’ culinary history.
In 1988, I moved to New York to open my own business and began a diverse career that included fine art, advertising, and editorial photography, including for Victoria Magazine and a multitude of book covers. After I moved to Denver in 1994, I also worked in design and art direction. But as I neared 60, I felt a pull back to my personal work. A 2010 visit to A Gallery For Fine Photography in New Orleans, which represented my early work, cemented the desire to return to my fine art roots.
In 2012, I began to produce a collection of photographs illuminating the sinuous shapes of organic forms in flora and fauna – the ‘States of Grace’ series. I recall seeking solace and solitude as a child as the light-faded end of day beneath the swaying limbs of a venerable weeping willow, echoing later in the sensuous floral shapes of Art Nouveau. I’m transformed in capturing the stillness of suspended light to preserve the visual poetry of these fleeting moments of beauty in our vulnerable environment
I photograph intuitively – what I feel, as much as what I see. While my prints in the 1980s and 1990s were layered with glazes of oil paint, my images are now layered digitally with color and texture, often altered within the edition to honor the inconsistency. These ethereal impressions are printed on vellum or kozo. I then apply white gold, moon gold, or 24k gold leaf behind the image, creating a luminosity that varies as the viewer's position and ambient light transition. My process infuses the artist’s hand and suffuses the treasured subjects with the implied spirituality and sanctity of the precious metals.
My latest project, the Patina Collection, is an assemblage of gilded prints in the ‘State of Grace’ series paired with antique frames – the synthesis of 40 years of collecting turn-of-the-twentieth-century art and objects with creating images inspired by the sinuous elegance of organic forms. The serpentine shapes are echoed in the subjects I photograph and the undulating curves of the Art Nouveau frames that house these works. Each of these unique framed prints is truly a one-of-a-kind object of reverence.
My work has been published and exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions worldwide including AIPAD and Art Basel and is represented by A Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans, Catherine Couturier Gallery in Houston, and Galeria PhotoGraphic in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Q: Has it been a smooth road?
WS: Yes, I feel as though I have had several different lives which transitioned organically, incorporating at times fine art, advertising, and editorial photography, design for print and web, art direction, teaching, jurying exhibitions, and more.
Q: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
WS: I celebrate daily that I have the opportunity to create the work that I’m compelled to make. If I can make work, I am fulfilled. If I can make work that touches others and brings them respite, I am deeply moved and grateful. I’m also delighted to be able to give back to the community, as I was often helped along the way. I sit on the executive board of the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, which is dedicated to fostering the understanding and appreciation of excellent photography in all forms and concepts through exhibitions, education, and community outreach.
Q: Which museums hold your work in their permanent collections?
WS: My photographs are held in the permanent collections of The New Orleans Museum of Art, The Center for Creative Photography, The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, The Auburn University Library Special Collections, and The Try-Me Collection, as well as numerous private collections internationally.
Q: What is most important to you and why at this point in your life?
WS: Now more than ever, I’m driven by a search for grace and the otherwise elusive glow of creative flow that exists when the awareness of time and the current craziness of our world disappears. I relish and require the focus to discover the composition, to discern how best to convey the spirit of the subject, to develop an image or print that elicits a quickened heartbeat. It’s that magical moment when the senses align - when my eyes and essence are engaged. It’s an addiction – calming and centering, exciting and enchanting. I am deeply grateful for the important work being done by those to integrate diversity and expose inequities and am delighted to be able share moments of respite in beauty from the unease in the world in which we live.
Q: After you completed your education, where did you feel your career path would take you?
WS: Having graduated in painting and art history, I had no idea what would follow. I wanted to get out into the world and chose not to earn a BFA or MFA. It was the purchase of my first camera that forged my path. I was fortunate to be surrounded by the brilliant, creative minds at the newspaper, to have access to a darkroom, and the generous support of dear friends and colleagues.
Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
WS: Follow your passion. We all have our gifts to share and they are usually rooted in the things we love most.
Five Things About Wendi Schneider
1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
Edward Steichen - Pictorialist, Symbolist, fashion, and advertising photographer, Tonalist painter, filmmaker, curator, horticulturalist, designer and second Director of Photography at MOMA. It was after I fell in love with his work in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work magazine, that I learned about his incredible breadth and talents. His superbly executed paintings and photographs so brilliantly capture the moods I feel deeply. I only wish I could see the paintings he destroyed when he discovered photography.
2. Favorite movie?
As a devotee of cinematography and films old and new, that seems an impossible choice, but among them are Bringing up Baby and The Philadelphia Story.
3. What inspires you?
The exquisite details of organic forms in nature.
4. Do you collect things?
A resounding yes! The most cherished childhood memories with my mother were of haunting antique shops, and the love of gathering old things flourished over the decades. I’m a collector of art and objects from the turn of the 20th century – primarily Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts, and photogravures. I also have two wonderful paintings by my great-grandmother. I recently donated some Glasgow School china by George Logan, a contemporary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, to the Kirkland Museum, one of my favorite Denver museums, which recently reopened.
5. Cake or Pie?