MADISON, Ind. (March 2004) The artwork of William McKendree
Snyder holds a special place in the heart of Madison, Ind., resident
Dottie Massie. Her mother, Opal Hines, a fan of Snyder, at one time
owned six of the artists paintings. Massie now owns one of them,
a still life featuring a table laden with fruits and meat. She and
husband, Jerry Massie, have purchased two others.
March 2004 cover.
All are now on display at the Jefferson County Historical Society
Museum, part of a Snyder art exhibit that opened Jan. 26 and runs
through March 31. The Massies, along with other area residents and
organizations, loaned to the museum their paintings for the exhibit,
the first of its kind in Madison in nearly two decades.
A prolific artist whose works have been said to number in the hundreds,
Snyder lived and worked in Madison for most of his life and is often
called Madisons favorite artist. He was born Dec.
20, 1848, in Liberty, Ind., the fourth child of William and Elizabeth
Snyder. His family moved to Madison when he was 5 years old.
Much is known about Snyders life, thanks to the late Emmett
S. Wood. Before his death in 1999, the Madison native self-published
in 1995 a biography of Snyder from many interesting facts and documents
relating to the artists life that he had compiled through the
Wood, a well-known florist, operated for more than 30 years a flower
shop on Main Street. Something of an art connoisseur, Wood painted
for pleasure, cleaned paintings and repaired ornate frames, according
to his son, Don Wood. Also a collector of art, Wood at one time owned
about 18 Snyder paintings. Toward the end of his life he started
selling (them) off, said Don Wood, who still owns two.
Don Wood said his father knew Snyder personally when he was very young
and Snyder was elderly, but it wasnt until some years later
that he became intrigued with his work. His interest was probably
sparked by two Snyder paintings, both landscapes, that belonged to
his parents. Don Wood said he does not know how his grandparents came
to possess the paintings.
He speculated, however, that his grandparents probably knew Snyder
and that he may have painted at their 80-acre Rykers Ridge property,
where they grew produce in several massive greenhouses.
In Snyders biography, Wood details the artists life and
family history. According to Wood, Snyders father was a minister
who gave his son his first art lessons. When he was 12, Snyder served
as a drummer boy during the Civil War and was eventually captured
and held in the Souths infamous Andersonville Prison. Wood had
procured from Snyders great-granddaughter a copy of his honorable
discharge signed by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War
by Ruth Wright
and Jerry Massie with their Snyder painting, part of the museum
From 1872-75 Snyder studied in the east under such artists as Albert
Bierstadt, George Innes and William Morris Hunt. In 1875 he married
Alena Rodocker, a vocalist. The couple had one child, Alena Pearl,
also an artist. One of her paintings is currently displayed at the
museum as part of the Snyder exhibit.
During panic of the 70s Snyder was forced to move his
family to Madison, where they lived with his father at 127 East St.,
according to Wood.
Early in his career, Snyder painted portraits. He later painted nudes.
Some of his works were as large as 9x20 feet. One such painting, a
6x9 foot rendering of Edward Nicklaus, is now owned by the JCHS. It
once hung in the Knights of Pythias lodge at 314 Jefferson St. in
During what Wood called his literary period, Snyder painted
several Shakespearean Ophelias and Juliets. Laura ONeil, the
daughter of Dottie Massie, owns one of Snyders large Juliets,
which she is currently having restored by an Indianapolis company.
Snyder also painted hunting dogs, usually setters. He is said to have
often painted at a farm on Thompson Road near Canaan where hunting
dogs were bred and trained.
Later in his career, outdoor compositions became his main interest
and the southeastern Indiana countryside served as his inspiration.
You could say Snyder is know for beech trees, said JCHS
director Joe Carr. Wooded scenes featuring beech trees were common
subjects. Also typical of Snyder paintings are notable area landmarks,
including Clifty Falls, Hanging Rock Hill, the railroad cut and the
by Ruth Wright
Wood outside his studio in Madison.
Many of Snyders painting appear dark, but that is mostly due
to age and the accumulation of dust, dirt, smoke and other pollutants.
Wood, who cleaned and restored paintings, wrote: I have heard
many say that they dont like Mr. Snyders paintings
because they are so dark. I reply, Mr. Snyder didnt
paint them that way. He painted them as true to nature as it
was possible for him to do.
Snyder did not always sign his work, and when he did it was not always
in the same style, color or location. Red, orange, black and green
signatures have been found on paintings. Also unusual is a signature
found on a few works painted in the form of a letter addressed to
Snyder. This kind of signature appears in the still life owned by
Snyders work is typically popular in the Indianapolis-Louisville-Cincinnati
area. Within that triangle, hes appreciated, said
Carr. However, the artist is nationally known and his paintings can
sometimes be found in unusual places. Ron Grimes has one Snyder painting
in the exhibit that he said came from an auction in Cleveland, Ohio.
Grimes brother, an art dealer, purchased it for $400, said Grimes.
Snyders paintings have also been known to show up on Ebay, according
Locally, prices are higher for Snyders work. Prices for more
substantial pieces often sell for thousands of dollars. The Massies,
for example, paid at auction $17,000 for their still life painting.
by Ruth Wright
titled "Forest Scene," by William Snyder's daughter,
Pearl Snyder Wade.
Woods research about Snyder reveals an interesting and sometimes
eccentric individual. Wed probably call him a character
today, said Don Woods. One often told story that reveals a bit
of Snyders character concerns a large painting of a woman clothed
in a transparent gown lounging on a bed or couch, with a man peering
at her from behind a screen. The painting, according to Woods, was
rendered for payment of a bar tab that Snyder had run at a Madison
tavern. The tavern owner balked when Snyder, claiming that the painting
was worth more than his debt, asked to be paid the difference.
Finally, Mr. Snyder took the matter to court, appraisers were
brought down from Cincinnati, and the saloon keeper had to pay the
difference of Mr. Snyders bill, Woods wrote.
Snyder died in Madison on Sept. 30, 1930, leaving an estate worth
$10,000, according to Wood. His grave is located in the east section
of Springdale Cemetery.
On June 30, 1998, Don Woods launched a website dedicated to Snyder
using the information collected by his father, Emmett. It includes
examples of Snyders paintings. For information visit: www.geocities.com/Paris/Arc/4918/snyder1.html.
Those interested in viewing in person more than 20 of Snyders
paintings can visit the exhibit at the Jefferson County Historical
Society Museum, located at 615 W. First St. in Madison. On display
are several unique Snyder works, including less common watercolors
and a painted three-panel screen on loan from Catherine Sieglitz of
Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Admission is $2 per person and complimentary to members of the society.
The museum will open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. March 21 for a special
free showing of the Snyder exhibit. Woods biography of Snyder
can be purchased at the museum for $5. For more information on the
museum exhibit, call (812) 265-2335.