Profile: Gilda Snowden (1954-2014)

Gilda Snowden was an African-American artist, educator and mentor from Detroit, Michigan.

Early life and education

Snowden was born in Detroit in 1954. Snowden’s parents and grandparents migrated from Alabama and Texas to Detroit early in the 20th century, part of the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North.  She attended Cass Technical High School with a focus on fashion design. Snowden earned her earned her BFA in Advertising Design and Painting in 1977 and her MFA in Painting in 1979 from Wayne State University. At Wayne State University, she was heavily influenced by the Cass Corridor art movement.


In 1985 Gilda Snowden became a professor in Department of Fine Arts at the College for Creative Studies, Detroit. She taught at CCS for 31 years, serving as chair for both the fine arts department and the painting department at various times during her years there. At the college she also served as a curator and juror for art exhibitions.

She was also gallery director of the Detroit Repertory Theatre prior to her death in 2014.


Gilda Snowden’s works are predominately abstracts that utilize vivid color. The city of Detroit sparked several bodies of work. Her Flora Urbana series features abstracted floral forms, in  encaustic, inspired by the gardens now tended by Detroit citizens on plots where buildings once stood. City Album: Department of Railways 1929 is an example from a series of charcoal rubbings she made of the Detroit manhole covers she discovered riding though the city on her bicycle.

Snowden describes all of her works as autobiographical including an extensive series Self-Portrait of over one hundred self-portraits of the back of her head and shoulders. She has cited her experience of race, gender and fears she felt as a child as the inspiration for this series. She began again with the series after growing her hair out in the 2000s and using computer projections to help create her pieces. Monument [1988], found at the Detroit Institute of Arts, as “a chronicle of my family on their travels from Alabama to Detroit. We are all looking for something, all traveling from here to there.” 

She was a member of the Michigan chapter of the National Conference of Artists. This organization helped Snowden exhibit her work internationally throughout her career.

Over the course of her career, Snowden served as an advisor on the DIA Friends of Modern Art Board, a member of the advisory board of the Scarab Club, a member of the Educational Advisory Board for the Art Education Department of the College for Creative Studies, and a gallery directory for the Detroit Repertory Theater.

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