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Artist carves a second career, hobby

—Timeless beauty and boundless energy are captured in the hundreds of masterpieces created by Bill Snyder.

A well-known and respected person in the art world, Snyder has created stunning wood carvings, sculptures and paintings that are in collections across the United States.

An educator in his first career, Snyder began teaching art at the Miami School District. Retiring after 32 years with the school district, Snyder is still teaching art, though his students are past their high school prom days.

Snyder now volunteers his time and expertise in painting and woodcarving to teaching at the Lake Placid Art League. Both he and Marlene, his wife of 43 years, are avid supporters of the local art community and frequently volunteer their time.

They discovered Highlands County several years ago when they were delivering a large carousel horse.

Bill Snyder said: “We were living in the Keys and expenses were getting kind of high because of insurance. We’re both retired educators and money isn’t unlimited. We started looking around and this area is kind of art-friendly, plus we enjoy the central location.”

They moved here 12 years ago and began volunteering with the art league.

His initial interest in woodcarving revolved around some bird carvings he had seen that intrigued him.

“I wanted to carve ducks, but my first project was a rocker for my granddaughter. I carved the rocker and thought I’d like to try carving a carousel horse.”

They were living in the Keys and Snyder entered a local art show. He chuckled a little at how things snowballed from there: “By the end of the show, I had four years-worth of orders for carousel horses, so this all kind of developed itself. I was working on the orders, carving in my carport and a guy saw me from his boat and asked to come take a look. He ordered a horse. Another guy was driving by and stopped in. He turned out to be a reporter, wrote and an article and I received more orders.”

Snyder spends a significant amount of time on each project, and begins by drawing the piece out on paper in actual size.

“The full-scale size drawings help visualize the project and are also helpful because you can lay out the wood from the drawing,” he said.

The Synders’ home is filled with some of the spectacularly unique and beautiful pieces he has created over the last 20 years.

Enjoying his second career, Snyder said, “We were both with the Miami School District and retired to get back into art. Marlene travels with me when we deliver the pieces around the country, and we’ve had a lot of fun with that.”

The Snyders have enjoyed their life together, raising four children and now spending time with 12 grandchildren.

They share an easy manner and enjoy living a simple lifestyle together, though there is a bit of playful rivalry between them.

Standing next to a carved horse, Snyder said, “My wife got her master’s degree at Florida State and I played as both a center and linebacker on the University of Florida football team, so how embarrassing for me to have to carve ‘Renegade’, the FSU mascot after losing a bet.”

Renegade is not alone in the foyer, sharing the space with two of Snyder’s initial carousel horses.

He actually kept the first three carousel horses he completed, but has the armored horse on loan to Toby’s Clown Museum in Lake Placid.

Snyder estimates he has completed about 30 of the large carousel horses, each taking about six months to carve, working on them pretty much full-time. The smaller carousel horses can be completed in about three months.

Snyder is modest when discussing his work, advising that the process is simple: “You just cut away everything that isn’t the horse.”

Throughout the years, the formats of Snyder’s creations have changed slightly, but each piece gives the impression of being alive and full of the passion found in nature at its best.

“I’ve gotten to where I like to do a combination of natural wood and paint,” he said. “For a while, everything I did was painted, then for a while everything was natural, and I kind of like both, so lately I’ve been doing more of that. Everything is hand-brushed, and I keep it soft.”

Snyder’s years of experience in both education and art make him an ideal candidate for guiding those interested in learning or perfecting their artistic talents.

Ken Lorant has been taking Snyder’s woodcarving class for a few years and said, “The whole experience is just great – the camaraderie, the carving, the exchange of information. Bill’s really good at making subtle suggestions.”

Paul Jensen, another woodcarving student, has been carving for about 60 years and truly loves working with the wood.

He is currently carving a series of little people and cherishes the friendships he has formed in Snyder’s class.

Jensen recalled when Snyder first came to the class. “We used to carve in a garage and it was getting crowded. Bill came along, organized us, lined up some projects, and is a talented teacher. He knows what each of us know, understands what we’re capable of and knows how to get us to reach for that.”

Carving on a football player, Jensen added, “Woodcarving is wonderful therapy – it occupies your mind. You have to really think about it, visualize it. Everybody’s got a little art in them and I’ve seen people here do amazing things.”

During the winter season, there can be 45 to 50 carvers, and about six regulars in the summer season.

Class participants pay a $40 annual fee and a minimal day charge on open carving days. Snyder donates all of the fees to the Lake Placid Art League.

Woodcarving students also benefit from Snyder’s experience – he often has some pre-cut pieces ready for carving and is also willing to sell specialty woods at cost from a sawmill that he purchases from in bulk supply. Woodcarvers meet Tuesdays 1 to 4 p.m. and Thursdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Snyder said: “Wood-carving can be a relatively simple process if you start on the basics. You just need to want to do it.” Basic tools can run about $300 for a set, but Snyder cautions not to be overly concerned about buying a huge selections of tools because “you really only use certain tools depending on what you’re doing. The key is to keep your tools really, really sharp.”

The class has carved butterflies, dragons, insects, horse groups, relief carvings and tabletop displays.

This winter, they will tackle carving and finishing fanciful fish. Snyder is currently working to finish some examples and said, “We’ll be looking at doing some of the more colorful tropical fish, angels, and maybe some freshwater trout or bass. I’m thinking about doing a lionfish - it would be delicate and take time, but I think it could be pretty neat with all those crazy fins.”

Snyder’s art class meets every Tuesday from 9 a.m. until noon at the Lake Placid Art League. The class is $15 and Snyder again donates his time, turning over all funds to the League.

Joan Pizzi has taken his class for slightly more than a year and said, “Bill’s input is exceptional, he doesn’t stand over you; he lets you paint, then he’ll come over and maybe suggest a few things. I’ve learned an awful lot from him and would say he is very professional. His work is unbelievable – simply breathtaking.”

Pizzi recently won overall in the professional category at the annual Lake Placid Art and Country Fair and said, “I attribute a lot of my success to the feedback I get from Bill – I painted this during his class and he gave me great advice. He enjoys helping people and enjoys getting them interested in art.”

Pat Keesling, currently serving as treasurer for the art league, said: “Bill is a wonderful man, very generous and is a real asset to the community.”

Keesling has known the Snyders since they moved into the area and has worked closely with Marlene at the art league.

When they moved here, Marlene started volunteering at the art league and eventually accepted the role of president. The league was under financial stress and Bill Snyder said, “The art league was really struggling and I was just finishing carving a horse, so we donated it to the league and raffled it off. With the proceeds, we were able to pay off the mortgage and stabilize the finances.”

When the league hosted a benefit, Bill donated several hand-carved shelf mice.

“I did so many of them, that I made the ‘mouse house’ for them, they’re kind of fun. I paint them all different, and have a lot of fun with them,” he said.

“It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot,” Snyder said, while reflecting on his art career. “You get interested in different things as you research the subjects. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to retire and do a second career that I’ve loved so much.”