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SOFA Chicago: Talking Shop with Snyderman-Works

Rick and Ruth Snyderman
Ron Isaacs, Elliptic, 2011, acrylic on birch plywood construction, 17.25 x 21 x 1.75 in.
Jon Eric Riis, Caterpillar Tapestry, metallic thread, freshwater pearls, bugle beads, Swarovski crystals, 64 x 80 x 1 in.

Rick and Ruth Snyderman

Photo gallery (5 images)

Ruth and Rick Snyderman are true champions of craft. For 46 years, the couple has been exhibiting contemporary studio craft, first through The Works Gallery (which Ruth founded in 1965) and Snyderman Gallery, which the couple opened in 1983 as a venue for artists working in studio furniture and sculptural glass. In 1996, they combined operations, becoming the venerable Snyderman-Works Galleries that we know today in Philadelphia's lively Old City arts district.

As the Snydermans prepared for SOFA Chicago, Rick carved out some time to answer our questions – about their exciting SOFA line-up (booth 1308), but also the rewards and challenges of their chosen career.

You have an impressive roster of artists you're representing at SOFA this year, drawn from an even more impressive roster of artists you represent. Could you start by telling us a little about the group you've brought to Chicago this year?
We're focusing on artists whose work has been part of national and international museum exhibitions. Within that group, we've carefully chosen signature works of museum collection quality.

What do you look for as you¹re choosing your SOFA line-up?
You must bring work that stops people in their tracks.

Are you bringing anyone new to SOFA this year? Or is there any new work from a veteran artist you¹re particularly excited to show?
Bruce Metcalf has made three new pieces for our presentation. Several others, which were part of his solo exhibit at the National Craft Gallery of Ireland earlier this year, have not been shown before in the United States. Metcalf will be giving a lecture at SOFA as well. His recent book Makers: A History of American Studio Craft is recognized as an important and well-documented overview to the 20th century studio movement in this country.

Ron Isaacs, who just completed a catalogued, 40 year retrospective at Berea College, has made four works specifically for our SOFA presentation.

We are especially excited to be showing three dramatic new pieces by Gyongy Laky, an artist who we've shown in several of our Fiber Biennials, and whom we are delighted to be presenting here.

We'll be presenting a very important early piece, Gele Kente Flag by Sonya Clark, whose solo exhibit at Snyderman-Works Galleries will soon travel to the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas.

Jon Eric Riis, who just completed two major exhibits of his work in Paris, from which the Louvre acquired two pieces, has made a huge tapestry for our presentation. Caterpillar Tapestry is an exotic mix of Swarovski crystal, freshwater pearls, and metallic threads. Measuring almost 7 feet in length, this will be its premier showing.

Marilyn Pappas, whose Opera Coat 1968 is one of the important historical works currently on exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, will have five works at SOFA, one of which Nike And The Life of Beauty, a piece that is over 8' high, completed in 2006, was so extraordinary that Mark Lyman is giving it a special featured location at SOFA.

While these are a few of the highlights, our website has images of all the work included in our presentation.

I'm a visitor, and I stop at your booth: Which few works should I absolutely not miss?
I won't have to tell point them out. A stop at our booths (we will have two across from each other) will tell you all you need to know.

Right now, many people are working to move forward in what many experts agree is a changed economy. As the owner of a retail gallery, how have you adapted?
Uncertain times require showing work that has been vetted and acknowledged as holding and increasing their values. We've tried to bring work that is classic - but by no means traditional - by artists whose work has been tested by their peers in the world of curators and institutions.

What advice would you give to artists navigating this new marketplace?
Be patient.

Finally, running a gallery especially an excellent gallery is a lot of work. What¹s the reward? What do you love about your career?
Our job is to be ahead of the curve for new talent, but to also serve as curators for presenting signature or marker pieces by the artists we represent. It's an obligation to excellence, and also to education, both of which give us enormous satisfaction. It's not about making a lot of money. The only thing Ruth and I have more of than when we started is grey hair.

During the gallery's more than 46 years, we have had many occasions to present 'new' work that later became significant. For example we first presented Tom Patti's work in 1977 when he was largely unknown. We arranged what was at that time a major commission for Howard Ben Tre by Frederick Weisman for the City of Philadelphia in 1986. We presented one of Dale Chihuly's early solo exhibits in 1983, as well as several for Garry Knox Bennett, to name just a few. These artists were not, at those times, the household names they were soon to become.

In Chicago this weekend? Visit Snyderman-Works Galleries in booth 1308 at the Navy Pier Festival Hall. SOFA Chicago runs through Sunday, November 6.

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