Art reference

In St. Albans, Ron Snapp relaunches his artistic career with a timely installation | Visual arts | Seven days

Click to enlarge

  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven days
  • Ron Snapp with “Youth in Asia (after Terry Allen)”

If Ron Snapp looks like a fallen westerner in northern New England, that’s because he is. Last weekend, the Colorado-born artist was probably the only man walking around St. Albans wearing a cowboy hat and boots, turquoise jewelry and a black t-shirt that read ” Fear No Art”. And he was certainly the only person to own an installation in Taylor Park consisting of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys attached to a chain-link fence.

Specifically, the piece is a self-contained segment of woven galvanized steel, tied at each end to support posts driven into the ground. It looks like a community message board, but this one has only one message. From a little distance, passers-by can discern that the small plastic toys on the lower half of the fence are mostly yellow and those on the upper half, blue. Yes, Snapp’s sculpture is an allusion to the Ukrainian flag, the toys an oblique tribute to the traumatized children of this country.

By Saturday morning, Farmer’s Market vendors had set up their tables in the leafy downtown park adjacent to Snapp’s facility. As this reporter was waiting for the artist to arrive, a little boy rushed over to see the toys. He longingly pointed at various pieces, but his mother said the toys were just for looking at. If she got the flag reference, she didn’t explain it. (And how could one answer a young child’s inevitable follow-up question: “Why?”)

As a quartet of teenagers passed by, one of them immediately picked up the visual clues. “Look, it’s the Ukrainian flag!” he told his friends. “Yeah,” they said in chorus in a fleeting appreciation of the art.

An older woman, shopping bag in hand, paused to study the installation in somber silence before heading to the market.

Snapp said he originally installed the piece in his front yard. “A lot of people stopped and seemed to understand,” he said. “I wanted him to get more attention.” At first, he thought he was “going down to Burlington.” But instead, he approached St. Albans City Hall.

About two and a half months later — a delay that Snapp interpreted as municipal reluctance, though it may have been normal bureaucracy — the city’s director of operations and business development, Marty Manahan, announced good news: Snapp could set up his play in Taylor Park.

Click to enlarge
The details of "Youth in Asia (after Terry Allen)" - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS

  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven days
  • Details of “Youth in Asia (after Terry Allen)”

According to City Manager Dominic Cloud, the City Council approved the sculpture but initially considered installing it in Houghton Park along with other public artwork. They ultimately decided the piece could go to Taylor Park, “because that’s where the artist wanted it,” Cloud wrote via email. It will stay there at least all summer.

With the help of his son, Snapp installed the sculpture right away, “before they could change their minds,” he laughed. It is conveniently located on the west side of the park near the sidewalk and passing motorists on North Main Street.

The title of the piece – “Youth in Asia (After Terry Allen)” – refers to the work that the Santa Fe-based musician and artist Allen created from 1982 to 1992; his coins commemorated Vietnam veterans who returned home only to commit suicide. Allen’s and Snapp’s works are radically different in style, but both evoke the human toll of war.

The headline might mystify viewers reading the nameplate at Taylor Park, but if they say it out loud – euthanasia — they can enjoy the sinister pun as much as Snapp. As he explained over a drink at the nearby Catalyst Coffee Bar, he just had to resurrect it.

The Ukraine-centric installation also represents something of a resurrection for Snapp, who is 79; it’s the first piece of art he’s made in 10 or 11 years, he said. He was an art teacher for nearly four decades, including a few years at the University of North Carolina and 34 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Additionally, Snapp has established a 10,000 square foot art co-op in Norfolk. , he says, and actively participated in exhibitions. His work spanned drawing, painting and large-scale installations that used a lot of “what most people would call crap”, he said.

While Snapp isn’t averse to marking things at the city dump, he prefers new items, such as these plastic toys. He’s been known to spend hundreds of dollars on “art supplies” at Walmart. “I’m not interested in nostalgia,” he said.

After retirement, Snapp spent time living and making art in Ottawa. He moved to St. Albans in 2008 to be near his son; his ex-wife also lives there. And although he kept an arsenal of supplies in stock, Snapp said, he fell into a long fallow period with his art.

It didn’t help that in December 2019 he became an early adopter of COVID-19. Snapp is convinced he contracted it while skiing at Jay Peak Resort – a group of Chinese skiers were also present, he said.

Click to enlarge
The details of "Youth in Asia (after Terry Allen)" - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS

  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven days
  • Details of “Youth in Asia (after Terry Allen)”

His illness was relatively mild—at first. But to this day, Snapp suffers from symptoms including brain fog, body aches and neuropathy in his extremities. A long-time drummer, he now lacks the coordination to keep up. At one point he had a heart block and was hospitalized to have a stent placed.

“I train every day; I shovel snow in the winter,” Snapp said. “But I still feel like I’m in a fog and I can’t play the drums.

“But I can do my art!” he added.

Snapp isn’t entirely sure what prompted him to create “Youth in Asia.”

“My job was usually involved in what I considered to be some kind of crisis,” he said. “I was just energized by the horrific news coming out of Ukraine – especially the murder of children. I was excited when I was motivated to do this article.”

Thus revived, Snapp said he was considering doing another montage on the theme of school shootings. And he has an idea for a local site-specific installation, which he prefers not to reveal yet. “I suck at marketing and promotion,” he lamented.

For now, it seems, Snapp shouldn’t worry about exhausting his welcome to downtown St. Albans. “I was there last night,” he said, “and there was a pretty steady stream of people coming up and looking at the sculpture.”