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Iron & Glass

Processing the Life and Work of Amy Brook Snider

by Staff Pratt Institute Archives on 2023-08-30T14:41:00-04:00 in Archives, Art & Design Education | 0 Comments

Post contributed by Brendan Enright, Project Archivist 

As a new archivist, I am quickly learning that not all collections are created equal. In my short time in the profession, I’ve encountered a range of collections each carrying the unique fingerprint and essence of the people and organizations responsible for their creation. Institutional records, full of professional correspondence, meeting minutes, budgets, and administrative decisions, offer a wealth of information interwoven into day-to-day communication. Professional papers in which working drafts, research, presentation materials, professional correspondence, and more intermingle provide insight into the mind and work of political, intellectual, and cultural figures. Then there are personal papers comprised of letters, journals and musings, artwork, photographs, videos, and other materials that reveal and echo the life and passion of the creators of the collection. For my first large processing project, I was extremely fortunate to work with the Amy Brook Snider Papers, a fascinating collection that manages to smoothly blend institutional, professional, and personal materials offering a window into the life and work of a pioneering artist-educator.    


Candid photograph of Amy Snider leading a class in 1983.  Photo by Karen Elias.

Having only ever processed at most 15 boxes of material for one collection, being confronted with seventy-plus boxes stuffed with papers, artwork, and even puppets (more on this later) during my inaugural tour of the archives was daunting. My initial feelings of intimidation and unease only increased as I quickly became aware of Snider’s reputation as an influential figure in the art education field and her critical role in shaping the Pratt Art and Design Education program. With guidance from Pratt’s Institute Archivist, Cristina Fontánez Rodríguez, and the work done previously by students in Pratt’s School of Information, I worked my way through her papers identifying and describing the materials thereby making her insightful and inspiring works accessible to a wider audience. Now that the project is complete, I want to share some materials from her collection that struck me as particularly meaningful and reflective of her unique outlook and vision as an educator.



Midway through processing, these photos capture the controlled chaos of identifying, labeling, and rehousing this larger collection.

Highlights of the Collection
Browsing through her writings, research, and project proposals, Sniders’ passion and deep interest in youth art education and pedagogy is abundantly clear. As I went through her collection, I came across stacks of scholarly articles, books, and videos she gathered concerning innovative art education systems and approaches such as Reggio Emilia, the Group Material Art Collective, and youth education. Her consistent search for ways to excite and inspire young artists found its way into her work for over fifty years and is well-represented in the collection. An early example of her inspired curricula was her collaboration with friend and colleague, the artist and sculptor, Theodora Skipitares. In 1975, they devised a project entitled “The Room as a Loom” where students changed and reshaped the classroom using furniture, string, and other materials while Skipitares performed in costume and Snider read passages from Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Videos of the performance as well as Snider’s writings and inspiration for the project can all be found in the collection.


Armed only with string and ingenuity, her students transformed their classroom into a collaborative work of art.  

 A prolific writer and avid reader, Snider’s papers include correspondence and writing in the form of postcards, letters, journal entries, and articles that reflect her deep and broad scholarship as well as her profound connection to friends and former students. Reading through these materials, one quickly gains an appreciation for Snider’s familiarity and facility with an array of theoretical frameworks and processes such as literary criticism, aesthetic philosophy, feminist critique, and psychoanalysis all of which informed her views on art education. Aside from the numerous examples of her erudition, there are the hundreds of photographs and colorful postcards in the collection that attest to the impact and influence she had on her friends, colleagues, and students.

Often featuring original drawings, Snider received postcards from her colleagues and family from their travel and work all over the world.  

Another one of Snider’s passions well represented in her papers is her fascination with and appreciation for the value of folk art and the contributions of artists without formal arts education. Through her curation of exhibitions such as Images of Experience (1981) and a Hair-Tying Exhibition (1974), her research into outsider artists Henry Darger and Charlotte Salomon, and her exploration of what she called “Snow Folk Art,” Snider sought to highlight the artistic merit of these works and practices, elevate the discourse around them, and draw lessons from the experiences of these artists to improve our understanding of art education. Materials from these projects including original artwork, slides, academic journal articles, videos, and more can be found in her papers.  


Images of Experience Artwork:  Two examples of paintings created by the “untaught” artists whose works were featured in the exhibition. 


Hair-Tying:  An avid collector, reference images such as these were gathered by Snider and used in her Hair–Tying Exhibition,  highlighting the craft and artistry of the practice as well as emphasizing its historical roots.  



Snow Folk Art: Photographs taken by Snider of snow sculptures during her research and reflection on this often unsung folk art which resulted in an NAEA presentation and a journal article.  

A consistent theme throughout Snider’s work is her interdisciplinary approach to art and education and her desire to adapt and change the form and structure of how we view art. By changing the physical structures of classrooms and studios, shifting our conceptual engagement with these situations and formats, and injecting performance into instruction, Snider sought to spark creativity and promote learning. One example of this approach was her 1975 “Room as a Loom” project described above, but she did not limit herself to the confines of the classroom. She took this sense of experimentation and play and brought it with her into the world of academic conferences and organizations.  

As an active member of the National Art Education Association (NAEA), Snider sought to stimulate discussion and foster creativity by breaking with the usual presentation format at the annual NAEA conferences. One year she set up an exhibition of children’s artwork that conference attendees could view between the day’s panels. Another of the ways in which she attempted to reshape the format of the presentation was to incorporate puppetry and performance into her own. In 2007, Snider and frequent collaborator, Jodi Kushin, co-wrote a script for a puppetry performance that discussed their own research and inquiry into intergenerational narratives, learning, and engagement with technology. While there is not much evidence of the response to this innovative presentation, videos and photographs of its performance as well as correspondence, articles, script drafts, and the puppets themselves are included in her papers.


Amy Snider’s and Jodi Kushins’ puppets before and after their rehousing.

The Amy Brook Snider Papers are a significant addition to the archival collections at Pratt. It was deeply satisfying to process a collection that offers such a unique perspective and insight into art education and pedagogy, outsider and folk artists, art practice and theory, and Pratt departmental history, not to mention  Snider’s rich personal life. The collection is now open to the public and searchable via the finding aid here:

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