Stella Snead

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stella_sneadStella Snead

I met Stella Snead in London, in 1967. I was staying at the home of Paul Wengraf and his family. Paul was an art dealer with a gallery, The Arcade Gallery, on Old Bond Street, and it was Paul who had given Stella her first show and she and the family had been close friends since then, since that show of Stella’s paintings during the war.

Paul had been a friend of my grandmother and grandfather, Rosa Gussman and Erich Schweinburg. My mother had been a close friend of Uti Wengraf, one of Paul’s daughters.

There was a lot of buzz as we all prepared for the visit of the mythical character, the much admired Miss Snead. She was coming from Bombay. She lived there for some time. Eleven years, I believe, of which more than half had passed by now.

Over the years Stella had become a photographer, abandoning her surrealist paintings for awhile. (She would pick up painting again in her eighties, as her eyesight made developing prints difficult.)

When Stella arrived I did not experience the sense of anti-climax I’d anticipated-quite the opposite. Stella made an enormous impression on me. She was startlingly full of life. What does this platitude mean? In this case, it meant that Stella conveyed a sense of exuberance, of the use of all available energy, of being a cipher for the color and music of the world. She herself was colorful. Her hair was white and wavy, a clean, bright white, and her toenails a vivid pink. Her shoes were golden Indian sandals. Her clothes were western, but sort of a parody of the conservative model of dress that abounded. The lines were simple but the colors neon.

She was, most importantly, willing and indeed determined to engage each of us in such a direct and challenging way that we felt obliged to open up, to live up to, her demand for fun, for honesty, for thoughtfulness mixed with playfulness, and a love of good food.

The early seventies found both of us living in New York, and Stella took me under her wing, her glittering wing, and we were fast friends until she died. I saw her at the place, the home on 106th Street where she died, about a month before. At that time she wavered between disdainful awareness of her surroundings and a wish to either go to her beloved apartment at Lincoln Towers or to her eternal home, forthwith. She retained her incisive humor, in flashes, till the end.

About a year and a half before she died I was visiting her in her apartment. I had moved to Wisconsin in 1994, something that Stella found profoundly bewildering, and annoying. But she came to see me in the farmhouse I share with Ian Teal, and we visited her in NY quite a few times. By this time she was already being cared for by several people; she’d become very weak and needed the help. Stella and I agreed during this trip that those photos and negatives that weren’t going to an institution to be archived would be given to me.

The day after this agreement I arrived to visit and found Stella much, much livelier than she’d been the day before. She couldn’t wait to tell me how she wanted things organized, and much more interesting, she wanted to tell me about some of the photos, and indeed, we sat side by side in the darkroom area as she told me who some of the people were. Clearly the opportunity to look at these photos with a sense of purpose brought her back to the day on which she’d taken them, and also to the experience of developing and cropping the prints. She pointed things out to me about the composition of some of the photographs. This was what I’d always most admired. I was less interested in the collages than the photos; I love the proportions and the themes of her photos. So this was a sweet and lovely day for me.

This website will serve as a hub, I hope, for those who either knew and loved Stella, and for those who knew her work, and for those who will come to know about her and her work in the future.

Ian and I bought an old opera house in Weyauwega, Wisconsin, in 2007. We have a theater and film space there, and an art gallery. One of our shows featured a snow and ice series of Stella’s. The pictures were taken in New Hampshire and Maine, in the 1970’s.

Please, anyone who would like to, send anecdotes. We will post a collection of stories about Stella written by her friends in order to help us all enjoy her memory.

Kathy Fehl