Sylvia Snowden was born in 1942 in Raleigh, NC, but spent her childhood in New Orleans, LA. At the age of 14, she and her family moved to Washington, D.C.. Snowden’s parents encouraged her artistic pursuits at a young age, which led to her enrollment in the art department at Howard University. There, she studied under James Porter, Lois Maillou Jones, James Wells, and David C. Driskell, receiving her B.A. in 1963 and her M.A. in 1965.
Shortly after graduating, Snowden moved to Dover, DE to teach at Delaware State College. On the recommendation of her close friend and mentor E.T.C. White, Snowden went to Australia for a year-long residency in 1975. There, she explored calligraphic techniques using oil pastel, ink, and acrylic over Masonite, with the repetitive and gestural line as a main component.
In the late 1970s, Snowden moved to M Street in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood, where she currently resides. It was here that she painted her M Street series, depicting the resilience of the people she encountered in the wake of migration and gentrification. At that time, the national crack cocaine epidemic led to a surge in violent crime and homicides, and in the late 1980s through the early 1990s Washington, D.C. became known as the “murder capital” of the nation, with the Shaw neighborhood at the epicenter.
Sylvia Snowden holds both Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Howard University (Washington, D.C.). She received a scholarship to Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (Skowhegan, ME), and has a certificate from Académie de la Grande Chaumière (Paris, France). Snowden has taught at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), Howard University (Washington, D.C.), and Yale University (New Haven, CT), and has served as an artist-in-residence, a panelist, visiting artist, lecturer/instructor, and curator in universities, galleries, and art schools in the United States and internationally. In 2018, Snowden’s work was notably featured in the landmark exhibition Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960-Today at the National Museum for Women in the Arts (Washington, D.C.) alongside fellow Howard University alumnae Mildred Thompson, Alma Thomas, and Mary Louise Lovelace. Snowden has also exhibited at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY; and the National Archives for Black Women’s History (NABWH) of the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site (MAMC), Washington, D.C.. Her works have been shown globally in Chile, the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Australia, the Bahamas, France, Mexico, Italy, and Japan.