Artist has big success creating work in a small town

Story/Video posted February 12, 2021 in Arts & Entertainment, News, Best of CommMedia by Alicia Chiang

Olga Snyder grew up in a Ukranian city famous for the grayness of its Soviet-era apartment blocks and government buildings. Now there is nothing urban, or drab about her life in small-town Pennsylvania.

She lives and works in Coudersport, a town with roughly 2000 residents in north-central Pennsylvania.  Everywhere she turns, she is surrounded by splashes of color. In her studio, in her gallery and at home.

"It's nice that I really shock people and I am bringing emotions, good or bad. When some people come in, they are offended, like 'why do you have so many colors?'" Snyder said. She loves that her creations "can move people in some way."

She attended art school as a child and graduated from the Kyiv State Institute of Applied Arts and Design. She didn't see a realistic way to make a living as an artist in Ukraine, especially after she had a child early after college. So she moved to nearby Poland to start a retail business in an open air market where she sold home goods and hand-painted Matryoshka dolls made by another artist.

Coudersport native John Snyder worked for the Adelphia telecommunications company and liked to travel. He met Olga, now single, during a trip to Poland and 23 years ago he brought her back to the United States as his wife. Her son moved to the U.S. to join them when he was seven.

Potter County, with Coudersport at its center, is known for its sparse population and dark skies (nearby Cherry Springs Park is a magnet for astronomers because there are few lights to obscure night-time views of the stars). For all the things it doesn't have, there is one resource a town like Coudersport offers that Kyiv did not, a place in the robust American art economy.

After arriving in the United States, Olga Snyder discovered she could purchase materials at lower prices, and people had appreciation for art and the wealth to collect it. In other words, she saw a market for her work.

T2xnYSBTbnlkZXIgaGFzIHBhaW50ZWQgdGhvdXNhbmRzIG9mIHRyYWRpdGlvbmFsIHN0eWxlIFVrcmFpbmlhbiBQeXNhbmt5IEVnZ3MgaW4gaGVyIGNhcmVlci4=Olga Snyder has painted thousands of traditional style Ukrainian Pysanky Eggs in her career.

In her earlier days in the U.S. Snyder said she first fell "crazily" in love with making Ukrainian Pysanky Eggs after seeing an exhibition in Kyiv, Ukraine. It is very time-consuming to paint the intricately detailed eggs. Snyder went to work. She opened her first store with 2000 Pysanky Eggs in an old dairy barn outside of downtown Coudersport. 

Those beautiful eggs soon attracted buyers who collect this kind of rare artwork, but they were not enough to provide enough income for living in a small remote town. To make a living, she started making small art ornaments for sale and actively teaching art lessons in the community.

Syder now describes herself as a multimedia artist. She now works with hand-painted glass, one-of-a-kind jewelry, paintings, prints, multi-media collages, and hand-made fiber art.

"I do everything to survive in the market as an artist. Even it's not [an] incredible art piece, it's still beautiful things," Snyder said.

Olga and John have both grown successful businesses in Coudersport, surviving the Adelphia bankruptcy that cost John his job and heavily impacted Coudersport's economy. 

They share space in an elegant multi-story period storefront building downtown, where John operates a restaurant in part of the space and Olga sells art and teaches classes in the rest. John also inherited a family farm where they live, Olga creates her work and they host bed and breakfast guests.

Snyder said building the businesses has not been easy. She has spent many nights sleeping at the gallery and still occasionally pitches in as a waitress for the restaurant. They now own the family house and farm, two buildings downtown, a Victorian building across from her current shop, and a yarn shop downtown.

She quickly learned her big, original paintings were to pricey for Potter County. So, she developed a stationary line of art prints of her work on magnets, jewelry pieces, postcards and much more. They are priced in ways tourists and regular customers can afford. On top of that, she attends trade shows every year to promote and sell her art prints. Her stationary items are also sold from Alaska to upstate New York, and on the East Coast from Boston to Miami. In retrospect, Snyder said her time in Ukraine and Poland working in retail businesses helped her a lot in building her own business.

She said she has also embraced farming life, experimenting with organic agriculture and taking her art outside. As an artist, Snyder said she constantly multitasks in multiple projects and has numerous thoughts racing through her head. Farming had helped her "clear her mind."

The "farm really showed me when you work with nature for multiple hours, you see the incredible beauty," she said. "You realized it's harder to create anything more beautiful than a tree or leaf ... It's balancing me."

The Snyders are hosting volunteers who work on the farm in exchange for food and accomodations (wwooffers). She said she is also trying to connect art to nature. Her goal is to make her organic farm into an art installation garden she has been inventing in her dreams.

She is passionate about upcycling and environment-related issues. She developed a new up-cycle line of her art prints, utilizing recycled metal bottle caps. She also restored an abandoned hundred-year-old barn into an art studio and glamping room for B&B guests.

Video: Wearable art


Snyder grew up making her own clothes out of necessity. outfit. In Ukraine these outfits were expected to be wearable, not fashionable. Making them herself provided an outlet to add some creativity. She said she stopped designing outfits and knitting after coming to the United States, where she could easily purchase fashionable clothing at lower cost.

However, on a visit to the Chautauqua School of Art, she began teaching her friends to knit and realized how much she missed making her own unique clothes. The school provided access to novelty yarns. After a week's stay, the artists ended up decorating their living space with colorful, hand-knitted scarfs.

Back in Coudersport, Snyder added a section of novelty yarn to her store, which has flourished due to high demand for the variety of colors and textures of yarns that she stocks.

Video: Learning to make fiber art


Olga Snyder says her mother helped her to learn as a child how to problem-solve in a creative way.