Pamela J. Snyder, an Altoona, Pennsylvania muralist, is an extremely busy woman. Between working as head coach for the Penn State Altoona’s women’s soccer program and participating in the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, she somehow still finds time to pursue her number one passion – art. While Snyder has found several outlets for sharing her creative passions with the world, her interest in public art and community outreach has made painting murals a perfect fit. Over the years, Snyder has painted many murals, including four major works in the town of Milton, Pennsylvania. She says that her favorite aspect of public art is the connection she is able to forge with the people living and working in that area: “I love the interaction with the community members and the opportunity to educate them in a unique and interesting way. Murals open me up to learning a great deal about the history of the towns and communities I work in. Many people are visual learners, so I provide a whole new means of learning and understanding for these people. Most people know very little about their past and I can give that knowledge to them in fun and palatable ways.”
Snyder’s four murals in Milton exemplify her exploration of the town’s history and culture. This particular work pays homage to the Capitol Theatre that once existed in the adjacent vacant lot. The colorful, imaginative mural depicts a small boy and his dog staring up at the big lights while picturing a variety of movie scenes – his imagination running wild after so much time spent in the theatre. Snyder’s chosen characters within the mural are also historically relevant. For instance King Kong, Shirley Temple and Laurel and Hardy were some of the first movies to be played at the Capitol Theatre.
“Art in general is important, but public art is a gateway by which anyone can enjoy art. You don’t have to worry about how you are dressed, how smart you are, how financially viable you are, and so on. Each and every person can enjoy it equally.”
Snyder painted this next mural on the side of the Stetler, which historically has always been a hotel or boarding house of some kind. The work showcases the history of the building and provides some insight into Milton’s past. Originally a hotel and depot for passengers of the canal which ran near the building, people would enjoy a meal, some shopping, and a night in the hotel before continuing on their journey the following day. The original building had burned down in the Great Fire of 1880 but was rebuilt, soon regaining its status as a prominent and popular hotel in the area. Also pictured in the mural are a few famous faces from Milton’s past. Snyder seamlessly incorporates this piece into the everyday life of the Milton community. From a distance, the painted-on windows and awnings are indistinguishable from the real ones.
“Public art is universal and has no real barriers so it speaks volumes without a voice.”
This particular mural focuses on the transportation history of Milton. Depicted are the town’s many means of transportation, from trucking, to the small dirt airport that used to exist, to the grand canal system. Also pictured are numerous inventions that have originated in Milton, including “fly nets” for horses and tub cars which enabled trains to haul liquid. Milton remains a prominent transportation hub in Pennsylvania today, so this story remains relevant.
“Public art is a great way for communities to show off their contributions to society. It helps visitors get an instant snapshot of the town and allows them to become invested without ever having stepped into a building or onto a street. If you can grab someone’s attention, perhaps you can give them a reason to stop and spend some time in your community.”
This final mural illustrates the historical and cultural importance of Milton’s YMCA, depicting many of the services used by patrons over the decades. It is split into four different parts, the first depicting a classroom scene with young children learning and playing. This atmosphere is one that Snyder is very familiar with, as she is accustomed to working with kids on her large murals, related projects, and smaller mural exchanges. In working with children, Snyder has come to realize that they are born without any inherent hate, judgment, or malice but rather are truly innocent, kind, and genuinely friendly. Snyder reinforces this type of behavior by allowing children to help her in the creation of her pieces.
Snyder believes that through art, she is able to help people understand each other and relate to the struggles and cultures of others. “An appreciation for art and community are equally important. The children grow up being proud of where they are from and tend to have greater respect for the people and places around them.”
“I always incorporate children in my projects. I have never had a mural vandalized, mostly, I believe, due to the amount of time I take to include the community in the work. I also think children bring a bright, new perspective and keep me thinking creatively. I never get stuck in a rut, as they flood me with new ideas and constant streams of opinions, commentary and discussion.”
“My genuine goal is to work with children and help them to recognize the similarities we all share, yet at the same time, have the ability to value the uniqueness of our differences.”
Through her art, Pamela Snyder has forged bonds with the areas she has worked in, opening doors of thought and creativity for a variety of people. By connecting people to both their own communities and the communities of others, cultural and historical ties are able to be discovered and explored, all through the tacit voice of a brushstroke.