When she first applied to teach at Lander University in 2011, Professor Elizabeth Snipes-Rochester, of Lander University’s Department of Art + Design, said she did so at the insistence of colleagues who told her that Lander’s Art Department “was on the verge of something wonderful.”
Today, if you were to ask Snipes-Rochester, Lander’s 2022 Distinguished Professor, what was (and remains) so wonderful about Lander, she would be happy to tell you: “the enthusiasm, dedication and joy that the faculty and staff have for teaching and learning,” she said. “I love being part of decisions, efforts and outcomes that are student-centered at Lander.”
That student-centered approach that Snipes-Rochester sees across Lander’s campus is the same approach she takes to teaching studio art. Her passion and enthusiasm inspires her students to put their best creative foot forward, and her desire to help students grow beyond what they think is possible is behind every lesson she teaches.
“Teaching studio art,” she said, “involves carefully crafting scenarios; supporting my students with information, demonstration and encouragement; and carefully observing and responding to each student as they navigate difficult creative decisions.” She says supporting students as they address the challenges they face in the classroom is a rewarding experience as an educator because of how those scenarios help Lander students evolve into more mature artists, as well as more mature human beings.
“To practice art is to practice being human,” she said. “Each project is a scenario that is very planned ahead, but one that also unfolds in the space of the classroom and in the mind, body, eye and spirit of each student uniquely in real time.”
“Life is a creative process as well when we think in these terms,” she said.
Snipes-Rochester regularly receives praise for her own scholarly contributions. Her most recent solo exhibition, titled “Groundless,” was held at Anderson University in the fall of 2021, and included 14 original paintings that Snipes-Rochester says were inspired by her experiences as both a mother and artist while on quarantine in the COVID-19 pandemic. She has another solo show coming up this fall at Grant & Little, a new gallery space in Atlanta. Her work will be featured as part of the gallery’s grand opening. Closer to home, Snipes-Rochester keeps a small selection of work at Main and Maxwell in Uptown Greenwood, and regularly submits work to the Greenwood Arts Center for their juried exhibitions.
Along with her teaching and scholarly activities, Snipes-Rochester says that her service to Lander has been equally fulfilling. In recent years, the Department of Art + Design has developed several new degree programs: the Bachelor of Fine Arts, the Bachelor of Design, the Master of Fine Arts and the Master of Arts in Teaching. Along the way, Snipes-Rochester has enjoyed collaborating with her colleagues to help design and implement these new programs.
“Watching the first BFA graduates get their degrees was incredibly memorable,” she said. “Being a part of crafting a curriculum and implementing a new degree program—and fostering a valuable professional skillset in our students—was memorable and rewarding.”
When asked what she looks to for inspiration as an instructor and as an artist, Snipes-Rochester answers, “the world.” Interacting with hundreds of Lander students year after year gives her a different glance at the world than she might otherwise have, considering how each generation responds to an issue, overcomes obstacles, or sets and achieves goals. “My students help me observe what’s going on the world,” she said. “I carefully observe my students and their unique goals, tendencies and needs—how each cohort is different and how the world affects them.”
Quite regularly, Snipes-Rochester and her students get the opportunity to look at the world together, whether in Greenwood or outside of the United States. Since her arrival at Lander, Snipes-Rochester has co-led eight trips abroad, six of which were to the Venice Biennale. She just recently returned home from another trip with students to Barcelona and Venice, marking nearly 10 years since her first Biennale trip. “To watch students’ transformations after being exposed to a different culture, innovative and contemporary artwork, and the empowerment of travelling is a joy,” she said. “When the students come home and begin making work again, it is thrilling to see the maturity, confidence and criticality they bring to the studio.”
At the heart of the decision to name Snipes-Rochester as Lander’s 2022 Distinguished Professor was how she empowers her students in every aspect of her career, whether it be guiding students through a class assignment, or helping them navigate the city streets of another country. Haley Floyd, lecturer and foundations coordinator for the Department of Art + Design, reflected on her own experience with Snipes-Rochester’s devotion to her students, having been one of Snipes-Rochester’s students before the two were co-workers.
“She approaches art-making as a skillset that is developed through practice, not an innate ability that you either have or do not have,” Floyd said of Snipes-Rochester, adding that she “has an amazing gift of encouraging students to push themselves further without making them feel like they aren’t already ‘good enough.’”
But what Floyd admires most about working with Snipes-Rochester is her grace—how she readily admits that learning, even for herself, is a lifelong process which doesn’t stop at the completion of one’s formal education. Floyd recalled a trip abroad with Snipes-Rochester, “where everything that could possibly go wrong did, in fact, go wrong.”
But even in the most difficult of circumstances, Floyd admired Snipes-Rochester’s ability to keep her composure, elegantly turning each situation into an opportunity for students to learn. “She lives her life as an artist, a learner and an educator, breathing new life, excitement and wonder into some of the most ordinary, mundane things,” Floyd said.
“This, in the world of learning, is such a treasure.”