Bob Snead, an El Paso artist, actor and decorated war veteran who told the stories of Black soldiers of the frontier, died on Saturday. He was 84.
A memorial service is planned for El Paso in the next week to 10 days, Snead’s family said.
Snead retired in El Paso after a 30-year career as a military aviator. He received three Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War, among other military decorations. He starred in a touring one-man play called “Held in Trust: The Story of Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper,” about the life, mistreatment and ultimate redemption of the first Black man to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The one-man show was broadcast by PBS in 1996, featuring an introduction by Gen. Colin Powell.
His paintings focused on Western themes, particularly the Buffalo Soldiers, all-Black units sent to battle Native Americans in the Southwest and Great Plains after the Civil War. Snead’s art expanded public awareness of the Black soldiers.
Snead did a show of some of his Buffalo Soldier artwork in March 2019 in Marshall, Texas.
“I think it’s great that the people are so interested in this part of history and that they want to come out and see it and to be part of it, and learn a little bit more about it,” he told a Marshall TV station. “Because this is a part of history that not a lot of people know about.”
A Renaissance Man
Ouisa Davis, who knew Snead for decades, said he was a man of many talents and accomplishments.
“He was one of the most versatile and talented artists I have ever met. He was a true Renaissance Man, equally able to maneuver through various stratum of society and bring life to form and substance. He was so well-rounded that I cannot even focus on one segment of this wonderful soul,” she said.
Davis said Snead considered El Paso home, even though he settled here in middle age.
“He loved El Paso for its multicultural diversity, its proximity with Mexico, and its wide open spaces. He was happy to call El Paso home,’ even as he spoke of the barriers to really being included in the ‘artistic’ community,” she said.
El Paso businesswoman Sandra Reid said she and her husband, Wilbert, met Snead during a performance of his Flipper play.
“Our son Erron (2 years old at the time) decided to holler loud enough to drown out Bob’s performance. As I prepared to take Erron out, Bob stopped his performance and said to me and the audience, ‘It’s OK, babies do that.’ The audience laughed and applauded. Fortunately Erron (who is 30 years old now) was quiet the rest of the play. That was the beginning of our beautiful friendship with him and his wife Joyce. He did not know a stranger,” Reid said.
A daughter’s tribute
Snead’s daughter, Karen Partee, wrote this tribute to her father:
PROSPER, Texas — Retired army aviator and noted El Paso artist and actor Bob Snead has died. He was 84.
Snead, who had recently relocated to North Texas, passed away July 11 in his Prosper, Texas, home surrounded by family, following a four-and-a-half year battle with advanced stage colon cancer.
As a 42-year resident of the Sun City, Snead was known to many El Pasoans as a modern-day Renaissance man; he was at once a war hero, an accomplished artist, a stage actor, an entrepreneur, and a noted historian.
Snead served more than 30 years in the U.S. Army, entering the service at the age of 19, and retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer Four, in 1982. The highly decorated dual-rated combat aviator served four tours of duty in Vietnam, earning among other commendations, 41 air medals, three Purple Hearts, three Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry with Silver Star, two Bronze Stars with V-Devices, and the Master Aviator Badge.
A self-taught cartoonist and artist, Snead went on to study at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, the University of Mainz in Mainz, Germany, and alongside Italian impressionist Salviano Constantin while stationed with the military in Vicenza, Italy, in 1982.
Snead and his family relocated to El Paso in the late 1970s, with his commission at Fort Bliss to serve in air defense. He gained prominence in his post-military career as a celebrated historian of the Buffalo Soldiers – the all-Black 9th and 10th Calvary Regiments of the U.S. Army. Known throughout the El Paso community for his 50-year study and visual retrospective of the once-obscure troops of the 19th century, Snead’s research led to the development of his seminal body of work, entitled “100 Years Ago: The Buffalo Soldier Revisited.”
With a deft brush and keen eye for detail, Snead spent countless hours in his East El Paso studio bringing to the life the valiant exploits of the Black men in blue. The 167-piece collection toured the world many times over, with several original pieces from the exhibit now hanging in private collections throughout the country and the Texas Governor’s Mansion. Twenty-six pieces are currently on permanent loan with the McCall Neighborhood Center in Central El Paso.
In 1983, the story of the Buffalo Soldiers was brought to the stage with Snead’s one-man, one-act play, “Held in Trust: The Life and Times of Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper,” the first Black graduate of West Point Military Academy. Snead performed the show for more than 25 years in venues across the globe, to include a standing-room-only performance in front of Flipper’s great nephew, who was himself a cadet at West Point, in 1986.
“Held in Trust” was later adapted for television in 1996, garnering a Bronze Apple Award for Educational Excellence from PBS.
An impassioned advocate for Texas arts and arts education across the state, Snead was appointed by former Gov. George W. Bush to the Texas Commission on the Arts and as the designated artist on the committee to design the Texas State Quarter. He served as an artist-in-residence for the University of Texas at El Paso African American Studies in 1998.
Snead is an inductee into both the El Paso International Hall of Fame for Visual Arts (1999) and the El Paso Aviation Hall of Fame (2015).
Snead, the eldest son of Laura and Kinmon Allen Snead Sr., is survived by his wife of 59 years, Joyce Nicholson Snead of Prosper, Texas; his brothers, Donny Ray Snead, Norman Frazier Snead and his wife Clara, and Tony Leverne Snead and his wife Pat – all of Charlotte, NC; his daughter, Vivian Michele Snead Wade and her husband Kenneth Wade of Silver Spring, MD; his son George Christopher Snead and his wife Susan Snead of Lubbock; and his daughter Karen-Elizabeth Snead Partee and her husband Bryan Partee of Prosper; and his grandchildren – Kasidy Jordan Meador and her husband Todd Meador of Aspermont, Texas; Kailey Marissa Snead of Lubbock; Jocelyn Laurel Wade of Silver Spring, Md.; Shelby Elizabeth Snead of Lubbock; Olivia Catherine Wade of Silver Spring; J. Noah Hewson Partee of Prosper; and great-granddaughter Hallie Ray Meador of Aspermont, Texas.
Cover photo: Bob Snead was one of El Paso’s best-known artists of the 1980s and ’90s. (Photo courtesy of the Snead family)