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Ex-corporate treasurer creates artistic treasures

When corporate treasurer Tom Snyder was forced into early retirement at 50 in 2001, he did what most people would. He began looking for a new job as a corporate treasurer.

Snyder had been with Dominion Industries for 25 years and stopping to consider other career options wasn't in his plan.

But Tom's wife, Saundra, accidently introduced him to the possibility of a different kind of career. Saundra was a watercolor artist and was reaching into other artistic areas when Tom lost his job.

At the time, Saundra wanted to make a glass mosaic top for a table she was refinishing in their home and she asked for Tom's help.

Their daughter, Melissa, then a senior at Wheaton College, also was working on a mosaic piece for her senior thesis as an art history major. Tom and Saundra thought the three of them could have fun working on the projects together.

"Cutting the glass was awful," said Tom. "Being mathematically minded, I tried to come up with a formula of sorts to cut the glass in a precise way and get the same results every time. It took a little while but it got easier."

Once the table and Melissa's thesis were finished, Tom found that mosaic art intrigued him.

"I found the process fascinating," he said. "I learned to love cutting the glass and putting together the geometric shapes."

Saundra suggested he keep working on glass mosaic projects and expand his interest. He set up a workspace in the garage of their South Park home and worked tirelessly on various projects, including glass mosaic vases.

"I started out with the hard stuff," said Tom. "I had to try and work around the curves of the vase and the glass pieces kept sliding off."

Tom never went back to work as a corporate treasurer. His interest in mosaics turned into a full-time job. He worked out of his garage for three years.

Saundra, who had been on the board of the Charlotte Art League, suggested Tom work on his art at one of the league's rented studio spaces.

"I wanted him to feel like he still had a job to go to every day," she said. "This way he could leave the house every day and have some place to go to work on his art."

As Tom continued to work with mosaics, he asked Saundra for her input. They had done a couple of projects together, including some work with infused glass.

Saundra suggested they try something neither had done before: make a painting out of glass by experimenting with infused glass.

The two brought their individual skills together to create an infused piece of glass art for their home. They created a hydrangea backsplash for their kitchen that impressed those who saw it.

"We sold a couple of those pieces to our friends and our projects just took off from there," said Saundra.

Eventually, their projects and orders became so large that the two outgrew their studio space at the art league.

"It was a very small space," said Tom. "Every morning I'd wheel all my stuff into the hallway to work and every night I'd wheel it back into the studio.

"We needed something bigger."

In April 2008, the couple decided to turn their "glorified hobby" into a small business. They rented a large space in Pineville that had a store to display their work and a large area attached behind the store to house ongoing projects. Designer Glass Mosaics was on its way.

Their first major custom project was a large-scale bamboo backsplash for a bathroom. The piece took about four weeks to make. Because it was so large, it had to be cut into panels before it could be moved and installed.

Once the piece was completed and pictures of the project were posted on their website, orders for custom-made home décor came pouring in. Pieces run from $50-$250 a square foot, depending on the complexity and labor.

"We are unique because no one else in Charlotte makes art from infused glass as well as mosaics," said Tom. "In fact, we are a unique business in the country. We have customers from California who say they were so happy to find us."

One of the most complex pieces they created was a 12-by-4-foot reef mural to attach to the wall of an infinity pool for a client in California. The underwater scene was so large it took four weeks to complete and was cut into several panels before being shipped. The cost of the project was $6,500.

The business has grown for the Snyders since they have been at their current location. They work for people in Charlotte and send pieces across the country and to Canada. They also hold workshops on glasswork attended by people throughout the country.

They hold 12 workshops a year in which they guide participants through the process of creating a piece of glass-infused art. Saundra shows them how to create a design and pick out the glass. Tom does most of the teaching.

"He's so good at speaking and teaching others how to do what we do," Saundra said. "He has great patience."

Tom and Saundra also do community work with their art. They hold free workshops throughout the year for students from art honors societies in public schools and home-schooled students. They also work closely with children from The Relatives, a crisis shelter with Alexander Youth Network.

For the past few years, the couple also has worked with the Allegro Foundation's Ambassador's Ball by donating pieces and workshops to auction off. This year they have created glass pendants and cuff links to be worn by guests of the ball.

"We love doing work in our community," said Saundra. "To give something back means a lot to us."

The Snyders' work has been featured nationwide in publications such as SouthPark Magazine, Housetrends and Frederick magazine. They also were asked by the team at "Extreme Home Makeover: Home Edition" to do custom work on a home the show was renovating in Logan, Utah.

"That was an incredible experience," Tom said. "They flew us out to Utah and were so nice. It was a real compliment."

In the future, Tom, 60, and Saundra, 58, hope to broaden their work by doing large-scale pieces for high-end hotels. In 2009, they created a 500-square-foot water wall for the Millennium Apartment complex in uptown Charlotte.

"It was one of our larger pieces and was difficult to do, but it was fun," said Saundra.

Tom said, "That's what keeps us going. We haven't lost one iota of enthusiasm. We love creating and it's so much fun because we don't know what we can't do."