Susan Snyder Reflects on Four Decades in the Art World as the Co-founder of San Francisco’s Caldwell Snyder Gallery

For more than 40 years, Caldwell Snyder Gallery has been at the forefront of the art scene, starting from its early days near San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square. Today, with three California locations — San Francisco’s Union Square, St. Helena and Montecito — the gallery caters to loyal collectors and new clients with an array of exciting artwork from artists that span the globe. We recently spoke to director and co-founder of Caldwell Snyder Gallery, Susan Snyder, about the gallery’s past, present and future. Here’s what she had to say.

Caldwell Snyder Gallery
Caldwell Snyder Gallery interior, St. Helena. Painting by Brendan Burns, sculpture by Boaz Vaadia and hanging sculpture by Brad Howe.

Caldwell Snyder Gallery

How did you get into the art world?

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri. Upon graduation and moving to San Francisco, I immediately started working at a fine art gallery. I enjoyed connecting with the collectors and felt that art sales was my calling. I’ve been doing this since I was 21!

How did you meet Oliver Caldwell, and what made you want to open the gallery in San Francisco together?

We met in 1981 in the gallery row area on Beach Street, close to Ghirardelli Square. We would work until 11 p.m. on some evenings, as tourism was very lively during that time, with everyone strolling around after diner or drinks at the Buena Vista.

In 1983, we decided to open a small gallery together in the Marina District on Fillmore Street. This is where we started and grew our business. We eventually moved to Union Square in 1987.

Caudwell Snyder Gallery

Eventually, you bought a building in Union Square in the 1990s. Why buy instead of rent? 

We had a unique opportunity when 341 Sutter Street came on the market. It had been a restaurant for decades. Rents were extremely high at that time, so it made sense to invest in this building and completely renovate it from top to bottom. We hired Gensler and they designed a beautiful contemporary freestanding art building.

What challenges has the business faced over the years? 

There have been many challenges — earthquakes, wars, the dot-com bust and stock market woes — but we continue to showcase talented mid-career artists, and the demand has been there for these artists’ works. Our loyal collector base continued to follow us.

John Evans, Watching the Stars John Evans, “Watching the Stars,” 40×96 Oil on Canvas 2024[/caption]

You now have three locations; what makes each one special? 

San Francisco is special because it’s our flagship location — we have lots of history in San Francisco with tourists and business conventions, and many Bay Area collectors frequently visit our two-story space.

St. Helena is magical, and the building is like a fine art museum with high ceilings, skylights and a gorgeous stone facade. This is an historic building where the St. Helena Star newspaper was printed back in 1900. People from all over the world to come through the town of St. Helena, and we have local clients there as well. My business partner lives in St. Helena, so it’s a perfect situation to have a gallery in the wine country.

Montecito is like a jewel box — our smallest gallery but in a wonderful location on Coast Village Road, with lots of great people watching and wonderful neighboring restaurants and shops. We have met some amazing collectors there and have frequent visitors from Los Angeles.

Trust and honesty are most important, and we both have similar taste in the artists we choose for the gallery. We are very compatible and always have each other to lean on. We both work 24/7 and love what we do.

Woman looking at painting

Caldwell Snyder Gallery, St. Helena

What’s changed most since you opened your gallery?  

It’s probably the caliber of artists we represent currently from when we first started in 1983. Now we work with more established, mid-career artists.

How do you stay relevant in the art world?  

We continue to look for unique and talented artists worldwide to add to our current roster of artists. We always want to introduce one or two new artists each year to stay relevant in the market and be able to offer our collectors fresh and exciting new works.

Through the Decades

Caldwell Snyder Gallery St. Helena

Susan Snyder looks back at Caldwell Snyder Gallery’s 40-plus years in business.


During the gallery’s early years, we mainly sold art that was trendy at the time — Southwest art was hugely in demand, as well as the famous Art Deco artist, Erté. We had enormous lines of people attend the openings and meet the artists, and the art market at the time was really bustling. Limited-edition prints were selling actively, and it was very competitive with galleries and dealers all trying to sell paper.


In the 1990s, we moved to Union Square on Geary Street, where a lot of other galleries were located. During that time, the Union Square area was so vibrant, with people going to the theater and restaurants. We’d stay open until 11 p.m. — crazy! We were selling a lot of pop art during that era from artists like Andy Warhol and urban realism. We also established an amazing artist from Europe during this decade, Thomas Pradzynski, who painted Parisian street scenes. We became his exclusive representative in the U.S. There was a huge demand, and we really grew our business promoting his work. We also did art shows in many cities. Then in 1999, we refurbished and moved into the building that we own on Sutter Street.


We increasingly sought out artists to work with from Europe during the 2000s that we could be exclusive with in the U.S. so we wouldn’t have to compete with other galleries. It also helped launch the careers of these artists, who were relatively unknown in the U.S. We started working with several artists from Spain, Germany and France focused on abstraction, landscapes and representational works. It was also an exciting time because we opened the gallery in St. Helena in 2007, which was a pivotal point in our business.

2010s to today 

This has been an era of change. We had a gallery in New York City in the hip SoHo area for 20 years, which eventually closed in 2016. We also had a successful gallery in Carmel for 10 years, but when we opened St. Helena in 2007, we felt it was time to close Carmel and just have the three locations: San Francisco, New York and St. Helena. After New York closed, we opened our Montecito location during Covid-19. The right location became available, and we felt it was the right time and location for us to expand, so we seized this opportunity. We’ve also focused on bringing even more sophisticated, international artists into the gallery with a wide range of styles — figurative and geometric sculpture, modern abstraction, urban cityscapes, photo realism and large-scale works. And, we’ve broadened our reach by doing even more international art fairs, ongoing exhibitions and regular openings at all of our locations.