Christine Knapp

By Bob Bahr

Christine Knapp has been a mainstay at SKB’s Dubois workshops, and she’s also one of the most valued and consistent instructors at SKB-affiliated projects. Her work with the Western Art Academy at Schreiner University is the best example of this. So it’s no wonder that she was selected as the 2017 Rose Award winner at the September workshop.

But Chris is not just a vital contributor to the SKB organization. She’s also a link to its namesake, Susan Kathleen Black.

“This organization means more to me than I can say, especially because I knew Susan personally,” Knapp said as she received the honor. “I knew her when she was struggling and trying to get into the art world.”

Knapp met Black at an art workshop in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains run by Jessica Zemsky and Jack Hines. “Workshops were her life,” Knapp recalls. “She had to schedule vacations so she could do these and learn about art. We met at a Beartooth workshop in 1990, and we were friends just like that.”

Knapp was close to Black, and also to Carol Grende, Janene’s sister and another of Black’s running buddies. When Knapp roomed with Black at a Beartooth workshop, she met Jim Parkman for the first time. “Jim was some guy who drove Susan around,” Knapp remembers. “He was so quiet, I don’t think he said more than two words. For three years that’s how I thought of him!”

Knapp is known for her sculptures, but she was a painter for years. Then, on a hike with Black, they discussed trying other media. “Susan said, ‘You know, I think I will try sculpture.’ And I said, ‘No way I could do that—I don’t have the time.’ Funny the way life turns out.”

It was Grende’s turn to nudge Knapp toward her inevitable art medium. “Carol said, ‘Why don’t you come to Montana?’ I lived in Ohio at the time. She said, ‘Spend a week with me and ride horses, and I’ll teach you what I know about sculpture. The big draw was riding horses, but we never did ride horses. The sculpture just kind of consumed us.”

Knapp recalls that it was Grende who invited her to the first SKB workshop, which was held in Divide, Colorado. The sculptor says the impact of this invitation has been huge. “SKB has changed my life,” Knapp says. “I’ve been to other workshops and they are fun, but it’s not the same kind of supportive environment. SKB is such a big family. I have seen so many life events happen with my friends here.”

And now she has received SKB’s highest honor.

“All I can tell you is that I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” she says. “It’s an honor like no other honor I’ve ever had because these people have known me for years. We are all very supportive of each other, but …I just can’t quite put it into words, but now I really want to give more. I can’t say why they gave it to me, because I was always doing what I wanted to do. I’m always thinking of Susan and the time in Montana. We were all so naïve and trying to eke out a living in art and this kind of defines me. I’m immensely grateful to be where I am now.”

Rose Award winners, from left: Nancy Foureman, Lee Cable, Wanda Mumm, Suzie Seerey-Lester, Christine Knapp, Janene Grende, Heiner Hertling, Ken Shanika, and John Phelps. Not shown: Mark Kelso

When Knapp was announced as the Rose Award recipient in September on stage at the Dubois workshop, SKB executive director Pam Cable noted that the award is not given lightly, or every year. Introducing Knapp as “a wonderful teacher and a great sculptor, Cable said, “All of our Rose Award winners have been instructors for SKB, but they also volunteer for everything, from the reception table to the auction, and they reflect the attitude and enthusiasm of our Susan Kathleen Black.”

Later, Cable elaborated, saying, “The Rose Award is SKB’s top award for honoring artists who have consistently, over a number of years, shown support of the Foundation’s mission by volunteering for duty wherever it is needed. This year, the honor went to Christine Knapp, a sculptor who has been involved with SKB since its inception 17 years ago. Chris, who is also one of our great instructors, organized our group of scholarship teens coming to the Dubois workshop this year, works every year during registration and auction days as well as giving generously of her time during the workshop week as a teen mentor and to teaching sculpting to whoever may be interested. Her can-do attitude and energy, her warm smile and dedication made her a unanimous choice for the Rose Award this year.” Ω