By: Karla Jensen
James Patterson writes great thrillers. Rolex designs great timepieces. Terrill Knaack produces great artwork. If you’ve spent time in Dodge County, Terrill’s name doesn’t need to be mentioned twice for the public to know of whom we are speaking. He’s asked for by name more than any other artist. In the field of timepieces, if you want the best, you get a Rolex. In the field of art, if you want the best, you buy a Terrill Knaack. He’s the brand we love in our own back yard with a name as prominent as Patterson and a reputation as fine as a Rolex.
As a writer for LocaLeben, I experienced my first and only interview with a featured artist while the magazine’s publisher Jim and editor Erik sat across the room. I wondered if the Terrill Knaack impression I had, would be the same Terrill Knaack they would come to know during our short time together. Terrill sat in his stocking feet, tanned legs exposed, like a close friend convincing us how common he is. While Sue, Terrill’s right hand and spouse, contrasted this image as we discussed this prominent artist’s amazing career, unusual commissions, and character. In all things art, Terrill can be much like a royal’s spouse: Celebrity and neighbor, common and uncommon, noble yet ordinary.
Terrill’s home is broken into two equal halves, book ends, one exemplifying the secrets to his creative process in his studio, the opposite a gallery showcasing outstanding artwork and photography, polished and framed. His studio resembles a professor’s sanctuary: Empty frames askew, a trio of tripods, fat photo lenses, and the handsome snout of a grey wolf emerging from an otherwise snow white canvas. A sketchy childlike drawing like a half-finished recipe is tacked alongside its more complex counterpart – a commissioned peninsula of land not yet complete. Dances with Wolves meets National Geographic right here lakeside in Beaver Dam. His studio is as fine and polished as his art. It’s a magnetic cozy place that compels you to hang out, a fireplace as its focal point as if the art isn’t equally as magnificent to behold.
I loved finding Terrill and Sue so down to earth and friendly in both these locations. Being in Terrill’s presence didn’t turn me into a puddle of melting chocolate, me begging for an autograph on my hip with a sharpie or for a photo in leather jackets and shades. He’s not that kind of famous. Instead, I found myself longing to kick my own shoes off, curl my legs underneath me on the couch and settle in to hear his tales of travel and inspiration.
Terrill has traveled the nation extensively and internationally, a missionary in the field of nature, eager to sell us on his brand of ecology, and he accomplishes this through his art. He has scouted locations to paint like Prince William Sound, the Sierra Madres, the Canadian Rockies, the African Savanna, with merely the clothes on his back and a satchel of painting essentials. “Nature is a very spiritual place. There is something unexpectedly new everywhere you go if you pay attention,” claims Terrill. “I love Lake Superior, I’m transfixed by it. I could spend a lot of time there,” he added. Terrill is known for his plein aire works, outdoor painting within nature; a part of his branding. “The subject matter of nature is so deep, I’ll never get to it all,” he jokes.
The Watermark community center project recently commissioned Terrill to create the donor wall that will be featured in the new community center upon its completion. Terrill unveiled his rendering of this showcase piece at the June Campaign Kick-off event held at the Veterans Center. The donor wall is fashioned from the image of a tree with various sized leaves, depending on levels of donations. This piece of beauty embraces Terrill’s trademark creativity, love of nature and the excellence we so often see in his brand.
After we spoke a bit, Terrill reminded me of a Sunday evangelist preaching from the high pulpit of nature, about artists finding their motivation for painting and how art can be a spiritual pursuit if you allow it. “There is a sense of order that is diverse. Look at the way plants are organized. I feel a presence in the landscape that makes me want to paint it,” declares Terrill in his most ordinary unassuming pastoral way, while still sharing his passion. Apparently he captures that presence well, because whatever spirit or energy he infuses into his art and photography, it also makes the public want to buy it. You can enter his studio soon during the upcoming Second Annual Fall Driving Art Tour on Saturday, October 6 and Sunday, October 7. Pick up your map/brochure at any Dodge Central Credit Union location and make this your first stop.
Terrill is a passionate ecologist, one who name drops art mentors and the most gorgeous settings on the planet as if he might have been there just last week. He speaks as if meeting Ansel Adams personally or studying under Owen Gromme, another prolific Wisconsin artist, held the same significance as having dinner at Mom’s house. He has been inspired by study, understudy, and a steady diet of immersion in his field, which tends to be more mountain, more prairie, and more lake than anything. Even if you get him started on humans wrecking the planet due to our stupidity, he will still create beautiful artwork. It is just in his nature.
As the Executive Director of BDAAA, I am embarrassed to admit that Terrill Knaack and I do not know each other as well as I would like. At least he hasn’t signed my hip yet, but I’m not ruling that out. I heard his name often before I met the man and the vision of an egotistical art legend is what I expected, not the kind, talkative, intelligent man I’ve come to know. Terrill couldn’t be a nicer guy, a blend of Jack Hanna of the Columbus Zoo fame and the Marlin Perkins from Wild Kingdom I watched during my youth. Back then, we were envious of guys who gushed a cascade of knowledge about nature, environment and ecosystems. These were guys we knew we could trust and that taught us many lessons about co-existing with nature. I think Terrill lives up to those standards, even if he does get a little “wild” sometimes.