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posted: 3/22/2014 8:00 AM

Longtime Palatine artist was first full-time Harper faculty member

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  • John Knudsen in front of a 60 x 45-inch oil painting called Cityscape he finished in the late 1970s. Here he wove texture and color in the buildings, trucks, the 'L', construction, light poles and the old water towers of Chicago.

      John Knudsen in front of a 60 x 45-inch oil painting called Cityscape he finished in the late 1970s. Here he wove texture and color in the buildings, trucks, the 'L', construction, light poles and the old water towers of Chicago.
    Courtesy of Mike Knudsen

  • John Knudsen was 15 when he did this oil painting of a dock in Leeland, Mich., where his family vacationed. His son, Mike, says you can see how his father began to play with color in the shingles of the left structure, "probably the beginning of his desire to focus on color rather than realism."

      John Knudsen was 15 when he did this oil painting of a dock in Leeland, Mich., where his family vacationed. His son, Mike, says you can see how his father began to play with color in the shingles of the left structure, "probably the beginning of his desire to focus on color rather than realism."
    Courtesy of Mike Knudsen

  • This is Steel City, one of John Knudsen's etchings completed in 1980.

      This is Steel City, one of John Knudsen's etchings completed in 1980.
    Courtesy of Mike Knudsen

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

Harper College's commitment to the fine arts can be seen throughout its Palatine campus, but perhaps lesser known is that the college's first full time faculty member was an art teacher.

John Knudsen taught studio art classes at Harper for 30 years, from 1967 when the college opened until he retired in 1997, and his imprint remains etched on the campus.

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A longtime Palatine resident, Knudsen died March 13 near his retirement home in Union Pier, Mich. He was 76.

Knudsen carved out a unique niche in Harper's art department, according to college officials. During his tenure, he taught all of its two-dimensional studio courses, and along the way developed a specialty for painting and printmaking.

His courses reflected his own interest in specific media, colleagues say, describing Knudsen as a painter and a printmaker in his own right.

"John's work was very much influenced by folk art," said Perry Pollock, art department chairman. "His style generated power through his direct and vibrant applications of color."

Knudsen's son, Mike, says his father's favorite subjects were Chicago cityscapes, incorporating details of working people, trucks and buildings. But recent paintings and woodcuts showed a focus shift toward still lifes, landscapes and the people of Michigan, where he lived as a boy.

Knudsen thought a series of cityscape etchings he did in the 1980s and '90s -- each measuring about 45" x 25" -- were his most important works.

"To look at one of these nine etchings closely, you notice the detail is like that of an old postage stamp," Mike Knudsen said. "Each etching probably took a year to two years to complete."

Knudsen donated some of his work to Harper's permanent art collection, which was he helped to create and build over his long tenure, says Kim Pohl, Harper's communications director.

The college's permanent collection now has more than 360 paintings, prints, drawings, photographs and pieces of sculpture, and is valued at more than $2 million, according to its website.

Another piece of Knudsen's legacy is in the Harper College National Print and Drawing Exhibition, a national art show that opens March 24, 2014 for its 37th year.

"John was committed to growing the art department," says Margaret Buchen, Harper College's art curator. "He was a dedicated teacher, who helped to develop many of our courses and our printmaking facility."

His son and daughter, Anne, say their father was dedicated to the idea that students develop not only their craft in art, but also their visual style in expressing themselves.

To see some of Knudsen's work, visit jakgallery.com.

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