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Release Date: 
Friday, March 3, 2023

HawkStrong: Nature’s beauty featured in Nancy Knapp’s artwork

One of Nancy Knapp's paintings.
This landscape portrait was painted by Nancy Knapp. Knapp attended HFC in the 1980s, where she took art classes.

HFC alumna Nancy Knapp once described herself as a “weekend artist.”

“I was working full-time and raising a family. Sunday was the only day I had the energy and time to devote to my art,” recalled Knapp, of Caseville, at the northern tip of Michigan’s thumb.

She got serious about her artwork after retiring more than a decade ago from the Department of Corrections Probation Office in Lincoln Park, where she worked for 33 years as a clerical supervisor.

“I paint for several hours a day, five days a week,” said Knapp. “In the winter, I paint in a small studio in my home. All my pastels are laid out on table. I work from photos I’ve taken in this area. Being an artist, you see the world differently. You see colors differently. It becomes ingrained in you.”

HFC sparked her interest in art

The eldest of three daughters, Knapp was born in Detroit and graduated from Allen Park High School. She studied art at HFC (then called Henry Ford Community College). Knapp has been married to David, a retired police officer who also attended HFC, for more than 45 years. Their two children, Michelle and Christopher, also attended HFC.

“I wanted to take some classes, and I was interested in art. I started out with a 2-D design class and loved it. I took an art history class next and stuck with it, just one after the other. I ended up taking drawing, painting, ceramics, color theory,” she recalled. “I really enjoyed my time at the College. The teachers were very good. They really sparked my interest.”

Knapp completed additional coursework in art at other regional schools. She regrets she wasn’t able to finish her bachelor’s degree.

“I was working full-time. My husband worked the opposite shift. It was hard going to school, raising a family, and working full-time. Had they had online classes back in the early 1980s, things would’ve been different. But I might go back. It isn’t over yet,” she said.

Plein air painting

After she retired, Knapp joined several art organizations in the Downriver area, including the Downriver Council for the Arts (DCA) in Wyandotte. She taught art at the DCA for five years.

It was through the DCA that Knapp learned about plein air painting, which is painting outdoors, setting up your easel and painting directly what you see in front of you.

“If it’s a nice day out, I’ll do plein air in the winter. I enjoy being out in nature and painting,” she said. “I love painting landscapes, especially since we are surrounded by so much natural beauty here. We moved to this area in 2020 after living in Woodhaven. It’s really pretty here.”

Her preferred medium is pastels.

“They are wonderful. I love strong colors,” she said. “Pastels are pure pigment with a binder holding them together in stick form. They’re really pure. I tried other mediums – oils and watercolors – but I like pastels best because it’s drawing and painting at the same time. Pastels are not chalk, but pigment in stick form.”

Influences and teaching

Influences on her work include artists such as John Carlson, the Group of Seven (a group of seven Canadian landscape painters), Casey Klahn, Marla Baggetta, and Wayne Thiebaud.

“I was really drawn to the strong colors they used in their landscape portraits,” she said. “I’m an outdoors person and happy being outside. Landscapes are my passion.”

Knapp’s artwork has been showcased in the Lemon Tree Marketplace in Caseville. Every Saturday morning during the summer months, she is set up at the Market on Main in Caseville.

She also teaches art at the Pigeon District Library in Pigeon.

“I love it. I always said I learn as much from my students as I do from teaching them,” said Knapp. “It makes me happy to see they’re happy with their work or if they have had a lightbulb moment. It’s very fulfilling. I’ve made some great friendships through my teaching.”