By the time a student graduates from Hillsdale College, he or she will be familiar with at least one of Professor of Art Sam Knecht’s works. His painting, “The Signing of the American Constitution,” graces the cover of the Constitution Reader used for the core Politics 101 course.
But for students who want to see more than just the cover of their textbook, dozens of Knecht’s paintings, ranging from landscapes of Hillsdale County to portraits of his family, will be on display in his exhibit “Glimpses” starting Saturday, Feb. 20, in Daughtrey Gallery at the Sage Center for the Arts.
Knecht’s been teaching art at the college for almost 40 years, but said most of his paintings on display in “Glimpses” are relatively new works. The selection of landscapes primarily focuses on the state of Michigan and areas near campus.
“Most of it will be fresh within the last two years,” Knecht said. “It’s a mixed theme with a significant number of landscape paintings from the Hillsdale area and the Upper Peninsula. Simply speaking, this is a show of landscape paintings and portraits with some works that are classroom demonstrations.”
The highlight of the gallery for Knecht is a series of portraits of his twin daughters. Knecht has painted a new portrait of his daughters every year since they were infants. He said the portraits showcase not only the growth of the girls but also the growth of his family. Knecht said he put more than 100 hours into the portraits of his twin daughters.
“I’ve tried to do a new portrait of the twins every year as a Christmas gift to my wife,” he said. “They’re 14 now and the whole series will be on display in chronological order. I’d change up the composition every year to mix it up as well.
“I consider myself a realist and I observe the truth of a scene — carefully, I might add,” he said. “Let’s call me a romantic realist. I try to discover the poetry of a subject while also paying attention to the facts. I look for the poetry of the particular.”
Senior Forester McClatchey is currently in one of Knecht’s art classes, and said the course has given him a deeper appreciation for his artwork.
“It is definitely inspiring to see what our instructor works on,” McClatchey said. “Especially because he has such a broadly applicable, elegant style. To see how much work a professional artist puts in is simultaneously scary and reassuring.”
Knecht has been painting since he was 16 years old. He said his current style of bold composition and bright colors contrasts markedly with that of his earlier works.
“The work in my early career tended to involve a lot of watercolors, and I was a lot tighter and pickier with details, trying to get by on minutiae,” Knecht said. “In more recent years, I feel like I’ve broadened in that I’ve tried to capture more general qualities of color and imagery without getting quite so fussy.”
Students of Knecht said they enjoy his bold and colorful style. Sophomore Patrick Lucas said it’s Knecht’s bright use of colors that evokes such great feelings within his pieces.
“I’m so excited to see the show because professor Knecht is like my favorite artist of all time,” Lucas said. “His style is very lush. It is a rich realism with a lot of colors.”
Knecht said that he has used painting as a way to capture the beauty of nature and those he cares about in a permanent form.
“I’m in love with painting,” Knecht said, “and I just organize my life as best I can to be able to paint the things that I find compelling subjects.”