The Girl Under All That Paint

Artists find inspiration in a variety of places. They express themselves with their own unique style. Some create works that are figments of their imagination. Some choose to communicate ideas or issues relevant in today’s society. Many find beauty in nature or the world around them. Artist Megh Knappenberger is one who is inspired by her Midwest upbringing as well as her ties to the University of Kansas (KU). She will share her story and creative vision at the Leavenworth Public Library on Sunday, July 14 from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Library’s Jahn Room. The free program is part of the Library’s Adult Summer Reading Program.

Knappenberger grew up in St. Louis, Mo. She broke with family tradition to attend KU; her parents are both graduates of the University of Missouri (MU). “They were thrilled about me attending KU, though many of their friends from MU still tease me to this day,” she says.

She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2004. After graduation, she began her career in branding and graphic design. “After working as a branding specialist and graphic designer for 12 years, I decided to close that chapter and pursue my lifelong passion of painting,” she says.

“I paint exclusively with a palette knife,” Knappenberger explains. “I have always loved the aesthetic of paint applied with a palette knife instead of a brush. Where brush work is softer and more blended, I find using a palette knife gives a really energetic and kind of wild look that I love.”

Knappenberger’s subjects include many images familiar to Kansans, including bison, sunflowers, bees and KU’s Jayhawk mascot. “My Jayhawks are very popular; they still outsell everything else. But my bison series comes in at a close second,” she says. Her project, The Original Six, is an officially licensed collection of Jayhawk paintings. “I first painted a portrait of Dr. Naismith, which connected me to the licensing opportunity with KU. After I painted the series of all six Jayhawks, we took them to the licensing director at KU who loved them and gave us the green light to move forward with the project.” She adds, “I became one of the only artists ever granted licensing from KU. The originals made history in December when they sold as a collection for $150,000 to a couple in Tulsa, Okla.”

She also made headlines this past May with a special Wonder Woman painting that was auctioned off at the American Heart Association’s 2019 Kansas City Go Red for Women Luncheon and Expo. The painting features 33 carats of diamonds and is a “dazzling homage to the indestructible spirit of women everywhere.”

“Go Red for Women approached me last summer about collaborating on a premier auction item,” Knappenberger explains. “I knew during my meeting with them that I wanted to paint Wonder Woman. I didn’t mention it until later, but it was the first thing that popped into my head as they described the empowering mission of Go Red.”

Knappenberger is known for adding unconventional materials to her work, such as limestone Rock Chalk, diamonds and ash. “It adds a depth to the story behind the piece, and I knew I wanted to continue that with this Wonder Woman painting. My initial idea was to mix diamond dust into the paint, as a symbol of the hardest material on earth being both diamonds and women,” she explains. “As my team called around to local jewelers trying to find diamond dust, we connected with Meierotto Jewelers in Kansas City, who loved the idea so much they offered to donate real diamonds instead! They were added on top of the paint one by one, all 33 carats of them, with a very specific and strong kind of super glue.”

Knappenberger is looking forward to sharing her story at the Leavenworth Public Library’s program on Sunday. She will elaborate on her journey as an artist, her inspirations and her technique. The library will have a drawing to give away one of her Jayhawk paintings during the program. As for future projects, she says, “I just reopened my commission list for the first time since 2017, so we’re currently booking commissions. We are also getting ready for the holiday season, our busiest time of the year.” For more information on the Library’s program, contact Cindy McGuire, Programming/Marketing Coordinator at 913-682-5666, ext. 5100 or email cmcguire@lvplks.org.