“In this bright future you can’t forget your past…” A conversation with Dina Knapp

Not all great artists are humble people- I suspect most are consumed with legacy or vanity or their own self importance. Dina Knapp on the other hand rarely talks about herself or her accomplishments. Her bright red hair, tinted glasses and eclectic jewelry are in stark contrast to her quiet, unassuming nature. On the day we talk, she tells me about her childhood and how she credits the great schools and art programs in New York City as well as one teacher in particular (for his “incredible patience”). She recalls sitting in the back of his classroom with an easel and being allowed to paint all day. Her mother, a dressmaker, taught her how to crochet when she was 5, but she didn’t pick it back up until she was in college at Pratt Institute, where she was awarded a scholarship. As we sit in her living room, flipping through art books, she reminisces about the Summer of Love and attending marches in Washington with classmates like Robert Mapplethorpe. When I spot a great photograph of Bob Marley in one of the growing piles of art books by my feet, her face instantly lights up. She tells me how after moving to Miami Beach in the 70’s – and visiting Jamaica a few times- she was inspired to knit Marley an elaborate tam hat. She asked her friend, who was producing the album Exodus, to deliver it toMarley. When Marley receives it, he seems never to take it off; except when he needs to send it back to her so she can accommodate his growing locks. A decade later she learns from a filmmaker friend who made a documentary about him that Marley was buried in it. In the 1980’s, by now a pioneer of the Art-to-Wear movement, her vinyl encased collages are taking center stage. She takes images of old Miami Beach from vintage postcards and frames them using different materials and textures – compressing its history in her own way. During the era of the “Cocaine Cowboys”, she makes a kimono that juxtaposes Miami’s tropical paradise with what was happening in the real world. The kimono, painted and appliquéd with palm trees, hand guns and flamingos, later win her critical acclaim.

Today Knapp keeps busy by making a chuppah for her daughter Ariel’s wedding in November. Her face is serene as she tells how she plans to sew little white flowers along the edges of the fabric. Last year, after a lecture to more than one hundred of her colleagues, she was approached to display her art at the Miami International Airport as part of theArts in Public Places initiative. As I look around her workspace, I can tell I am in the presence of an artist who is as diverse as the objects she creates. When it’s time to say goodbye, I feel that in some small way, I too have been sewn into the narrative of her life.

Dina Knapp Exhibit is currently on display at Temple Beth Sholom until the end of October.

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