Grace Knowlton


Grace has a vast social network that covers a broad section of humanity. It consists of artists of all kinds, even a blacksmith; scientists from her neighbor, Lamont Doughty, including a couple of tree ring specialists and a cloud expert; students from her teaching at the Arts Students League here and in the city; close friends whom she’s know since middle-school; sun-dial designers; landscapers; potters; yoga teachers and teachers and students from the Vermont Studio School which has her return every year for an intensiveweek of non-stop studio visits that would exhaust people half her age... and the list goes on.

It’s not unusual for Grace to receive a call from someone in this lucky circle asking if they could stop to see her and spend the night. Often it’s a student she taught years ago and whom she motivated by her generosity and her unique way of teaching by not teaching (more of that later). She tells them, “Of course you can stay, will you be here for dinner?” Then she hangs up the phone, turns and says to anyone of a number of people who are at that moment having tea around her butcher block table, “I have no idea who that was.” Never mind, they arrive and are treated like a special guest and Grace has a grand time, making sure that she tells her guest to come back soon.

When Grace and her husband moved from NYC they bought a piece of property that had belonged to a gentleman farmer. They sold the majestic Victorian house and then renovated and moved into the barn. It’s a building unlike any other. Elegant and warm. And when you accidently spill your drink or drop you dinner dish she says, “Don’t worry, it’s just a barn.”

Grace has no doorbell or knocker on her house. She literally has an open door policy that takes a while getting used to when you go to visit her. Many times a day the door opens, someone walks in and yells, “Graaaace.” And they’re always asked if they’d like a cup of tea. Often people come for a short visit, fifteen minutes to drop something off, and then can’t bring themselves to leave her home which is such a fascinating place to be. Hours and hours later they’re still there.

If you’re lucky enough to go to Grace’s home you could spend not hours but days and weeks looking at her eclectic collections of stones, bird nests, mouse skeletons, paintings, drawings, and sculptures of other artists, spheres made of every conceivable material that friends have sent to her from around the world, the photographs she’s taken of the many animals she’s had over many years: lots of gold fish (each one named), a terrarium of snails, also named, a tortoise named Humphrey, a mouse named Tillie who
had mites and had to go to the animal hospital to see a specialist, and of course her standard poodle, usually two of them, who tear through the house and out the dog door to see who’s come to visit now. One of her poodles from years ago used to walk around the yard gently holding one of her chickens in its mouth. The chicken was never hurt but wasn’t particularly pleased either.

Grace is fascinated by nature. She’s also fearless. She picks up 5 foot snakes and walks them out of her yard. She’s removed large, freshly killed raccoons from the mouths of her dogs, she’s performed an autopsy on one of them and found herself taken by the shapes of its internal organs. Using it as a model she started drawing them and when her model became too old for the job (her friends started complaining) she found a butcher who would sell her new models. It’s great fun to go for a walk with Grace, especially in the country. She inevitably finds some small treasure that anyone else would have walked by: some unusual stone or leaf or moss which often go into her pocket and can be seen later on the dining room table. She traveled to Jackson Hole Wyoming recently and unlike most people who are riveted to the mountains and valley, Grace was bowled over by a beat-up sawhorse she saw in someone’s yard. She took a photo of it back to Snedens where she lives and for the next year or more sought out every kind of sawhorse in three states. She turned the overlooked into a wonderful series of mixed media prints which have been show in various venues in and around New York City.

Her artist’s eye is always ready to be engaged. Once while driving down the busy FDR she saw a helicopter hovering over the river. It seemed to have unusual, beautifully colored lights and she was mesmerized until the traffic in front of her stopped suddenly and.... Well, luckily no one was hurt.
But of course the best thing to see when you go to Grace’s is all her work that is everywhere: sculptures made of clay, cement, wax, plaster, aluminum, copper, iron, junk, hand-made paper; drawings made with all kinds of materials including dirt and executed with all kinds of tools including twigs; photographs (platinum and silver); mixed media prints; paintings on sculpture; paintings on sheets of aluminum; and all of them containing Grace’s unique spirit of freedom, generosity, spontaneity, mischief and her constant and fresh delight with the world around her.
Louise Dudis, 2011