Art teacher brings back familiar faces (literally)

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September 25, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Omer Knoll couldn’t help but needle his old friend and former colleague one more time, so he gave Sol Evans a call.
His message to the long-time Allen Community College history educator?
“I told him his head was going to be at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center this weekend,” Knoll said with a laugh. “I could hear his familiar chuckle on the other end.”
Evans’ head is actually one of the numerous busts Knoll, 79, has crafted through the years.
Knoll’s work will be featured in the Mary Martin Art Gallery at the Bowlus for this weekend’s 50th anniversary celebration of the fine arts center.
Knoll, ACC’s first art instructor, will bring several of his finest pieces, including sculpted likenesses of former Iolans Dale Creitz, Spencer Gard and Lois Murray.
“This is going to be an incredible experience for me,” Knoll told the Register Wednesday morning, shortly before departing to Iola from his home in Palco, about 40 miles northwest of Hays. “This gives me a marvelous excuse to touch base with some old friends, drive around and check out the town.”
Knoll, also head baseball coach at ACC, got his start in Iola at what was then the newly minted Bowlus.
Fresh out of school at Fort Hays State University, Knoll moved to Iola to teach art at the Bowlus in 1965.
In addition to junior college classes, Knoll taught high school, junior high and a few adult education courses.
He aslo helped design a set for a local production on the Bowlus stage — a ship’s deck.
“I’d never done anything like that before. And then after the production, they did a terrible thing. They made me strike the set — take it apart,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll never forget that.”
Knoll taught at the Bowlus for four years, eventually ceding control of the junior high art classes to his wife, Mary.
In 1969, Knoll left the Bowlus to teach at the new ACC campus.
Cecelia Orcutt succeeded him as art instructor for the high school.
“Cecelia did a fantastic job,” Knoll said. “She really helped it take off. Her husband, Steve, was of course a big part of the art education scene, too.”
Knoll taught nine years in all at Allen, teaching drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture, two- and three-dimensional design, art history and appreciation of art fundamentals.
He also helped produce the college yearbook. To get staff members, he recalled, he handed out free rolls of film and taught students the basics of photography.
After leaving Allen, Knoll’s path eventually took him back closer to his native Hays.
He continues to produce elaborate pieces — available for viewing at www.omerknoll.com.
Knoll said he would also bring several of Mary’s pieces with him to the weekend show (she died in August) as well as those of his son, Tony.
Tony Knoll was born while his parents lived and taught in Iola. He now works as a case manager in Phoenix, Ariz.
“I hoped they wouldn’t mind my bringing in Mary’s and Tony’s stuff with me,” he said. “They’re as much a part of this place as I was.”

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