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 Willi (Wilhelm) Knapp  (1901 - 1972)

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Lived/Active: Wisconsin / Germany      Known for: watercolor painting, architectural sculpture

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
From Germany, Wilhelm Knapp, known as Willi, became a sculptor, architectural decorator and painter in realist style.  Although his decorations were commercial appearing, his painting and sculpture leaned toward classical realism and avoided modernist or abstract styles. 

Willi Knapp was born in St. Wendel about five miles from Saarbrucken.  His father was a blacksmith, and Willi, as a young man, took jobs as a railroad mechanic before immigrating in 1924 at age 23 to America.  First he was in Chicago where he took evening classes at the Art Institute, and four years later, he moved to Milwaukee where he made money by doing architecture sculpture.  Among his projects was the lobby for the Wisconsin Gas Company Building at 626 East Wisconsin Avenue, and the second story of a building at the corners of Oakland Avenue and Capitol Drive. 

In Milwaukee, he was well liked, respected for his work, and was described as "a jovial, talkative man."  He met numerous architects including Frank Lloyd Wright and Alfred Clas, of whom he did a portrait bust that is in the Milwaukee Public Library art collection.  He also did a portrait bust of the German philosopher, Knapp first did painting as an avocation, but encouraged by Robert von Neumann, he pursued the activity more seriously beginning the early 1930s.  In 1932, he won a gold medal from the exhibition of the Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors for the best painting entry that year. (1888-1976) Von Neumann was proud enough of Knapp that he did a watercolor painting, now in the Milwaukee Art Museum, of the presentation.

However, in 1934, Willi Knapp had returned to Germany, settling first in Saarbrucken where he designed exterior figures for the entrance to a newly built theater.  He married in 1940, and the couple had a son and daughter.  By the late 1940s, he had turned to watercolor painting with many of the subjects being the destruction caused by the war.  During World War II, he served in the German Army and was stationed in Greece, where in 1944, he did illustrations for a soldier's newspaper.

In 1946, Knapp settled in Kohlbeck near Wiesbaden, and worked as a designer for light fixtures for public building projects and as a sculptor for public buildings.  For the Ministry of Defense in Bonn-Duisdorf, he completed the figure of an archer, and for the Rhein-Main Halle in Wiesbaden, he did a fountain with a Diana figure.  He also did sculpture for churches including baptismal fonts and a Christ figure for a church in Nidda.

Peter C. Merrill, German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee, pp. 49-50

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