In Memory of the Mural Man
John Knowlton’s welcoming personality left no room for someone to be a stranger. He was a man of kindness and generosity and he was blessed with an incredible artistic talent. His long commitment to the arts was supported by his partner and wife, Mary, who was always at his side in his endeavors.
Lone Pine had a special place in John’s heart and right from the beginning of our first capital campaign, John suggested creating an epic illustration for the Museum’s exterior south wall and subsequently designed a 100’ mural illustrating scenes from the films of Western Film heroes.
Enlisting the aid of a number of local artists for the project, the Mural completed in 2006, is one of most photographed “exhibits” of the Museum.
John Knowlton, mural artist in Bishop, Lone Pine passes away By Kristina Blum
Publsihed in Inyo Register; Saturday, April 22, 2017
John Knowlton, mural artist in Bishop, Lone Pine, passes away By Kristina Blüm Register Staff Those who wander the streets of Bishop or Lone Pine can often be seen stopping to admire the murals that grace many of the walls of businesses in the region. John Knowlton Sr., who was involved in the painting of many Owens Valley murals passed away Wednesday, April 12, in Bakersfield.
“If you mention the name John Knowlton, without question everyone will say he was the nicest man you’d ever want to meet,” said Jaque Hickman of Lone Pine. “People don’t realize that he was a very accomplished and renowned Western artist but here he was known as the guy who came to town and loved to create murals.”
Knowlton was born on In memory of the mural man Oct. 15, 1929, in Los Angeles. His lifelong love for art was sparked when he won an art contest when he was in the eight grade, according to his obituary. When he was in high school, he joined 4-H and raised beef cattle, which led to a more than 30 year career in the cattle industry in the Central Valley, according to his obituary.
During World War II, Knowlton served as an officer in the Navy, then as a reserve for the next 13 years.
Throughout his life, Knowlton combined his love for art and the Western way of life into Western artwork and historical murals. Although he lived in Bakersfield, he and his wife of 35 years, Mary, spent a lot of time in the Eastern Sierra, which is how he got involved in the Bishop Mural society.
In Bishop Knowlton worked on six murals in the Bishop area, including “Father Crowley,” located on the north wall of Body and Soul in the Joseph’s parking lot, “Slim Princess,” located at Fendon’s Furniture on E. Pine Street, “Kitty Lee Inn,” located on the south wall of Whiskey Creek, “Trompe L’oiell Mural,” located at 462 Rose St., “The Earnest Kinney Teamster Family Mural,” located on the wall of Union Bank and “Dangerous Arrest,” located on the eastern wall of the Bishop Police Department.
In addition to adding beauty and art to downtown Bishop, the murals have added another reason for people from around the world to visit Bishop, said Gail Swain, president of the Bishop Mural Society, of which Knowlton was a founding member when the society was begun in 1997.
“It’s another way to draw people here,” Swain said. “That’s why the mural society was formed. It’s a vital part of what makes Bishop special. Each mural has a significance to the area.”
His involvement in the murals of the Owens Valley did not end with Bishop.
Hickman, who is the owner of Boulder Creek RV Park and community advocate in Lone Pine, met Knowlton at the Ladybug Gallery, where some of his paintings were displayed in Bishop. She said she fell in love with one of his paintings, which hangs to this day inside Boulder Creek. After that, Knowlton became a frequent visitor at Boulder Creek and became involved in Lone Pine.
At the time, the Museum of Western Film History was becoming a reality in Lone Pine. Knowlton began designing a mural in celebration of Lone Pine’s film history in 2005. The museum was opened in 2006, and the mural remains on the museum’s southern wall.
“He had a lot of background with murals and he knew exactly what we needed to do and how to do it,” said Kerry Powell, one of the artists who worked with Knowlton on the Museum of Western Film History mural.
“His involvement was always much appreciated,” said Bob Sigman, director of the museum. “He was a tremendous support of the museum’s mission.”
Knowlton also painted the mural at the Lone Pine McDonald’s building, which was inspired by a historic photograph that is part of the Eastern California museum collection, Hickman said.
All of the time he spent working with horses and cattle gave Knowlton the ability to paint the animals with amazing accuracy, Hickman said. He researched the history of each mural in great detail and he loved to tell stories through art.
“His legacy, valley wide, was that of history,” she said. “Every mural he made was the story of the Owens Valley.”
Lynne Bunn of Lone Pine, who also knew Knowlton, said that above all else, he was a beloved friend of the Owens Valley. “
He was a wonderful man, a dear friend and he always had a sparkle in his eye,” Bunn said. “He really was a special person.”
To learn more about the Bishop Mural Society, the murals in which Knowlton was involved and the mural society’s next mural project, visit bishopmurals.com.
To learn more about the history of the mural at the Museum of Western Film History, visit museumofwesternfilmhistory.org/mural-ahistory-of-movies-art-and-lonepine.