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Dale Knaffla: Northwoods painter

Artist Dale Knaffla holds a completed piece which was painted on white ash. Photo by Ken Vogel.1 / 3
Painter Dale Knaffla, Jr., recently completed these panels for the Silver Bay Public Library. They depict scenes familiar to Lake County residents. Photos by Ken Vogel.2 / 3
Knaffla’s painting, “The Trout Fisherman” is on display at the Northwoods Café in Silver Bay. Photo by Ken Vogel.3 / 3

Ken Vogel

Anyone looking for a pretentious explanation of art will not find it in a conversation with local artist Dale Knaffla Jr. Born and raised in Silver Bay, Knaffla attended William Kelley Schools and went on to attend Hibbing Community College, receiving an associate’s degree. After graduating, he continued his education at Bemidji State University earning a bachelor’s degree in design technology and illustration.

The modest and talented artist now living near Finland, has created unique science fiction characters which have drawn the attention of diverse audiences, but he is best known for his ability to capture the wonder of nature and wildlife right outside his back door.

“I consider myself lucky just to be living here, it’s so beautiful,” Knaffla said.

His passion for art began at an early age but the memories are still fresh in his mind.

“There was a girl in my kindergarten class that made really good drawings of dump trucks. I was only five or six but I knew I wanted to draw like that,” he recalled, and his imagination and technique continued to develop throughout elementary school.

“I would start with just a patchwork of colors and then it would take the shape of something, then I would expand on it, turning it into a picture,” Knaffla said, eventually, fellow students began requesting copies of his drawings so he would duplicate his work to share with others.

School projects also kept him involved and interested in art. In particular he said he recalls his involvement in creating a Minnesota book portraying state symbols — state flowers, trees and fish.

“Even at an early age my love of nature made it fun to draw,” he said.

Knaffla credits the local schools for recognizing young talent and encouraging students to take it to the next level.

“Teachers like Steve Meyers would spend their own money buying art supplies like carving tools and picture matting when the school didn’t have funding,” he said. The support and encouragement of his family have also inspired him to pursue a career as an artist.

Knaffla said he has always had a love of nature which led him in the direction of wildlife painting. It requires an eye for detail, something that can present its own set of challenges for the artist.

“If you picture a natural scene in your mind, you can create so much detail that sometimes you can overdo it,” he noted, adding that sometimes he has to make up his mind to stop trying to make things meet his expectations of perfection and just move on to the next project. “I am my hardest critic; sometimes I try fixing things that don’t need fixing.”

Kathy Thompson owner of Northwood’s Café in Silver Bay has known Knaffla since he was a young boy and recognized his artistic ability early on.

“When he was about eight-years old he was already making personalized birthday cards and drawings for us,” she said, “His talent has progressed and matured along with him.” Thompson proudly displays some of Knaffla’s work in the restaurant.

“His work is unique from other artists. Some artists produce a reproduction that looks like a photograph. Dale’s work has detail that allows your imagination to see what it would look like if you were actually there,” she said.

Knaffla recently completed a project for the Silver Bay Public Library that includes four large wildlife paintings. According to library director Julie Billings, the paintings on display are property of the Library and not for sale, however they are a good representation of his talent and depict the North Shore theme the library board was looking for.

Some of Knaffla’s work is also displayed at Cove Point Crossings Restaurant, Silver Bay Veterans Home, and the mural on the outside of the Finland Co-op.

Those who’d like to purchase or get more information about Knaffla’s work may call the artist at 218-226-8490.