Minden man turns family, history into art
February 4, 2014
When it comes to finding inspiration for his artwork, Elliott Kolbe, 33, doesn’t have to look far.
The fourth-generation Valley native creates intricate screen and block prints of his grandfather, 88-year-old Knox Johnson.
“Most of my work is of him,” Kolbe said. “Everybody’s got an interesting story, but this is the one I’m a part of. I’ve always been proud of who my grandpa is. He’s a wonderful man, and I always wanted to capture it.”
Born in 1925 in a white ranch house on Mottsville Lane, Johnson has spent his entire life working the cattle ranch his grandfather started.
Growing up across the street, Kolbe and his brothers spent every day after school with his grandfather and grandmother, Elizabeth.
“When you spend that much time with a relative, you get really close,” Kolbe said. “We had fun with our grandpa. We’d get in trouble and my grandma would yell at us, including him.”
When Kolbe wasn’t running around in the fields, his grandmother would do art projects with him.
Elizabeth, who died in 2001, was one of the founding members of the East Fork Gallery in Gardnerville.
“She gave us pieces of artwork on our birthdays from when we were 1-year-old,” Kolbe said. “I still have them. People who had bought her paintings have given them back to us as gifts.”
Kolbe credits Elizabeth for sparking his interest in art, saying that Knox is more of a junker than artist.
“He sticks boots on fence posts. They call him the magpie because he likes collecting shiny stuff,” Kolbe said. “Take that, and take my grandma’s art, and that’s where I am. Junk mixed with art.”
In December, Kolbe became a consignor at the East Fork Gallery, where his prints of Knox can be purchased.
“I decided I wanted to be a part of it (the gallery) for my grandma. She would have been proud,” Kolbe said. “I wish she was still alive because I could have learned a lot from her. She worked really hard at it, and must have sold hundreds of paintings.”
One of the pieces in the gallery depicts an outline of Knox waving his hands in the air, set on top of a collage of 30 cattle ear tags.
The finished product tells a story of when Knox let all the cows out onto the road that Kolbe and his brother had just corralled.
“He came up and said, ‘Did you want them cows out?’ We had to chase them all down again,” Kolbe said. “I think he did it for a thrill. Sometimes you have to create your own excitement.”
Kolbe works as a ultrasonographer at Carson Tahoe Hospital, and learned how to screen print in college by making T-shirts to earn money.
“I have a desire to make something, but I have no formal training besides what my grandma taught me,” Kolbe said. “I like it because it’s a lot of small work, a lot of it is fine detail work, and then you get to do the dirty screen work. My wife gets mad because I get ink all over my clothes.”
Kolbe takes his children Knox, 3, and Gemma, 2, to visit his grandfather regularly. He and his wife, Laura, are expecting their third child in April.
“We come over here often. They call him ‘Boppa,’” Kolbe said. “He gives them cookies and Red Hots, and gives them horsey rides on his leg.”
When it comes to being the subject of his grandson’s artwork, Knox is modest.
“I think they’re great. I like them all,” he said. “I don’t like people making a fuss over me.”
The East Fork Gallery is located at 1503 Highway 395, Suite K.
To view Kolbe’s art, visit http://www.elliottkolbe.wix.com/americana.