Building Community through Shared History - A KU Memorial Union Program

In Memoriam George Knotts, Jayhawk Artist

George Knotts in Framewoods store

George Clark Knotts passed away on February 13, 2018. Many KU community members will likely recognize his artwork, even if they are not familiar with Knotts himself. He was a prominent Jayhawk artist, with fans enjoying his creations for over six decades.  It is likely he had more original copyrighted Jayhawk designs than any other Jayhawk artist. 

Knotts was born on October 29, 1931 in a log cabin on his family’s ranch in Langley, Oklahoma. He played football, basketball and baseball before graduating from Vinita High School in 1950. Knotts then attended Graceland College (a junior college) before completing his degree at the University of Kansas. He graduated in 1955 with an B.S. in Art Education.

First free-standing Jayhawk carved by George Knotts in 1953In 1953, as an art student at KU, Mr. Knotts carved the first freestanding stone sculpture of the KU Jayhawk, under the tutelage of master artist Elden Tefft, head of the Sculpture Department at the University of Kansas.  Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy purchased the hand-polished limestone statue and placed it on permanent exhibit in the Kansas Union later that year. 

The statue became known as the embodiment of the Jayhawk mascot and was stolen by rival schools, including Kansas State University and the University of Missouri, on differing occasions.  The statue is still displayed in the Kansas Union, along with many other pieces by Knotts, at the south end of level two.

Also while Knotts was a student, the KU Bookstore manager asked Smiling & frowning sides of Knotts' bronze Jayhawkshim to create a small bronze Jayhawk paperweight. The Bookstore still sells the one pound desk piece, which to date has sold nearly nine tons of the famous sculpture.  One unique feature of the small statue reveals the clever side of Mr. Knotts’ personality—the mischievous Jayhawk’s beak is smiling on one side and frowning on the other. The Bookstore also still sells a Jayhawk coloring book illustrated by Knotts.

Knotts created more than 35 bronze variations of the Jayhawk.  These creations vary from distinguished walking stick handles to bottle openers.

Illustration similar to original Hawk's Nest mural in Kansas Union


Knotts also created a mural in the original Hawk’s Nest of the Kansas Union, similar to the one pictured to the left. It was on the wall there for nearly 30 years.


Knotts in 1954 Jayhawker yearbook





Knotts in 1954 Jayhawker yearbook

Another important moment while at KU, and for the rest of his life, came when Knotts met Elizabeth Ann Fife, who was also an art student at KU. They married in 1953. They would go on to have three sons and twin daughters, while moving to several places to live and work. Knotts taught art at East High in Des Moines, IA, served as the Director of the Graphic Arts Center at Oklahoma State University, and a graphic artist in Independence, MO. 

In 1998, Knotts and his spouse retired to Lamoni, Iowa, where many of his children and grandchildren lived.

Knotts would return to KU for some home football games and special occasions, like commencements. Then some lucky KU fans could sometimes find him set up in the Union or elsewhere on campus creating his artwork. Knotts’ last visit to the Union was for the Sunflower Game on October 28, 2017.   As normal, he displayed his artwork on Jayhawk Walk and visited with friends and alumni attending the game.

Knotts drawing at Kansas Alumni Association Rock Chalk Ball in Kansas City 1997

Knotts working in Kansas Union-date unknown

Knotts publicly creating art at KU events.






Items available at Framewoods GalleryItems available at Framewoods GalleryOriginal works and prints of Knotts' illustrations and sculptures can still be found at Framewoods Gallery in Lawrence.
This local business had a decades-long relationship with Knotts, helping fans near and far obtain a piece of Knotts' iconic Jayhawk art for their own collections.



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