A LIFETIME OF ART
Terry Knight is stepping away from his studio, which he opened after 30 years in education, but the legacy he has woven with students will last forever.
The funny thing about Terry Knight, the man so many Gordon Countians recognize as an institution in art education, is that he never really intended to teach. But when Knight tells his story, it’s clear that his assertion that God had other plans for him must be true.
Knight spent 30 years in the public education system bringing a creative outlet to young people as he taught them to sculpt, paint and sketch. He retired from the schools a few years ago but continued to welcome adults and children for classes at his Terry Knight Studios, which he opened 18 years ago just a stone’s throw from the Harris Art Center on Wall Street in downtown Calhoun. Now, he’s retiring from life at the studio, but he’ll stay true to his artistic roots with plans to set up a booth at art festivals in the tri-state area from spring to fall where he’ll market his own art pieces.
“I do everything from non-representational to expressionism, impressionism and realism all the way to photorealism,” he says.
The walls of the studio are lined with Knight’s examples of these styles.
‘I’m going to run this place’
Knight graduated from Berry College in 1976 with a major in art and a minor in education. This combination seems ripe for facilitating the teaching career he eventually chose, but he didn’t go that direction at first. Instead, he went to work for Georgia Power after graduation. When he interviewed at a steam plant with the company, he remembers saying, “I’m going to run this place one day.”
He quickly found success in that line work, and he did end up running the plant on Lake Sinclair as a boiler turbine operator. But he wasn’t content.
“It was kind of like party time and having fun, and I made so much money I didn’t know what to do with it, but I wasn’t happy with it,” he recalls. “Sometimes I just get teary-eyed going into work.”
He eventually switched career paths and went to work at Clark Memorials back in his hometown of Macon as a stone carver. One of his mentors there was from Italy, and it was there that he learned to sculpt marble and granite. It was a profession he was already familiar with, as his family also owned a stone memorial business.
Knight moved to Rome in 1969 with his father, William “Bill” Harley Knight Jr., so the elder Knight could take over his own father’s business, Knight’s Memorials, which sat on Calhoun Road, the thoroughfare locals know as “Old Highway 53,” in Rome.
Although he grew up south of Atlanta, Terry has a heritage here. His father was born in Calhoun, but worked at Robins Air Force Base before going into the monument business. Terry’s mother, Bertis “Bert” Knight, worked as a loan officer and pitched in at the monument company sometimes. Terry spent his early years in Macon, and he started his 10th-grade year at Model High School when his family moved back to this area.
He worked at Knight’s Memorials until 1984, and that’s when he felt a distinct call to teach. He remembers having the realization that he would once again be switching professions in his home at the time in Plainville.
A call to teach
“I just went in the bathroom, and I just knelt down and — it was kind of like my war room or something — and I went in there, and I just prayed, and I just started crying, and I just started heaving,” he says. “And then all of a sudden, God spoke to me. He said, ‘I want you to teach.’ And I felt like Noah going, ‘You want me to do what?’ I didn’t even remember the education courses I took.”
“A customer came into the monument shop the next day and said, ‘You know, they’re building a brand-new high school next to Ashworth Middle School.’”
Terry felt like those words were a confirmation from God that he should begin teaching art.
“Ding! That’s what it was,” he says. “In ’85, when Gordon Central opened brand new, I started there.”
He stayed there for 20 years, only feeling the urge to leave after he helped design the art department at Sonoraville High School when it was under construction.
“I had no intentions of leaving Gordon Central,” he says. “I just designed (the Sonoraville studio).”
But when he attended his daughter’s ninth-grade orientation at the new school, they checked out the art room with its huge kiln and dedicated storage rooms.
“I went into that room, and when I saw how it was set up … I went straight back to (then—principal) Lee Segars, and I talked to him … I told him I wanted to work for him,” Terry says. “He said, ‘Are you serious?’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he stuck his hand out. And so, that was it.”
Terry’s twofold passion for art and teaching led him down varied paths. He obtained master’s degrees in technology and later leadership from Kennesaw State University with the intent of diversifying his teaching skills and of eventually becoming a school principal, although he never went the administrative route. He took other college classes just for the learning experience.
“I just like to stay current with what’s going on,” he says.
‘Mr. Knight, I’m not
In conversation, his zeal for teaching is clear, and he has a polished collection of stories, most of them from his days at the high schools. He made sure students were well-versed in a range of art techniques, from photorealistic self-portraiture to impressionistic landscapes, and he always let them know he cared for them as individuals.
“You can’t teach art if you’re just stuck in one thing,” he says. “This is how I taught: my kids came into my classroom — the first thing I did was I let them know I loved every one of them. … I said, ‘You’re in here because you want to be in here.’”
He rarely had to deal with discipline problems, and he fostered a creative atmosphere in which students were allowed to relax with snacks and rock music while they worked.
“I really never had to shoot my ‘big guns,’ so to speak — screaming at my kids — no. … They sat with whoever they wanted to,” he says. Things ran that way “as long as they worked, and as long as they turned their work in on deadline.”
In a nod to the creative process of visual art, he was willing to be flexible with students’ workflow preferences, though. One gifted student had trouble turning his work in on time, and Knight approached him about it.
“You’ve got to get your stuff turned in on time,” he recalls saying. The student had a unique response. “He said, ‘Mr. Knight, I’m not into time.’”
Terry still gets a genuine chuckle out of that story.
“I let him take as long as he wanted on anything because of that,” he says. “I loved it. I laughed.”
He’s had former students go on to work at places like Disney and the art departments in local carpet companies. Quite a few of them have graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design. If he knew they intended to work in the art industry, he saved photos of their work to discs and sent a portfolio with them when they graduated.
He stayed at Sonoraville for 10 years until his retirement from the public school system, at which point, he went full time with the studio downtown. So many locals know him from the classes he’s taught for children and adults, along with his wildly popular summer art camp that hosted close to 100 children last year.
“So many of my kids, I’ve had from the time that they were 7 years old all the way through high school with me which was awesome,” he says. “A lot of those kids are now working professionally as artists.”
He’s lived in Calhoun 30 years now. He’s married to Kim Knight, a retired educator. A likeness of her as an angel hangs in the studio.
“I have the best wife in the world. … She was the best thing that ever happened to me. … I always say she’s the smartest person I’ve ever met — and pretty.” he says.
The two stay busy with their various projects, and there seem to be no plans to slow down anytime soon. Pivoting away from the studio simply seems to be the next step in Terry’s art career.
“We’re busier now than we ever were when we were working (as educators),” he says.
Although he’s selling the business, Terry will still be there at times. Local artist Jennifer Tinsley, who’s been teaching children’s classes at the studio for several months, will take over ownership on Tuesday, and she’s counting on him to show up for camp this summer, just as he has for the past 16 years.
Terry Knight, owner of the eponymous Terry Knight Studios in downtown Calhoun, will hand over the keys to new owner Jennifer Tinsley on Tuesday. Tinsley plans to call the studio Art by JennyPenny.
Terry Knight’s work hangs in the studio he’s owned for the past 18 years.
Terry Knight still has a collection of pages from the Sonoraville High yearbook that feature his students’ work. He took care of the layout during his time teaching there.