BONNERS FERRY — When is a wall more than just a barrier, something to keep something in, or to keep something out? How does a plain wall transform into something that inspires creativity and pride? How does a simple wall go down in history, forever a backdrop in scrapbooks and newspapers?
The answer is simple — when that wall becomes the home for a mural. And when that mural is in a place as integral to the generations of young people as the Bonners Ferry High School gym, it is destined to live in the memories, hearts, and backdrops of photos.
“It has always been my dream to completely cover every building in paint,” said Bonners Ferry High School art teacher and co-creator of the new mural, Josh Knaggs.
Josh Knaggs teamed up with his wife, Boundary County Middle School math teacher, Sara Knaggs, and together they brought their art and inspiration to an entire wall of the high school gym. Although the immense project was completed in a week, there was much planning and designing before paint hit wall.
It all started when Bonners Ferry High School student, Nik Bertling, came to Josh Knaggs and showed him a mural that was at St. Maries High School and wanted to know why they didn’t have something like that here.
“That is a pretty good question, man. I will go talk to some people,” replied Josh Knaggs.
Josh Knaggs went to Bonners Ferry High School Principal Kevin Dinning and was well received. He was told to come back with designs and then Dinning would make it happen.
“It was pretty exciting to watch as he made designs for the gym during class and some of us adding more ideas to the thought,” said Bertling.
“I took it back and I had this huge, grandeur plan of the seasons and the time of day, and it would fade out, and then when we got to the wall, it was like, well, we have to change all of that,” said Josh Knaggs with a laugh.
That is where Sara Knaggs shined. As Josh Knaggs’ wife for less than a year, they have the kind of working relationship that compliments each other.
“Sara brings the calm to my chaos,” said Josh Knaggs. “She was instrumental in helping me get past the hurdle of letting go of what was impossible.”
“Simplify it,” she told her husband. “It is still going to be amazing.”
So the design went from changing seasons and time of day, to the whole mural set at high noon. On July 8, the work on the wall began, with a long first day. Josh and Sara Knaggs spent 11 hours working on the project the first day.
The mural, sporting the mountain skyline, a fierce graphic Badger, river, and graffiti style encouraging words of “Go Badgers,” was done entirely in acrylic paints and spray paint.
“Lots of spray paint,” Sara Knaggs said with a chuckle.
“Which was fun!” Josh Knaggs added. “We got all suited up and had respirators, Tyvek suits, and safety goggles.”
They even put up warning signs and had extra masks outside the door, so if anybody came in, they could be prepared and protected.
The two brought a lifetime of passion for art together, and let it flow onto the walls of the high school gym. Josh Knaggs has been the high school art teacher for 11 years, but his love of art started much sooner.
“I’ve been doing art since I was four,” he explained. “I entered contests in Pre-K and got blue ribbons. I’ve always been creative. I’ve always had creative thoughts ... sometimes to a fault.”
He originally went to college to become a science teacher but it did not work as he had planned.
“I wasn’t too good at that regimented set. Then I took pottery classes and I was like, oh yeah, how did I forget about this?” said Josh Knaggs.
Sara Knaggs grew up in an artistic family, and her mother used to teach art to children out of her Bonners Ferry home. Despite that, she chose a different route for college.
“I was thinking with my math side of my brain — that I might not be able to get a career in art,” she said. “So I still got a minor in art and a minor in art teaching, but I decided to go the math route because I also really liked math.”
She felt that, if she got a math degree, she probably had a lot more opportunities for careers. She also double majored in math and education so that she could always teach if she wanted to.
Together they have created art as a team, including working on snow sculptures with Lee Harris.
“We recently started doing some artwork for the Farmhouse Kitchen in Sandpoint,” said Sara Knaggs. “They had a chalkboard and we did a starry night, farmhouse scene for them. Then they got another board and asked us to redo and cover both boards. We did a whole scene of Sandpoint.”
“I’m really excited,” she said. “This has only happened in the last year or so, where we have actually been pursued to do some art. We can create some pretty awesome things when we work together.”
“It is a great way to spend time together,” explained Josh Knaggs. “It’s a fun adventure.”
After about 40 hours of hard work, all completed in one week due to people wanting to use the gym for summer sports, the mural was completed on Josh and Sara’s one year anniversary. They commemorated the experience with two dates on the massive mural.
The tree on the right of the mural shows the completion date of July 15, 2018. The tree on the left side celebrates their anniversary with the date that they were married, July 15, 2017. There is a heart with “S+J” in the center, all appearing as if it was carved into the base of the tree.
This is just the beginning for the artistic couple. They have plans to continue doing projects together and Sara Knaggs would like to see a mural in the middle school. There are future ideas of a phase two and three of the mural in the gym as well.
The Knaggs want to thank BFHS head custodian Daryl Chapman.
“Daryl Chapman and his crew were more than gracious with helping us get supplies, and tape, and all the set-up done,” said Josh Knaggs. “If we did not have that, we would not have been able to do it.”
He also wanted to thank Principal Dinning and Boundary County School Superintendent Gary Pflueger, who he said is very supportive of the creative arts.
He also wanted to thank Nik Bertling. “I probably would not have gotten the ball rolling without him,” he said.
As for the student that sparked the massive project? Bertling is now off at college.
“Seeing the whole thing brought to life is really amazing, the school definitely deserves something that awesome,” said Bertling. “I’m glad to have planted the seed in Knaggs’ head.”