Local Obituaries

Artist to the stars Dina Knapp dies at 69

Artist Dina Knapp (left) with her husband, the late poet Jeffrey Knapp, in Miami Beach.
Artist Dina Knapp (left) with her husband, the late poet Jeffrey Knapp, in Miami Beach.

Miami Beach artist Dina Knapp had her celebrity fans. Elton John, Cher and Phyllis Diller were all clients. Bob Marley was so taken with Knapp’s wearable art he was buried in one of her tams.

But her daughter, Astra Dorf, almost has to laugh when she recalls growing up with an artistic mom who didn’t quite dress like the other mothers.

“She always said I was her little doll and she loved to dress me up until I acquired my own style. When I was a kid I was so embarrassed by her funky outfits. I’d help pick out her clothes to make her seem more normal if she was coming to school for any reason. It took me years to appreciate her uniqueness,” Dorf said.

At 15 or so, while at Beach High, she got it. “Then I’d start to go through her old hippie clothes (she saved everything) and would borrow and steal all of her colorful cool stuff. We are a family of fashionistas — we only make girls and we all like to get dressed. This has been passed on for generations, from my mother’s mother, Berta (a seamstress, dress maker and collector) to my daughter, Athena.”

Dina Knapp, born in Cyprus and raised in Israel and New York City by Holocaust survivors, died Sunday, at 69, of cancer.

“My mother loved to create, obviously, and I think one of her biggest joys was creating for us: her daughters and granddaughters. We will miss her handmade, thoughtful garments, costumes, pillows, blankets, jewelry and art,” her daughter said.

“She is probably the most visual person I have ever known; that nothing seems to escape her eye; that she is wildly and unconventionally creative and yet at the same time very discerning. She painted on gourds one year and those became real art pieces. Another year buttons became sophisticated bracelets without one drop of ‘craftsy.’ She made me a necklace once of all these disparate things that she turned into something cohesive and beautiful,” said Elizabeth Kohen Martinez, daughter of the late Helen Kohen, the Miami Herald’s former art critic who long championed Knapp’s work.

Dina had her own brand of resiliency. She was the daughter of Holocaust survivors and grew up with the dark, harrowing stories of her parents’ experiences. And yet she made a life filled with color, color, color.

Elizabeth Kohen Martinez on Miami Beach artist Dina Knapp.

“I know we’re all one of a kind, but Dina was once-in-a-lifetime. She was eccentric, brilliant and exuberant, and her work defined an era in Miami — one in which we reveled in and rejoiced in the quirky moments and found beauty of this place and didn’t try to remake it into some other, far less interesting city. Most recently she railed against the epidemic of tear-downs in Miami Beach that are depriving us of our history, our architecture, our trees and our culture. Her art always spoke to all of that,” said Beth Dunlop, former Miami Herald architecture critic, author and editor of Modern Magazine.

Knapp, a graduate of the Pratt Institute, moved to Miami Beach in 1977 and, with her late husband, poet Jeffrey Knapp, quickly established herself in the art community. In 1999, Knapp designed one of the Electrowave shuttles that circle the streets of South Beach. Her work for the project was selected by the City of Miami Beach Art in Public Places committee along with artists Christian Bernard, Edouard Duval Carrie and Cristina Khuly.

“The work is like her home, a walk-in collage of layered stuff, a mix of art and artifacts, dense and marvelous, a real magic kingdom,” wrote Kohen, the art historian, in the booklet for Knapp’s 2012 exhibit, “Sewn Dreams.”

On Sunday, her son-in-law Josh Friedman, father to her newborn granddaughter Miel, said: “For Dina, her community was everything. In her work, her friends and her family she created great communities around her. On the news, day in and day out we are confronted with communities in turmoil and stress. Dina made her communities bright and colorful. An artist in the true sense of the word she thought, created and wondered effortlessly. She created through the lens of friendship, hope and whimsy. Her spirit was one of optimism in the face of darkness.”

Knapp is survived by her daughters Astra Schwartz Dorf and Ariel Knapp Friedman; granddaughters Athena Dorf, Olive Friedman and Miel Dina Sol Friedman; sisters Julie Grau and Malca Ron; and her beloved poodle Collette. Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Temple Beth Sholom, 4144 Chase Ave., Miami Beach. Donations can be made in Knapp’s name to the American Cancer Society or Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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