The details of Charles Knudsen IV’s death will be up for debate for years to come. For example, the medical consensus is that he suffered a myocardial infarction, which is consistent with what he’d previously told me about his heart health.
A popular belief among his many friends and admirers, however, is that Chuck died of a broken heart. This is consistent with who he was and how he lived.
On Friday, April 6, a celebration of his life and the artwork he gifted to the world will be open to the public, with an exhibition and sale of his works at Rozz-Tox in Rock Island. The reception and sale are from 5-7p.m., but Chuck’s work will be on display through the end of the month. Latecomers should stop in and enjoy sounds from The Nu Gruv Society starting at 8p.m.
I’ve mentioned Chuck before as a prolific QC artist and the District’s Official Unofficial Cultural Ambassador. Best known as an Outsider Artist, he was always a maker, and in his later life, he was a teacher. His lessons were in laboratorium and typically spontaneous.
Any excuse to experiment was good enough for Chuck. He painted on every surface with every medium known to humankind. He shaped wood, rock, and metal. He sewed tiny, historically accurate clothing for dolls and surreptitiously executed guerilla art installations.
He would subsequently share what he’d learned from his new project, pointing out mistakes and explaining how he improved his technique. Many times since his death, I’ve fussed over a problem with pigment or paper and thought, “Damn it; Chuck would know what to do with this.”
Rozz-Tox, the site of his final exhibition, was one of his favorite places. There, he met people who had a passion on par with his own. It was the mother lode of eager learners and artists in desperate need of professional (and usually emotional) support.
As much as he loved the clientele, however, he ultimately kept returning to Rozz-Tox because of Missy. She was a steady, constant source of endless love and understanding, and I can’t really tell Chuck’s story without telling at least some of hers.
Marissa “Missy” Donth-Sorrells co-owned and operated Rozz-Tox with her son, whom she considered her greatest accomplishment. She was a born nurturer, with an uncrushable spirit and a sixth sense for human suffering.
At midday, Chuck could often be found sitting at the counter in Rozz-Tox, chatting with Missy as she made smoothies and sandwiches, both of them smiling and laughing often.
In many ways, Chuck needed Missy. His life was a vast world that no one but himself fully understood. This can make for some lonely times, but Missy was always there. She understood his well-meaning fatalism and taught him the healing power of sharing.
Following an aneurysm and hospitalization, Missy suffered a stroke on Thanksgiving 2017 that left her virtually brain-dead. It was a shock from which many of us still haven’t recovered. She was so tough and powerful; how could Death stand a chance against her?
Even after all hope was gone and her death was imminent, her family stayed by her side as she lingered for over two weeks. Her sister massaged her wasting body and whispered that she was free to go whenever she wished. Missy was still alive when Chuck died suddenly on December 7.
It could be that her impending loss was too much for Chuck’s heart to bear. In his lifelong struggle for love and acceptance, Missy was a significant source of positive energy. This way, he never had to live in a world without her (she finally passed on December 9).
So that’s one silver lining. And through tears at Chuck’s wake, Joel DeSoto pointed out: “On the upside, the title for Best Artist In Town is up for grabs.”
Chuck put all of himself into his art. This final exhibition on April 6 will be an important step in putting the chapter of humanity that was Charles Knudsen IV to bed. And, as with everything that happens at Rozz-Tox now, it will pay tribute to Missy, whom Chuck so loved and admired.
To discover more of Chuck’s work, visit Rozz-Tox on April 6 and throughout the month.