Downtown Las Vegas revival stirs artist’s Dublin memories

There’s something about gritty downtown’s rebirth that seems familiar to Irish artist Graham Knuttel.

After spending time around Fremont Street in recent months as an artist and mentor during the planning and painting of a mural project that’s about to take on larger-than-life proportions, Knuttel looks on the urban redevelopment work-in-progress with fondness.

“In Dublin, there’s a place called Temple Bar in the old part of the city, which is being revived or rejuvenated,” Knuttel said Tuesday shortly after returning to Las Vegas. “It’s got a number of similarities to downtown, really. You sort of see the Internet cafes and stuff rising up. There’s a real heart and soul down there (around Fremont Street) that there really isn’t up on the Strip.”

In Las Vegas to announce the completion of the painting that will become the large two-paneled mural, Knuttel said he’s almost gotten used to the jarring differences between his Ireland and the roaring casino city in the Nevada desert. He admits he’s charmed by the optimistic spirit of downtown.

The painter and sculptor also acknowledges that leading a group of young artists from the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts through the process of creating a large two-paneled mural in a public place — at gaudy Neonopolis, no less — wasn’t something he does every day. After a quarter century working mostly solo, a team effort was a new but rewarding experience.

“It was interesting working with kids,” he said. “We had quite fun doing it, I must say. … There were problems, but we got through.”

One of the challenges for an artist from a cool, damp climate is the fact working in the desert air dried the paint much more quickly than he was used to. Working in a harsher light was also an adjustment. (For a sample of Knuttel’s fine art, go to knuttelgallery.com. He also opened a gallery inside The Venetian-Palazzo resort.)

Although a newcomer to Southern Nevada, he notes the obviously very different art scenes between the Strip and downtown.

The galleries at major resorts are fine, but the spirit of downtown’s artists is invigorating.

“I think it was the only choice they had, really, because there wasn’t room for everyone up on the Strip,” he said of the cluster of galleries in the Downtown Arts District and at Emergency Arts.

“I didn’t know Fremont Street and downtown existed when I started out,” he said. “It’s like the real world down there. It’s very vibrant.”

The quick trip to Las Vegas ends today, and Knuttel said he’ll probably still be suffering from jet lag and something he calls “Strip lag.”

“Strip lag is probably worse than jet lag,” he said, laughing.

Soon enough, he’d be back.

“I’m going to do a lot more around Fremont Street if I can,” Knuttel said. “There’s so much going on.”

GOOD MAN: Rod Poteete’s Pahrump Valley High baseball teams won often, and he was a devoted teacher, sports official and school historian, but the the big fellow was an even better man. Poteete died this past week after a long struggle with illness. He was 67.

He was a pitching star at Stanford and once hurled the Cardinal into the College World Series, where he hammered out a 14-inning complete game against Arizona State. He simply refused to quit.

After his professional career with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization was cut short, he moved to Las Vegas, took courses at the university and began imparting his knowledge to a younger generation.

Poteete was the definition of steadfast. Married for 38 years, he commuted from Las Vegas to Pahrump each day without fail for more than three decades. He kept copious records and photos year after year so that the school and its graduates would have their memories intact. He then donated all his effort to the community’s museum.

Services for Poteete are set for 11 a.m. Saturday at First Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at 301 S. Maryland Parkway.

Have an item for the Bard of the Boulevard? Email comments and contributions to Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.