Clarissa Knighten was born into a military family. Her father was a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force. She spent her childhood moving all over the United States, even living in The Philippines for three years, then ended up in Kansas City.
“I’ve always been creative. The first item I remember making was a light grey, flowered dress with short sleeves and an elastic waist. I used to make an outfit every Saturday night for church on Sunday. I was still in junior high at that time,” Knighten says. She graduated from North Kansas City High School and eventually took a job with a well-known private insurance company where she worked for 19 years. Over the course of her career, she moved from corporate marketing to a quality analyst in the IT Department.
Knighten developed depression, which led to an eating disorder, when she was younger and struggled with it throughout her corporate career. At one point it became too much for her to handle on her own. “I needed something extra to maintain a healthy life, so I sought the help of a professional,” she says. Her doctor prescribed her with some medications, but also with great advice. “My doctor wanted me to do something different with my hands to take my mind off of the everyday stresses of life. So I started making jewelry. However, I never thought people would want to purchase my jewelry,” Knighten says.
The repetitive nature of creating the pieces of jewelry worked almost like mediation for her. Coupled with talk therapy, exercise and nutrition, jewelry making has played a large part in her recovery.
“I started with gemstones and progressed to using objects that others would deem for recycling, for example, buttons. I wanted to use buttons in a form of art larger than what other people have done. I want my work to be very unique and distinct. All are one-of-a-kind; every single piece! None are ever duplicated,” Knighten says.
She self-taught herself how to work with wires and fastenings and gradually progressed to incorporate shells, metals, even upcycled coffee bags, into her unique, one-of-a-kind designs. Her thought that no one would want to purchase her jewelry all changed one day as she rode the elevator to her corporate job. “A gentleman on the elevator asked me where I purchased my necklace. When I told him I created it, he asked if I would sell it to him. He purchased it right off my neck. The thought ran through my head. ‘This could be a business when I retire,’” Knighten says.
Instead of waiting until she retired, she took a leap and left her corporate job in 2017 to concentrate on RAD which stands for Rissa’s Artistic Design, full time. “I am giving myself permission to do what I want, to think outside of the box, and to not allow other artists or society to box me into a square box. If someone wants to purchase my art, I’m so happy, but just creating is healing for me,” Knighten says. She began participating in pop-up art shows and selling her work online. The fashion industry in Kansas City soon took notice and she was asked to participate in Kansas City Fashion Week as a jewelry designer in 2018, then again in 2019. “Being in Kansas City Fashion Week is one of my biggest accomplishments to date,” she says. “Also, selling my work online to clients in Germany, The United Kingdom, and Paris, to name a few makes me proud.”
Knighten is inspired by life and knowing that art has no boundaries. She has also recently become a teacher at Arts and AGEing KC, whose programs embrace the arts as a meaningful way to enrich the lives of older adults of all abilities. “Teaching senior citizens was never part of my plan but I guess it was a part of God’s plan. I just finished my second 10 week course with Arts & AGEing and watching these senior citizens create is another amazing inspiration for me,” Knighten says.
Her advice to up and coming makers is to dream larger than life. “The only thing between you and greatness is your ears and your fears. You can’t listen to negativity. Find a good quote and repeat it daily. Write down every idea that comes to mind, you never know when it will come to fruition,” Knighten says.
You can find Rissa’s Artistic Design on Instagram, Facebook, she has an online shop, in The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art gift shop and at her studio in Interurban Arthouse and at The 9th Annual Holiday Swing at Union Station on Saturday and Sunday, November 30 and December 1.
Photos from Rissa’s Artistic Design and Jason Atherton