2017 Viola Award Nominee for Excellence in the Visual Arts

The Rainbow de Rio Mosaic Project celebrates the plants and animals of the Rio de Flag and the general Flagstaff watershed area in a series of individual mosaics that span the length of the North Thorpe Road bridge which crosses over the Rio de Flag.

Inspired during walks around the neighborhood, artist Karen Knorowski launched the mosaic project on her own initiative, applied and received a grant from the City of Flagstaff Beautification & Public Art Commission, and set to work. She involved community members, local students, and students from the Hopi reservation in the creation of the mural.

The grant covered her supplies for the project, and the rest of the money for the project was raised through sponsorships of individual mosaic panels and through an online fundraising campaign. Many hours were spent in the creation of the mosaics which included the planning, designing, obtaining materials, breaking and sorting the tiles, and construction of the mosaics.  Maintenance of the final work is expected for years to come and will include annual sealing of the grout and unexpected repairs that will undoubtedly present themselves along the way.

About the artist

A native of Arizona, Karen Knorowski gained a love of the outdoors and the biodiversity of our beautiful state at a young age.  She earned a BFA degree in printmaking from NAU and volunteered with Big Brothers & Big Sisters and Literacy Volunteers during her college career. For the past 9 years Karen has split her time between the Hopi Reservation and Flagstaff during which time she was a K-8 art teacher at Hotevilla Bacavi Community School. Karen is a member of the Artist’s Coalition of Flagstaff, and she was an Interpretive Ranger for the National Park Service at the Flagstaff Area National Monuments in 2009 and 2012. Here in Flagstaff, she illustrated the book Hopi Stories of Witchcraft, Shamanism and Magic by Ekkehart Malotki, 2001. In 2014, Karen was featured in Plein Air Magazine as an Honorable Mention award winner at the Escalante Plein Air Festival. She currently teaches part-time at Killip Elementary School in the 21st Century program and has plans to attend graduate school at NAU this coming fall.


“The Rainbow de Rio Mural Project is testimony to one woman’s generous talents, energy, and spirit. Karen Knorowski has inspired us all to greater things, a gift beyond measure.”

“This public beautification project connects STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) concepts to the area through it’s depiction of creatures that inhabit the Rio de Flag area. It’s proximity to so many local schools (Marshall, FJA, Flagstaff High School, etc.) only boosts it’s benefit to the community. Karen has involved schools, non-profits, many volunteers, and the city in her project. She has also persevered with this project, often donating her own time to see it to it’s end. If you have not seen the quality of this project, I highly recommend doing a drive (or walk) by sometime. This beautiful mosaic mural is a gift to our community and Karen deserves to be the Viola winner in the visual arts as a way of thanking her for her time, vision, and talent!” – Emma Wharton, Executive Director, Grand Canyon Youth

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