Faithful to her colors, Niki Baker’s fondness for Kansas State University is unwavering long after she left its campus behind to pursue an art career and a family, she said. Pouring her maker’s mission out on canvas and painting possibility, Baker is now one of the rare few to hold a piece of her alma mater that’s coveted by creatives.
“I always wanted to have K-State memorabilia in my home — but could never really find anything that made me happy showing it,” Baker said, noting the “man cave” aesthetic runs rampant when it comes to university-related decor.
Long inspired by the Wildcats and the sights of Manhattan and the Flint Hills region, Baker decided there was no reason she couldn’t create pieces of her own. She then crafted a six-piece set for herself, chronicling the evolution of the school’s wildcat logos.
Baker’s work ultimately led her down a path that saw her secure exclusive licensing rights to the university’s logo and its vintage marks featured in her collection — a rare accomplishment and a right only she holds, she discovered.
“I was prepared for [them to say no] because I knew that [vintage marks licensing] wasn’t already available,” she recalled. “Because I was an art student that graduated from [KSU] it was a really big honor for me — and it’s been a whirlwind of a story.”
Quick to embrace her work, the university invited Baker last fall to display her six-piece set on its Manhattan campus at the William T. Kemper Art Gallery in the K-State Student Union. The showcase was the first to occupy the space since 2018 when a fire destroyed a significant portion of Hale Library and saw the gallery used as a storage and holding space.
“It was pretty surreal,” Baker said. “They’d been looking for somebody and I just came along and it all fell into place. It felt like it was all meant to be [and it was] so amazing that they wanted to showcase my work.”
Baker currently sells her K-State pieces online along with a plethora of other impressionist-style pieces that depict life on the Flint Hills.
Click here to browse through Baker’s online gallery or to purchase one of her pieces.
“I’m a big advocate for landscapes and nature and wildlife,” she said, detailing her personal style beyond her K-State pieces.
“I’m very lively and energetic with my movements when it comes to painting. I want viewers to be able to feel a tangible connection when [they] look at my [work]. I want them to feel an energy and a liveliness when they look at it that invigorates them and excites them and brings them memories that they’ve had before.”
Baker hopes to give Kansas Citians a look at her work up close in September. The artist is hopeful she’ll be accepted into the 91st Annual Plaza Art Fair on the Country Club Plaza, she said, noting her Kansas roots bring her back to the region often.
The opportunity to participate is one that could help further bolster Baker’s entrepreneurial ambition, she said, noting she’s been pursuing art as a business for nearly a decade.
“It’s a blessing and a curse to have this mindset. I have all these huge goals — and I’m the only one that can achieve them. I’m the only one that has control,” she said of her entrepreneurial experience and how she hopes her story can set an example for her three children.
“I’m teaching my children that you just go for it. You get no’s along the way and it just doesn’t matter. You [shake] them off and keep doing what you want to do.”
Baker’s opportunities with K-State are a prime example of such a belief, she said, adding that if it wasn’t for blindly reaching out directly to representatives that included the university’s president, she might not have ever received the success that’s now driving her business to new heights.
“It felt like a pipe dream. … I had the vision for having a licensing deal, but I didn’t really believe it would happen. I just knew I would work really hard for it. And if it was a no, I would be fine. I wanted to do what I could to share my story,” she said of her desire to use her talents to honor a place near to her heart and that’s been a significant part of her story.
“Having this licensing deal has been the biggest honor of my career so far. I’m still floored. I’m still pinching myself.”
Want to keep up with Baker and her work? Click here to follow her journey on Instagram.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.