Paul Howe has been affiliated with Franconia Sculpture Park since his time as an Intern Artist in 2008. Paul participated in the Intern program during his studies at SUNY Plattsburgh where he earned his BFA in 2009. After undergraduate, Paul returned to Franconia to work as the Assistant to the Director for two summers until moving to Greensboro, NC to pursue his MFA at UNC Greensboro. Now, he’s completed his degree, spent time working at another residency program, producing his own work, and developing a passion for making, building, and repairing and we’re glad to have him back at Franconia to work on staff with us this year! Here’s an opportunity for you to learn more about Paul’s ideas, past work, influences, and current projects.
What kind of art do you make and why do you make it?
I have been educated as a sculptor, I have spent a lot of time strictly calling myself a sculptor, and I’ve spent a lot of time strictly making sculpture. I’m trying now to just tune myself to what I’m inspired to do. I have appetites for a huge variety of creative production.
To do the things I want to do, the way I want to do them, I have to call them art, and I have to call myself an artist. I spend inordinate amounts of time and energy obsessing over details of surface, the fit of joined parts, the balances of form and color, and idiosyncratic novelty, in anything I construct. I want my name on durable, good looking, unique things. The economic and cultural landscape outside of art cannot support my working habits. I’m bad for business. But, I’m not concerned with perfection either. Imperfections abound in my work on close inspection. I liken my processes to drawing or writing with ink. There is no erasing possible. I see and accept my mistakes as inevitable elements of energetic work. Rather than trying to hide or remove imperfections, I try to find ways of incorporating them. Mistakes are treated as opportunities.
I advocate the art and science of maintenance, repair, and reuse. Throwing things away is a last resort. Where is “away” anyways? I can’t remember who said it, but I have heard it said that the health of a culture is written in its maintenance. I think the idea opens the door for questions like what is worth maintaining? and what is worth making? which are enormous questions, the answers to which are shaping our daily lives.
You’ve been involved with Franconia since 2008 in various capacities. First as an Intern Artist, then as the Assistant to the Director, and now as the Assistant Site Manager. How does the environment here impact your work and creative process? Has this experience been different as an intern vs. a member of staff?
Franconia is a place where older and un-hip values of discipline and hard work can be in play for younger people. It is a place where these values can find positive expression in physical and psychic realities, and become more than mere ideas. We pay very little lip-service to discipline and hard work, but Franconia is saturated in it. We do it. There are not many places like this around. My generation was raised with big ideas about appearances and impressions, and we still live in that world today. I’m not prepared to stake a claim to the moral superiority of discipline and hard work, but I will say that some of us want and need it in our lives for whatever reason, and so here we are. It is here at Franconia that big ideas can be born. This has been the common thread of my experience here, no matter what role I’ve been in.
As an Intern Artist and as a member of staff you’ve had access to the outdoor studio here at Franconia. What have you made? Where are those sculptures now?
I’ve made three durable, mobile, publicly scaled sculptures that have lived all over the Midwest and the east coast here at Franconia. The sculpture I made as an intern is in the permanent collection of Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park just outside of Chicago. The second one was in Chattanooga, Tennessee for two years, and is now down in Columbus, Georgia, currently on display there. The third is awaiting its next destination after having been at Longwood University in Virginia for three years. These three sculptures have been among the brightest of my career so far, and have enjoyed the level of exposure that they were intended for.
Sculptures Paul made at Franconia that are now on display in other exhibitions around the country.
You’re returning to Franconia after a three year hiatus. What have you been up to? What have you been making? Who did you meet? What did you learn?
I left Franconia in 2010 to attend the two-year M.F.A. program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I spent those two years exhausting everything I had learned as an undergraduate art student, and everything I had learned in my first three years at Franconia. I stayed in Greensboro for a year and a half after graduation and worked at Elsewhere Museum as the “Building Curator” in a conscious effort to expose myself to unfamiliar things and people, which I was sorely needing after spending two years alone in my studio. I produced a tremendous amount of work there, and left a huge mark on the place. It was very exciting for me. Some of this work can be seen here. While that job was often frustrating and unrewarding for complex reasons, and unfortunately ended on a sour note, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. It stretched the limits of my patience and appreciation, and exposed me to a huge variety of thinking and art making that I had never experienced first hand. I met a ton of artists from all over the world, and I became a first-class carpenter, which has helped my creative confidence tremendously.
What are you working on now?
There was a small house built here at Franconia with no windows or doors as part of a sculpture/performance in 2006. It sat empty for 3 or 4 years in the park with an unfinished interior as an artifact of the work, and a few years ago some windows and a door were installed in it, it was moved closer to the main house, and it was turned into auxiliary housing for Franconia staff. I’m turning this small house into a luxurious and particular place to live, with everything in it built custom and built into the house itself. Everything in it is specific to this house, permanently attached to it, and cannot be moved out of it, with the exception of the chairs. It is built almost entirely with used wood laying around Franconia leftover from sculptures and construction projects. It is an exercise in totally constructing a living space from scratch from the largest needs down to the smallest details of comfort and novelty.
The house before:
The house now:
Who are some of your influences as an artist?
Is there anything else you want to share?