MISSOULA - Construction on the new building for the Montana Museum of Art and Culture is underway, and they’ve just added a piece to welcome for visitors come fall.
UM graduate, Paul Lewing, returned to his alma mater this week to install his ceramic tile mural titled “The Artists Tool Belt.” The mural depicts a pattern of artists' tools, including paintbrushes, crochet needles and ceramic knives.
“There are tools in there from all time periods, from all over the world. There’s a neolithic stone hammer, so we got like 10,000 years of tools there,” Lewing says. “Some of the tools are, especially the clay tools, are tools that — they’re right out of my toolbox. There’s one tool in there that I’ve used to glaze for thousands of tiles and pots with.”
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Some of the drawings are replicas of materials used by Lewing’s art mentors at the university. Lewing recalls getting more than just mentors from the college.
“I got a complete life out of the University of Montana. When I came to the University, I had had virtually no art training whatsoever,” he says. “I had never heard of clay when I got here. So I was just like, wallowing in art mediums, like bring it on... I loved every bit of it. I met my wife at the clay studio… And we’ve been married 52 years now, so I got that out of the University of Montana.”
Rafael Chacon, director of the Museum of Art and Culture, says it was a dream come true to have Lewing return to campus.
“Paul is a distinguished alumnus of our college at the university, and it’s just really great to have living artists out there who still think about their alma mater and would love to see their work come home,” he says. “So we’re just thrilled that Paul is willing to share his artistry with us.”
Chacon says the theme of artist tools and materials is the perfect way to introduce the public to the work inside.
“We’re thrilled that the museum is finally going to be open and that we get to share these incredible collections,” he says. “And excited, that here we have a work of art that is right at the main entrance of the building, that when people arrive they will get to see, basically, a little preview of what’s coming inside. So this mural, with this incredible array of tools is an indication of what’s to be found inside the museum.”
Lewing says the piece is the best thing he has made over his lifetime of making art. He often does commission artwork, so it was a nice change for him to be able to add a personal touch to a piece.
“It is one of the very few times that I get to decide exactly what it is,” he says. “It’s very, very personal to me.”
Lewing currently lives in Seattle but plans to come back to campus for the museum’s opening during homecoming in September.