The power of the pencil

New exhibit celebrates the career of Winnipeg artist Alvin Pauls

January 25, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 2
Aaron Epp | Associate Editor
‘From Here to There’ includes full-scale reproductions of some of Alvin Pauls’ large mural pieces. (Supplied photo.)

When it comes to making art, Alvin Pauls isn’t concerned with the outcome.

“It’s all in the doing,” the Winnipeg artist says. “The end result is not important.”

Dressed in a black sweater over a brown turtleneck, jeans and blue slip-on shoes, Pauls is walking around “From Here to There,” a retrospective exhibit of his work at MHC Gallery. His energy belies his 81 years.

On display until February 24, the exhibit showcases Pauls’ diverse artistic skills in painting, clay and glass. It features pottery and paintings as well as full-scale reproductions of some of his large mural pieces.

In keeping with his philosophy that art is not about the product, some of the pieces are accompanied by behind-thescenes images of the artist at work.

One series of photos, hung above a ceramic piece, depicts Pauls and students he taught at the University of Manitoba building the kiln he used to create the piece.

A video playing on a screen above other ceramic works shows the artist at his potter’s wheel.

The exhibit takes its name from the title of the memoir Pauls wrote for his grandchildren. Published last year, the coffee table book chronicles Pauls’ life, with an emphasis on high-quality photos of his art.

Winnipeg artist Alvin Pauls. (Photo by Aaron Epp.) 

“I’ve got four grandchildren and thought, at least they’ll know who I am,” he says.

Discussions between Pauls and MHC Gallery staff started after he donated a copy of the book to the Mennonite Heritage Archives, which shares a building with the gallery.

Pauls was raised near Morden, Manitoba, the youngest of seven children born to a Mennonite pastor and a homemaker who once had artistic ambitions of her own. When he was young, Pauls’ mother taught him knitting, embroidery and drawing to keep him busy while his siblings were at school.

“From there on you realize the power of the pencil,” he says. “Some guys’ hands become their voice through the written word and some guys’ hands become their voice through their art.”

After completing a fine arts degree at the University of Manitoba in the late 1960s, Pauls spent the early part of his career as a high school art teacher and leading painting lessons in the evening.

His interest in working with clay continued to grow, leading him to start
the Sounding Stone, a pottery supplier, school and giftshop, in 1972.

Pauls’ passion for teaching art and for pottery, combined with his wife Judith’s gift for business and retail, grew the Sounding Stone into a successful enterprise.

With additional staff coming on board to support the family business, Pauls took on new artistic projects and commissions in the 1970s and ’80s.

Represented in the exhibit is the artwork he’s created for his church, Bethel Mennonite. These include photos of the three earthen vessels, referred to as “time jars,” that he created in the late ’80s for the church’s 50th anniversary.

There’s also a replica of the 5.5-by 4-metre mural that hangs in Bethel’s foyer. Inspired by an early 1300s painting of the Last Supper by Italian artist Giotto, the mural is made up of 12 clay platters symbolizing Jesus’s apostles.

The exhibit also features a replica of the stained-glass windows Pauls created for the church.

Seven people helped him create the windows and seven people helped him install them. While describing the project, Pauls returns to his philosophy of art.

“The windows are just the end product, but the value was getting to work with these guys,” he says. “The process was
much more valuable than the product itself.”

Seeing “From Here to There” come together was exciting for Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk, curator at the gallery. She notes that the exhibit includes a body of work that spans nearly six decades.

“MHC Gallery has been thrilled to work with Alvin, who has been a pivotal figure in the Winnipeg art scene for almost 60 years,” she says.

“It’s such a unique exhibit, with largescale reproductions of these large murals [and] these large stained-glass pieces. It looks really amazing in the space. It’s also an exhibit that’s full of spirit, in every sense of the word.”

As Pauls winds down his tour of the exhibit, he considers what’s next. Between having the artwork photographed, transported to the gallery and put on display, a lot of his time in recent weeks has gone into the exhibit.

Now that it’s open to the public, he is slowly getting back into painting. “I want to take a day or two of rest,” he says, “and then get back to work.” 


‘From Here to There’ includes full-scale reproductions of some of Alvin Pauls’ large mural pieces. (Supplied photo.)

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Interesting article. I wondered what happened to Alvin, son of Bishop Pauls at Winkler Bergthaler Church. I had to chuckle at the “raised near Morden” line. He was raised on 14th St, City of Winkler, 15km east of Morden. Thanks

Thanks for the note Marvin. To clarify, Alvin Pauls lived near Morden, Manitoba until the age of 9 when his family moved to Winkler. Do not worry--we have not taken to referring to Winkler as "near Morden"; it's more a matter, I suppose, of how one defines "raised." Thanks again for your note.

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