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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Western’s museum specialist and storytelling extraordinaire to retire after 29 years

By Samuel Fletcher

As Western Gallery’s museum specialist of 29 years nears retirement, students and faculty imagine a gallery with only the echoes of the vivid storyteller, unique educator and adored friend.

Paul Brower has constructed exhibits and hung 1,500 pieces of art currently displayed on campus. He has done lighting for all of the gallery openings and art events, he said. He also leads eight internships a year where he teaches students all the behind-the-scenes work of an art exhibit.

“It’s a glorified carpentry job,” Brower said. “A carpenter with art knowledge.”

He worked with the first indigenous artifacts on loan from Soviet ethnographers. He also displayed the Terracotta Army sculptures, a deal negotiated before the U.S. had diplomatic relationships with China, Brower said.

Brower worked on “Crossroads of Continents” in Seattle, a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, he said. Through 14-hour shifts, he also worked on the new building in Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Raised by an artist and a teacher, Brower spent his childhood in museums, he said. The carpentry work came later.

“I became a carpenter because it was a way to make a good living,” Brower said. “I kind of pretended like it took care of the creative outlet that I needed, and it did in many ways, but sometimes you realize [hanging drywall] isn’t very creative, no matter how much people like your work.”

Starting the pursuit of an ample creative outlet, Brower reached out to his neighbor who was a curator and started assembling art museums as a volunteer, he said.

“[Brower] has an ocean of stories,”

Western Gallery Director Hafthor Yngvason

Brower joined Western before half of its buildings were built, he said. He started as a preparer of fine arts and has absorbed many roles, becoming the museum specialist.

But his favorite role, he said, is educator.

Paul Brower said, “We are not here forever, whether that be on earth or in our job, so I’m very comfortable that my time is over.” // Photo by Samuel Fletcher

“I really thought that working with students would be kind of a pain,” Brower said. “But instead it has proven to be one of the most enjoyable memories of being here. Every year I have faith knowing that the world is going to be great because these kids who I have watched grow over several years head out and graduate. I know they are going to go on and do big things and the world is going to be okay because of these kids.”

Senior Anna Greeneisen, an anthropology major and art history minor, has interned with Brower all year, she said. It’s her favorite class.

Interns learn how to frame and hang art, assemble exhibits and install entire shows, Greeneisen said. The learning comes from discussing and figuring it out together, as opposed to traditional classroom methods.

“You don’t get that in a lecture class,” Greeneisen said. “You are being talked at, opposed to having a conversation and really being able to interact with all the stuff that is happening.”

Brower also assists the artists themselves, Western Gallery Director Hafthor Yngvason said. His patience, experience and mindset have helped artists realize their own display.

Greeneisen’s favorite part of the internship is the relaxing work and hearing Brower’s many stories, something he is well known for, she said.

“He has an ocean of stories,” Yngvason said. “I think he is popular as a teacher because he has stories to explain things.”

Brower’s current projects involve dissembling the latest gallery, “Projection Paintings,” and installing the walls for the Bachelor of Fine Arts Show coming next week.

He is also working with Ann Morris, who donated the “Sculpture Woods” on Lummi Island to Western, he said.

His last day at Western is Sept. 4.

The art dynamic on campus will seem strange without him, Yngvason said. Brower has such rich expertise on campus.

“Paul has all this institutional history that is kind of hard to lose,” Yngvason said. “He is very well known on campus and very well-liked.”

Brower said he looks forward to hitting the road on his motorcycle. He loves to travel and camp in his Volkswagen bus.

Brower said he is excited about his future.

“I read these daily readings from this Buddhist monk. One of the things he talks about a lot in his daily readings is impermanence,” Brower said. “Kind of like ,we are not here forever, whether that be on the earth or in our job, so I’m very comfortable that my time is over.”

*A correction was made on May 23 at 5:11 p.m. to Hafthor Yngvason’s name as it was previously misspelled.

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