Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Sister Paula Turnbull: ‘Art and music are important parts of human nature’

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the July 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Holy Names Sister Paula TurnbullRight: Holy Names Sister Paula Turnbull examines her recently completed metal sculpture, which will grace the Brown’s Addition neighborhood in Spokane. (IR photo by Mitch Finley)

Holy Names Art Center is a spacious, single story red brick building adjacent to and matching the large, up-to-date Holy Names Convent, north and not far west of the Spokane River. Nestled comfortably into the landscape, with hundreds of towering white pines and various deciduous shrubs and trees all around, the art center is filled with the work of Holy Names Sister Paula Turnbull, a well-known personage among art aficionados not just locally and nationally but internationally, too.

When a visitor arrives on a warm July afternoon, Sister Paula smiles up from today’s project, matting and framing numerous small water color paintings she did on a recent month-long trip to Greece – one of many visits to that sun-drenched, ancient island country she has made over the years, going back to her days as an art professor at what was then Spokane’s Holy Names College. Shelves and windowsills are populated by dozens of miniature models for her sculptures, including the original model for perhaps her best known work, the famous “garbage goat” in Spokane’s downtown Riverfront Park. Ever since Expo ’74 opened, the goat’s powerful interior vacuum has been “eating” litter held near its open mouth, to the delight of children and other park visitors.

The focus today, however, is a life-size sculpture Sister Paula completed in late April of this year, just before she and a few other Holy Names Sisters left for Greece. She submitted a proposal last year to the Spokane Arts Commission’s competition to find just the right sculpture to erect near the newly completed Spokane Fire Station No. 4, situated near the eastern boundary of the historic Brown’s Addition district west of downtown Spokane.

Karen Mobley is Arts Director for the City of Spokane. She explained that when a new city structure is put up, by law one percent of the funds budgeted for the building must be set aside for art in or near the new facility. “The committee wanted something that would integrate with the historic nature of the neighborhood, require minimal maintenance, and be constructed of durable materials,” Mobley said.

Ten artists from Spokane, North Idaho, and Seattle submitted proposals but, said Mobley, “many” on the Art Selection Committee – made up of members of the Arts Commission, local architects, and people from the Brown’s Addition neighborhood – were “charmed by Sister Paula’s proposal.” Her idea: to execute in copper tubing and brass two life-size figures representing Anna Brown and Alta Brown, the wife and one of the young daughters of J. J. Brown, for whom Brown’s Addition was named.

“I got the images that I based my sculpture on from a famous painting by Georges [Pierre] Seurat,” the 19th-century neo-impressionist French painter, Sister Paula said. The painting is titled “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatté.” Comparing the painting and the sculpture, it’s easy to identify the figures of the woman and young girl in Seurat’s painting.

Left: Sister Paula also contributed her talents to decorating “Huckleberry Bear,” part of a fund-raising effort for Ronald McDonald House. (IR photo by Deacon Eric Meisfjord)

The clothing and hair of the two sculpted figures are made of copper tubing, their faces, arms, hands, and the girl’s shoes from an aluminum, copper and brass alloy. Sister Paula gets copper tubing from a Spokane plumbing supply business and brass from another local supplier, as well as from scrap sources.

For many years, Sister Paula has dedicated herself to providing art for both church and society, and she is never hesitates to speak her mind on the importance of the arts in both spheres.

“Every society has produced art,” she said; “it’s part of being human. It’s too bad that when budgets are cut the first things to go are the arts and the libraries. Art and music are important parts of human nature, and if we don’t give people a chance to be creative, and learn to be creative, everyone loses out.”

Last spring, the Friends of the Ronald McDonald House of Spokane, which provides living accommodations for families of hospitalized children, sponsored a fund-raising project they named “Bear Necessities.” Forty life-size, fiberglass Kodiak bears were manufactured locally and given to local artists to decorate. The bears then were placed at noteworthy public locations all over the Spokane area. On Oct, 8, at Spokane’s historic Davenport Hotel, the bears will be auctioned off, with all the money going to the Ronald McDonald House.

One of the bears Sister Paula decorated with huckleberries, sunflowers, dandelions, and other blooms, and then she named it “HuckleBeary.” Sister Paula’s bear is located outside Washington Mutual Bank, 601 Main Ave., in Spokane. (To see a photo of HuckleBeary on the internet, go to the web site

No date has been set to place and dedicate Sister Paula’s Brown’s Addition sculpture, which will rest in a location not far from Fire Station No. 4; best estimate puts the event in late July or early August. The fire station is located in a rather awkward site that offers no suitable place for the sculpture, so the committee decided to put Anna and Alta Brown on the easement of some private property nearby, with permission from the owners.

“It seems to me that [Sister Paula’s] sculpture will be a good fit for the neighborhood and what we’re trying to accomplish with art projects for the city,” Karen Mobly said.

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