UM Art Alumnus Creates Ceramic Tile Mural for New Museum

Paul Lewing at work painting the “Clay Tools” series for “The Artist’s Tool Belt.” (Photograph courtesy of the artist.)

MISSOULA – Noted artist Paul Lewing, a graduate of the University of Montana’s College of the Arts and Media, will install a ceramic tile mural this month on the exterior of the new Montana Museum of Art and Culture.

Titled “The Artist’s Tool Belt,” the vividly colored mural is composed of individual tiles with images of over 70 tools used by different cultures across time. The tools form abstract patterns in the tiles that are arranged as a decorative band installed on the west entrance of UM’s new museum, opening Homecoming Weekend 2023.

The tools in the mural range from Neolithic stone hammers to digital paintbrush icons and include items such as a Laotian loom comb, a Makah adze and Victorian jewelry tools. They also include representations of prominent tools that are a part of the museum’s permanent collection, including modernist Henry Meloy’s brushes and ceramicist Rudy Autio’s trowel.

“When visitors come to our new museum, they will be greeted by Paul’s homage to the instruments artists have used since time immemorial,” said MMAC Director Rafael Chacón. “We are fortunate to count dedicated and trailblazing artists among our alumni and pleased to represent their achievements in the MMAC’s permanent collection.”

Lewing, born in Middletown, Ohio, moved in 1965 to Missoula with his family, where his father oversaw the campus mail service until 1971. He completed his B.F.A. in 1969 and his M.F.A. in 1972, studying with artist professors Aden Arnold, Maxine Blackmer, Don Bunse, Walter Hook and Autio – creator of UM’s iconic Grizzly Bear statue

Lewing initially wanted to be a landscape painter but ultimately settled on ceramics as the focus of his work.

Over a long career as a production potter, Lewing set up a studio in Seattle and mastered the medium of china paint. He expanded this traditional medium to include wildly new designs and modern ways of working. In addition to his commercial and fine art work, he also taught part time, conducted hundreds of workshops in all 50 states and is the author of the popular text “China Paint and Overglaze.”

Following the lead of his UM professors and mentors, Lewing characterizes the use of tools and his approach to making art as “down-to-earth” and “blue-collar”:

  “Images and concepts often sit in your brain for decades and sometimes recombine and emerge as something rich and new,” Lewing said in describing his inspiration for the MMAC mural. “Art has always been in my hands, not in my mind.”

His mural for the new museum, Lewing added, is a tribute to his beloved alma mater.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever made, and my time at UM was one of the best times of my life,” he said. “UM gave me a complete life: my medium, my mentors and my wife.”


Contact: H. Rafael Chacón, director, UM Montana Museum of Art and Culture, 406-2432019,