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Thursday, October 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Face Time: Nun, sculptor helped bring art to Expo ’74

Sister Paula Mary Turnbull stands beside one of her works, the Blessed Marie-Rose Durecher, at the Convent of the Holy Names. (Dan Pelle)
Sister Paula Mary Turnbull stands beside one of her works, the Blessed Marie-Rose Durecher, at the Convent of the Holy Names. (Dan Pelle)

Sister Paula Mary Turnbull, of the Convent of the Holy Names in Spokane, is a prolific sculptor whose work includes the garbage-eating goat in Riverfront Park and adorns Spokane Community College, the city’s wastewater treatment plant, Central Valley High School, the Hillyard pool, Indian Trail Park and numerous other places.

In 1972, Turnbull was named to the Expo Visual Arts Advisory Committee, which led the effort to bring sculptures to the fair. Art from Expo ’74 gained attention last week when the Spokane Park Board voted to remove an Expo-era sculpture by Charles W. Smith from its collection.

Q. What was the intent of building sculptures for Expo?

A. For the enjoyment of visitors to the site during and after Expo. We felt strongly about the good influence of art on the public, and we wanted to encourage individual artists and planned for the sculptures to become a permanent part of Riverfront Park following Expo. 

Q. What has been the long-term impact to the city resulting from the program to build sculptures?

A. The Expo site and sculptures created for Expo have been wonderful for the city of Spokane. Riverfront Park draws many visitors who enjoy the park’s attractions and benefit from walking along the river and discovering the art pieces along the way. Many other sculptures have been added to the park since Expo ’74, such as the one I was commissioned to do by the Australian government following Expo. They wanted a sculpture on the site where the Australian Pavilion had been. I created the Sun Dial with plants and animals indigenous to Australia brazed on the gnomon, the part of a sundial that casts the shadow to indicate the time.

Q. Do you remember how many sculptures ultimately were created for Expo? Do you have a favorite (besides your own)?

A. According to the Expo ’74 Sculpture Guide, there were 14 sculptures created for Expo. I particularly appreciate the sculptures by Harold Balazs and George Tsutakawa – both of which still exist.

Q. Do you remember Charles W. Smith, and what did you think of the sculpture he made for Expo?  

A. I have taken classes from him. Charles Smith was on the faculty at the University of Washington. Many artists were doing abstract art at that time. I liked that his sculpture could be climbed upon. There is a similar piece by Charles Smith in Volunteer Park in Seattle, which has been repaired.

Q. Do you have an opinion about whether the piece should be preserved by the Park Department, especially if it can be repaired?

A. I know it’s difficult to repair a cement sculpture when moisture seeps in and expands, creating cracks in the concrete. It may not be feasible to repair this piece.

Q. How did you decide upon creating a billy goat sculpture for Expo?

A. The architect had the idea based on something he’d seen – a goat’s head affixed to a fence, which was also a waste receptacle.  It was my idea to create the whole figure of a “garbage eating” goat made of corten steel (a material that lasts very well) to keep the area clean – in keeping with the ecology theme of Expo.

Q. Are you still a working sculptor?

A. Yes. I’ve recently made a number of gates, one for a home on Browne Mountain.  I’ve created several art pieces for our chapel and convent.  I’ve just finished a sculpture of Father Cataldo to be placed this summer.

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