Paula RWL Towne (1948-2019) was an American artist versed in a variety of mediums including pen & ink, watercolor, collage, oil painting, acrylics, rug  making, and woodburning. For over 50 years, Paula lived in Gouverneur, New York and called the ‘North Country’ her home.  

Paula was born on July 18th, 1948, the fourth of five children born to Kay and  Charles Rysewyk of Rochester, NY. As the youngest girl in the family, Paula often felt overlooked by her parents, leading her to look inwards to find her own voice within art. For much of her childhood, Paula felt as if her only role in the family was to serve her parents and siblings, which led to feelings of alienation and being an outsider in her own home. 

At the age of 6, Paula began developing her own drawing style while also teaching herself how to sew. By the time she entered Irondequoit High School she was making all of her own clothes and selling small pieces of art to friends and teachers. The story of Paula’s childhood, as told by the artist herself, can be seen here in a piece produced by the show Story Trek.

Paula was a powerful and fiercely independent woman who raised four  children, often as a single mother and later in life as a widower. For the entirety of her life, she was able to support her family through the sale of  commissioned artwork, graphic design for local businesses, and proceeds  from local and regional art shows. 

She produced an extraordinarily large body of work during her life, including illustrations for over 35 books and 10 calendars, 100s of different greeting  card designs, 1000s of portraits, 100s of watercolors, and separate collections of woodburnings focused on babies, trees, fairy tales, and  slogans. She designed logos, made signs, and provided graphic design for local businesses throughout the North Country and drew senior portraits for every student at the local high school over a nearly 20-year period. Paula also pioneered the use of reclaiming worn t-shirts and fabrics, turning them into 100s of braided rugs and “hobo mojo bags”. Although Paula was almost  entirely self-taught, she began teaching and giving private art lessons starting in the late 90s. She continued teaching until mid-2019; this activity was very important to her and highlighted how she was very active in the community in which she lived. 

Paula’s early work explored themes such as motherhood, mischievous  children, nature, babies, fairies, and music. Much of the art revolved around household chores such as baking and cooking, which eventually sparked the  development of her “Rude Foods” series in which common, everyday foods were animated in a mischievous, fantastical manner. The “Rude Foods” series became the first calendar that Paula would create, with different seasonal foods and ingredients brought-to-life for each separate month. 

In the late 80s and into the 90s, her art was heavily influenced by the concepts of beauty, fashion, modeling, and gender equity. By the mid-90s and throughout the 2000s, Paula’s artwork became more conceptual and she  began tackling complex topics such as money and greed, interpersonal  relationships, mortality, social issues, and mental health. During this time, she also began drawing political cartoons that addressed local politics and  national issues such as education, conservation of nature, and the rural/urban divide.  

One of Paula’s best-known collections from the 2000s was ‘Big Money’, an assortment of large format (often greater than 36” in length) renderings of American currency done as woodburnings or watercolors. The initial piece  from this collection was a $5 bill, which was largely inspired by her father, whom she believed looked remarkably like Abraham Lincoln. After the completion of Big Money, Paula would go back to drawing Lincoln in a variety of different settings and media, as she was fascinated with Civil War history.  One room of her home (the downstairs bathroom) was devoted entirely to her drawings of Lincoln and associated collectibles that she had acquired throughout her life. 

The tail end of Paula’s career had a strong focus on re-establishing her bond with nature, as she was inspired by the beauty of the surrounding area. Over the last decade of her life, she produced more than 70 mixed media  woodburning/acrylic pieces in a collection called “The Trees of St. Lawrence  County.” This collection of work produced the most critical acclaim of her career, with many pieces winning Best of Show in the annual ‘Heart of the North Country’ showcase. 

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoy Paula’s art.