MSUToday
Published: Dec. 29, 2016

MSU alum shares passion for art in Northern Michigan

Paul Welch is known throughout Northern Michigan for his immeasurable influence on the cultural renewal of Traverse City. After graduating from Michigan State in 1958 with his undergraduate degree, Paul left the borders of East Lansing behind and moved to the bustling little tourist town. He brought with him the enthusiasm and inspiration for art that he had gained from his professors and determined within himself that he would help Traverse City fall in love with expressing themselves through art, just as he had.

Paul began his journey teaching at Traverse City Central High School for three years before deciding he could reach more students if he taught at the college level. He returned to MSU and earned his Master in Arts.

After returning home to Traverse City in 1964, Paul began teaching at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) where he became a full-time art instructor. It was there that Paul began to build the structure of his dream to bring a full-scale art program to the city. He began to hand pick talented individuals to help him grow the arts program at the college. Not only did Paul recruit talented instructors, but he also sought out gifted students who he believed would excel in his program.

Paul’s passion and talent for art were intrinsically interwoven into each class he taught passing on his excitement and energy to his students. For Paul, “The greatest moments of my life were teaching.”

As the program grew, the college’s limited space soon became inadequate for the number of students and classes being taught. Now, a well-respected instructor, Paul was able to convince the college’s administration a new art building was necessary and would help its respected art program get stronger. Their agreement also allowed for Paul to assist in designing the building.

In addition to his work as an instructor, Paul shared his talent throughout the community including designing 16 stained glass windows for the All Faiths Chapel in Traverse City, now the city’s Women’s Resource Center.

However, it was in 1968 when Paul, along with a group of fellow art lovers, organized the city’s first arts council, thus formalizing his goal of creating a cultural revitalization in Traverse City. The council’s mission was to promote public appreciation of visual arts, bring artwork to schools, host exhibitions and support local artists.

Paul retired from NMC in 1987 after teaching and serving as the chairperson of the college’s arts department for 30 years. However, retirement only allowed Paul to invest more time and energy into Traverse City’s art community by helping create the Dennos Museum. As co-opener of the museum, Paul had free reign to purchase the pieces that would be displayed. In 1991 the breathtaking new museum welcomed people from all over the world with its dynamic exhibitions and programs.

In 1992, Northwestern Michigan College recognized Paul’s contributions in revitalizing the area’s art community and as well as his commitment to his students by awarding him the status of Fellow, its highest honor.

Paul Welch continues to be a significant influence on the creativity in northern Michigan and the Midwest. His work spans many mediums and genres. In his most recent work, Paul created a 24-foot by 18-foot silkscreen portraiture banner and entered it in Art Prize, an independently organized international art competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The piece, Paul named “Face to Face,” sums up why he appreciates portraiture. “The great portrait painters capture the inner person. What’s really important about a human being is what’s inside,” said Paul.

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