Mann Art Gallery expands collection of artwork by famous Paddockwood woodcarver

The Mann Art Gallery added to its collection in October with a donation of works created by local sculptor and woodturner Frank Sudol.

The donation was part of 46 pieces split between SK Arts in Regina, the Mann Art Gallery in Prince Albert and the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery.

The Mann Art Gallery first acquired one of Sudol’s pieces in 1994 and has since acquired another.

Mann Art Gallery curator Marcus Miller said the Sudol piece was one of the first works acquired by the gallery and it made sense to add more pieces to their collection.

“I’m very happy they’re here at the Mann Art Gallery and it’s the right home for them because he was one of our neighbors,” Miller explained. “It makes perfect sense that we now have a substantial good turnout from Frank Sudol.”

Sudol was born and raised in Paddockwood, but moved to Alberta as an adult to become a teacher. He retired early to Paddockwood and built a log home and ran a Christmas tree farm until his death in 2006.

Sodul was revered for his woodcarvings and intricate designs, and his work has been featured in numerous publications across North America. The donation was made by collectors Dr. Michael Kowbel and Mrs. Debbie Kowbel of British Columbia.

Miller said the process of returning parts to Prince Albert was lengthy.

“For some reason when I took the job a few years ago, it was like a pending gift and it had been going on for years and years and years,” he explained. “I don’t know what the (initial) delay was, but of course in the last two years the delay was COVID.”

Collectors decided to divide the work between the three locations and met in Regina in October to divide each piece. Representatives from the Mann Art Gallery received a list of works and images, and made a Zoom call with donors that lasted nearly two hours before traveling to Regina.

Miller said the Zoom meeting was very helpful to him.

“It was to see the plays live and hear him (Kowbel) talk about the plays and what was personally meaningful to him,” Miller said. “He’s not an art expert or anything, but he was passionate about these things, so it was great for all of us. He also had little stories to tell about them, as well as anecdotes about Frank himself.

After meeting in Regina, Mann Gallery was able to walk away with its top two picks. Miller said the three groups decided as a collective where the pieces should go, so each location could have a “good rounded representation” of Frank Sudol’s work.

“It made things a lot easier,” Miller said. “I was a little anxious about that day and would I have my stuff and would we do a lot of haggling, but it didn’t turn out that way. It was very convivial with all of us.

The three venues agreed that the most eccentric pieces would go to the SK Arts collection.

At the end of the day, they wrapped and packed the art with the materials they had brought with them. Miller said it was a great learning experience for the gallery.

“I just drove home to Prince Albert that day with a car full of Frank Sudol in the back seat. It was a great day and I have to say that decorative art is not my forte, so I felt a bit out of my element to be honest, but I ended up learning a lot about Frank Sudol, about his craft and what a great innovator he was,” Miller said.

Miller did his own research and found that Sudol’s influence extended to American woodturners. One of his great innovations was discovering ways to transform tall vases with incredibly thin walls.

From his own experience, Miller said thin-walled ceramics show the signs of a very skilled woodcarver who was willing to take risks.

“Some of these vases are quite tall – like three feet tall – so he had these things on the lap,” Miller explained. “He would be able to tell when he was going too far by installing some sort of light bulb he had. He was shining through the wood on the other side so he could see how thick and thin its walls were, but even so I think the failure rate was very high.

Sudol’s other innovations include the painting of wood carvings and the incorporation of wood burning and animal motifs on vases and pots.

SK Arts was also delighted to have the works join its collection.

“We are committed to comprehensively collecting Saskatchewan art; and thanks to Kowbel’s generous gift, a fuller overview of Sudol’s innovative career will be preserved and made available to the public,” Permanent Collection Registrar Julia Krueger said in a press release.

SK Arts is the second oldest arts funding agency in the world, just after the Arts Council of Great Britain.