He’s a quiet, unassuming man, but when you visit with Paul Rawlings, you find deep knowledge on many topics and a very diverse list of accomplishments on his resume: college professor, high school teacher, bookstore and motel owner, carpenter, dream coach, writer, actor, director, playwright, and book and memorabilia collector. The last four speak of his deepest passions though.
Looking for a small-town vibe, Paul found it in Bonners Ferry, settling here in 1978 with his wife, Barb, and their two children. Paul taught high school English and worked construction (he has renovated or built every home they’ve owned!), while Barb established her still active midwifery practice. The children enrolled in school and shortly afterward their daughter announced she wanted to audition for a local community theater play.
Being that they were still new to town and not sure what kind of people might be there, Paul escorted her to the audition. While watching his daughter and other people try out for various parts, Paul found himself bitten by the acting bug.
That began what continues to be a deep passion for the performing arts and his love of community theater. Paul auditioned for the next play that came along and got a role, a process he went through before quickly taking on the mantle of director.
Thirty-two plays later, Paul’s enthusiasm for what he does theatrically has never dimmed. He first directed plays written by others before turning to his skill of writing to draft his own creations. “I never started out to follow someone else’s ‘recipes’ in directing a play or to do something cute … I’ve always felt I needed to put my own touches on a play, that we’re here to make art!” Paul says.
He has worked with more than 200 local folks who came out to audition for his roles, some repeatedly, others once or twice. Paul is enthusiastic about the caliber of local talent he’s had to draw from over the years and shares how they gave it their all, transcending and leaving themselves behind.
Paul has written and directed eight of his own plays; two that he finds most memorable are “A Good, Good Day,” which portrayed stories of local folks’ experiences in life, and “Hearts Open Wide,” a co-creation with Jesse Tobin, another creative talent, which was a carefully selected series of songs, not put together as a concert but chosen for the arc of common thread that wove through them, creating what he still feels was a passionate and beautiful form of art.
Art is very important to Paul, and he expresses it well through his writing and plays, but he shares there’s another form of art that is even more important than theater to him. On his property tucked away in a beautiful corner of Boundary County, you will find the most stunning collection of books and myriad of collectibles that you could ever imagine.
Paul has always been an avid reader and loves books. When they moved to Idaho more than four decades ago, he brought along a collection of nearly 2,000 books, which ended up in storage, much to his dismay. Now his collection lives in not one but two library buildings that he built himself and is carefully counted at 24,338 books!
What makes his library unique though is how he groups books together, putting them in themes or by author and then enhancing those displays with corresponding collectibles. For example, there’s a display of a stack of books about Antarctica, which are topped by a small penguin statue and a rock from the South Pole, a gift from a local woman who worked there.
A section of baseball books contains pieces and photos of his childhood and youth, vintage Rawlings baseball collectibles and, of course, his own Rawlings jersey. A small bookshelf of logging books is highlighted by a collection of toy logging trucks and old photos.
Paul points to his favorite section, the cowboy nook. It’s full of books about the Old West, antique license plates, bronze Western sculptures, old cowboy gear and hats, even strands of rusty barbed wire.
The collection story began with a wooden case of old pop bottles that he found at a yard sale once upon a time, which has grown from those original 12 to 1,827 old Pepsi, Coke, 7-Up and other brands, not to mention all the matching marketing memorabilia such as glasses, signs, tins and other pieces.
Another favorite collectible of his are old advertising thermometers, now numbering at 122. Paul combs yard sales and thrift stores for many finds while others are gifts from people who find things to add to his collections. Part of the joy of wandering through his buildings is discovering collection upon collection of things from ordinary childhood toys and miniatures to chess sets and vintage typewriters of every sort.
Paul seems content with his decision to call Bonners Ferry home; being part of the community as a business owner, playwright and carpenter has provided for him. And even though 41 years have passed, he still keeps busy with renovation projects and working in his libraries.
He also feels another play coming to life, so hopefully we’ll all be able to witness the Paul Rawlings theater art experience soon!