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Hans A. Pawlak [Pawley]: Ambassador of the Arts

In June 1938 the Iowa City Daily Iowan columnist Merle Miller named a young man whom, he said, was “Headed Upward”:

Hans Pawlak — because his energy amazes me, because those who know say he hews figures out of stone that are already amazing, because he knows where he’s going, how he’s getting there…

Like so many of the men who trained at Camp Ritchie, Hans Anton Pawlak was a German emigrant to this country. Unlike most of them, however, he moved to the United States in 1923, before Hitler’s ascendancy to power. And, in spite of many tantalizing details in newspapers about his achievements as an artist, therapist, and teacher, it is sometimes difficult to trace his life’s path.

Even his birthdate is questionable. US and Florida census records give his birth year as “about 1915,” while his army and university records give August 21, 1914 as the date of his birth. His social security death notice, obituary, and gravestone, however, all give his birth date as August 21, 1913. In trying to reconcile the dates on these official documents, one can only speculate that Hans kept his actual birth year secret until the deaths of his parents, Johann and Anna (Zelini) Pawlak, since the 1913 date would place his birth two months shy of his parent’s wedding. We do know that he was born in Schiffbek, a suburb of Hamburg, Germany, populated in part by second generation Poles and Czechs, and that he came to the United States with his parents and younger brother when he was nine or ten years old.

The family settled in Iowa, a state where Germans were the second largest immigrant group after those from the British Isles. By 1920 half of all Iowa farmers were of German descent and Iowa cities had German clubs and German cultural societies. Hans doubtless benefitted from growing up in a bi-lingual environment: he not only preserved his German, but “enthusiastic teachers” helped him master English so well that he had “no trace of an accent.”

Hans would ponder the issue of language in two poems — written in German — that he published in February 1937 in his college’s literary magazine The Purple Pen. Here he proclaimed that “A word / is a bridge / thoughts leap across” (“Ein Wort / Ist eine Brücke, / Wo Gedanken überspringen”) and asked “Why, then, do I write / so little in German? / Because all my thoughts / leap across the ‘English bridge’!” (“Warum schreibe ich denn / So wenig auf Deutsch? / Weil alle meine Gedanken / Über die ‘englische Brücke’ hüpfen!”). He developed a love for the landscape of his new homeland, for its “blue-dusk cowled hills,” “the openness of Iowa prairie, [and] the lonely howl of wind.” He declared, in a poem titled “To Helen,” that “Hope and courage new/ Have I found / In the chill of a night spent roaming / Through the fields, prowling about in the empty streets, / With only the sharp squinting eye of the moon / Trailing my ghost…” [The Purple Pen, November 1936].

Hans stated that, before coming to the States, he had studied with private tutors and in private schools. This included study with the Expressionist lithographer, playwright and sculptor Ernst Barlach, who instilled in him a passion for sculpture.

During his high school years in Brooklyn, Iowa, Hans pursued a craft similar to sculpture by constructing marionettes, building a collapsible puppet stage, and creating stage scenery and costumes. He wrote plays and, in the summer, he took his marionette show on the road. It was on these tours that he met another artist who encouraged his talent. The renowned American regionalist painter Grant Wood saw one of Hans’s marionette productions, recognized the boy’s talents, and encouraged him to study at The State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) in Iowa City. Wood had his studio in Cedar Rapids but, in 1934, he would be hired by the university to help build up the university arts program.

Hans entered the university in 1933, but transferred, as a junior, into the Iowa State Teachers College (University of Northern Iowa) in Cedar Falls in the fall of 1936, where the tuition fees were markedly lower than the State University’s. He studied for three semesters there, and applied for a B.A. degree in English with minors in German and History. Here he was active in the college’s Writers Club and contributed poems to its literary magazine, The Purple Pen.

Hans Pawlak in 1936

Although he seems to have earned the requisite credits, Hans did not follow through on attaining his undergraduate degree from Iowa State Teachers College. Instead, he was lured back to The State University of Iowa in September 1937 to take advantage of its new School of Art and Art History, which had been founded in 1936. By registering as an undergraduate, he was able to save on the higher tuition charged graduate students, and he was able to focus his study on sculpture. But he took a wide array of courses at the university, including not only art, but also courses in medicine, psychology, education, and English. It was during his university years, Hans recalled, that he “became interested in occupational therapy for the mentally ill, chiefly in the manual arts.” He supported the cost of his studies by working as an assistant janitor and, in 1938, pulling in an annual income of $102.00. He spent 14 months at the University, earning a B.A. degree in Fine Arts in January 1939. By then he had already been enrolled for seven months in the Graduate College, and taken course work in Munich, Germany.

A 1936 photo shows Hans as a young man of great purpose, with a lean face, piercing blue eyes, and an impish smile. He was tall and wiry: when he registered for the draft in 1940, he measured 6 feet in height, but weighed only 155 pounds.

Already during his years of study at Cedar Falls Hans had developed his natural skills as a public speaker. He was often called upon to provide a German perspective to issues of the day at women’s clubs, church gatherings, and a conference mounted by the YMCA and YWCA for high school students. He continued to give community speeches throughout his college career; he also got involved in politics while a student at the State University of Iowa as one of 35 students who formed a branch of the American Student Union.

The American Student Union was the nation’s first mass student movement. Representative of liberal student thought, it was a leftist organization whose platform included opposition to retrenchment in education, to compulsory ROTC training, to discrimination against races and religions, and to restrictions on academic freedom. It was also a sharply anti-militaristic movement, which led the group to organize massive national peace strikes. Although its national membership was only 20,000, the ASU successfully organized an annual student strike against war that, in 1936 and 1937, drew 500,000 students across the nation to join in and declare their desire for peace. Hans was part of the temporary executive committee that got the SUI branch off the ground. A significant number of this committee were communist sympathizers, and at least one was a socialist.

Hans had no party affiliation, but he was adamant in his desire for peace. Speaking for the foreign students at an intercollegiate peace institute attended by students from 13 Iowa colleges, Hans compared the ideal world situation with a recent concert given by the St. Louis Symphony, exclaiming: “What we couldn’t achieve if we had such unity, rhythm and complete loss of individualism in cooperation and organization, as did the musicians in the concert! We are all individuals striving for the same things.” In January 1939, as Hans was graduating from the State University of Iowa, the American Student Union shifted its focus, and its members voted to support President Roosevelt’s policy of “collective security.”

Following graduation, Hans moved to New Orleans, where, in the summer of 1939, he took part in Dillard University’s Summer Arts Festival, at which artists gathered to debate the nature of and development of African American art. In the fall he joined the faculty of Gilbert Academy.

By 1939 this Academy, originally founded as a “Colored Orphans Home” in 1863, had been transformed into an elite school for Black students that offered college preparatory training. Hans became an art instructor at the school, which boasted of him, with some hyperbole, as “holding degrees from both American and European universities.” He was listed in the 1940 Federal Census as living in a lodging house on Charles Avenue and as having completed “College, 5th or subsequent year.”

Hans Pawlak, plaster bust - 1941

Hans was a popular teacher who fully believed in interracial integration and the power of art to transcend race and class. He spent his free time producing his own pieces of sculpture. During his last year at Iowa State University, he had been the first sculptor to mount a one-man show in Iowa City. He was now entering pieces in exhibitions and competitions across the country. These works were figural art deco pieces or busts, the majority of them executed in clay and plaster. One plaster bust, dating from 1941, depicted a Black girl — probably one of his Gilbert Academy students.

When he submitted two plaster sculptures at an exhibition in the Woodstock Art Gallery in New York, (“Ballerina” and “Woman Progressing”), the activist playwright and pacifist Iris Vera Vincent, whom the press referred to as “General” and “Volcanic Dove of Peace,” bought the latter work. Vincent, whose actual name was Ethel Stenham, believed that global peace could be brought about by replacing the kings, premiers, and presidents of the world with an international forum of “Geniuses.” Vincent declared that Hans was “genuinely a genius in the bud”: “‘Woman in Progress’ is literally breathtaking,” she declared. A little abstract, perhaps, but it has a fine esoteric feeling of verve and space and speed. I think Rodin would have liked it.” Vincent went on to describe her purchase to the press: “The figure in semi-crouching posture represents woman reaching out from centuries of mental slavery. The fine flowing grace of the hair suggests the speed with which she is mentally striving upward and forward.” It was a good representation of her notion that universal peace would eventually come about “through the concentrated efforts of the intelligent women of the world.”

Hans Pawlak and The Archer. Camp Blanding, Florida. From the Hans A. Pawley Collection, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

It appears that Hans had created the two sculptures for the Woodstock Art Gallery during his army training at Camp Blanding, Florida. He had enlisted in March, 1941 for the Panama Canal Department, and, during his free hours at the Camp, he produced numerous plaster sculptures. One of these, “The Archer,” was created as a mantel piece for the camp recreation hall.

While in Florida, Hans met Marion Dunbar, a kindergarten teacher from Coventry, Rhode Island. They married in February, 1942.

Although he had hoped to serve in the Panama Canal Department, so as not to become involved in fighting, Hans was summoned instead to Camp Ritchie, Maryland, and enrolled in its third class, with a specialization in Counterintelligence. When the class ended he stayed on at the camp as an instructor and completed course work in Japanese Order of Battle with the 16th class.

During this time, Hans became part of the local community. He brought his wife, Marion to Cascade, the town affiliated with the Camp Ritchie site, and, while there, she gave birth to a son, Richard. This was the first offspring of the Pawlak family, which would, in time number nine children.

It was only natural that Hans himself would become heavily involved in the local art world, especially with the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland. The museum had a lively program in art education and in showings of area artists, and Hans participated in both. He inaugurated a spring lecture series at the museum in 1943, speaking on Easter Sunday on the topic “A Soldier Looks at Art.” In its press release announcing this lecture, the museum wrote almost rapturously about him:

Most interesting and stirring […] is Sergeant Pawlak’s personality. Vitally alive himself, he has the ability of a true leader to infuse into his audience that same vitality and zest for living — and for the living form, on which basis his craft rests. Without seeking to be controversial, the speaker arouses in the listener a desire to know more and more about any subject under discussion. The talk will be a sure cure for lethargy.

Hans was also the first sculptor to win a prize at the museum’s annual Cumberland Valley Artists Exhibition that was held earlier that year. The work, a bust of a schoolgirl living in nearby Cascade, had been created after Hans found clay on the Camp Ritchie grounds that was especially good for modeling. He had applied for — and been granted — a 10-day furlough from his Camp Ritchie duties in order to create a model of the girl in Camp Ritchie clay. He then cast it in plaster for the exhibition and submitted it with the title “Doris.” He submitted another plaster work, “Madonna Mona,” to that exhibition and two more (“Peace,” and “Tambourine”) the following year.

Hans Pawlak, Doris. Plaster, 1943

It is not surprising, then, that, during his service at Ritchie, Hans became well acquainted with the museum director, John R. Craft. Craft came to appreciate Hans’s intensity, passion, and ability to communicate his own enthusiasm to others.

On May 10, 1944, Hans embarked to the European Theater of Operations upon the SS Andes. He was assigned to the interrogation team 67, which was attached to the XV Corps. For a year and a half, he served with this unit, interrogating prisoners immediately upon their capture or surrender for tactical information about conditions on the battlefield. He and his unit participated in the battles at Normandy (the Operation Cobra breakthrough), Lorraine, and Alsace (against the German counter-offensive known as Operation Nordwind). Then in March 1945 he was was part of a major offensive at the Siegfried Line (Operation Undertone), and the capture of numerous German cities, including Bamberg, Nuremberg, and Munich. Finally he advanced with his unit to Salzburg, where his combat duties were concluded, and his interrogations now focused on uncovering Nazis. He was awarded a bronze star for his service.

After his release from the Army in November 1945, Hans followed up on his interest in mental health by volunteering to serve for four years as a rehabilitation specialist in a number of veterans hospitals in the Northeast. Hans used the arts as his tool for reaching out to the veterans who came to these hospitals for treatment or rehabilitation. During this time he resumed his contacts with John Craft and, while he was stationed at the Newton D. Baker Veterans Administration Hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia, he made arrangements to exhibit works by his hospital patients at Craft’s Hagerstown museum. In conjunction with this 1947 exhibition Hans delivered a lecture there on “The Therapeutic Value of the Arts.” It was a topic near and dear to his heart, and one that he would repeat numerous times over the years.

Hans Pawley: Isaiah. Carved from black walnut, 1951. Displayed in the exhibition “American Sculpture” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, 1951. From the Hans A. Pawley Collection, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

Hans was completing his VA service when he learned that John Craft had resigned his position at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and was accepting a position as Director of the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina. The news excited him. While he had been stationed at Camp Blanding, Florida, Hans had been sent to South Carolina on maneuvers, and been enthralled to find “fantastic” native kaolin clay there and “magnificent” gnarled cedars just waiting for a sculptor’s hands. He communicated this to Craft, who encouraged him to come and to work there in art education.

When he made the move to South Carolina, Hans, his wife, and children all changed their last name to Pawley, perhaps in an effort not to appear too “foreign” in their new environment. Hans spent the remainder of his life in South Carolina, practicing art, teaching, lecturing, and participating in art exhibitions.

Education was central to his mission. During his first five years alone, Hans taught sculpture at the Columbia Museum of Fine Arts, ceramics at the South Carolina Opportunity School, and pottery and glazing at Fort Jackson, in addition to organizing and developing the ceramic and sculptural facilities for the Richland County Art School.

As time went on, he turned more and more to directing his teaching to children. He became art supervisor of the Darlington (SC) school district and, in 1957, moved to Florence and became director of art classes for both children and adults at the Florence Museum. He also was stating, in stronger terms than ever, the central role that art should play in a person’s life. At a talk in the Florence Museum on “Ceramics,” for example, he stated that “We read in the Bible that God created man in his own image […]. One of the ways man is like God is his creative ability. Man can take clay and make something useful and beautiful from it.” He feared, however, that many adults had lost that creative spark. In an address to the Kiwanis Club in March, 1958, he stated: “Man has divorced himself from inspiration to the point where he no longer recognizes the need for it […]. We therefore must look to the children.” Whether adults or children, Hans found unique ways to turn his lectures into mini-workshops. At the end of a museum tour, for example, children were given crayons and paper and told to draw an image of what they had found most interesting in the museum collections.

Pawley offers instruction in ceramics at a tri-state camp counselors’ conference held at Camp Burnt Gin, a summer camp for children with disabilities and chronic illnesses. From the Hans A. Pawley Collection, South Carolinia Library, University of South

His method of instruction was unique. He began one of his children’s art classes by saying “Let’s go fishing.” He spoke of fishing lines, and the lines you might use in drawing: “the strong, vibrant line, the thin wavering uncertain line, the quiet horizontal line, the tall, strong vertical line that seems to lift you up and up.” He then returned to fishing. “Think, now, of how a fish moves about in the water. He will dart swiftly up, then down, then across. Then he will rest for a moment, then flash through the water again in a swift zigzag line up, sideways, down.” He asked his pupils to close their eyes, think about these fishlike movements, and “draw quick lines with your crayons just as you think a fish would move through the water.” After they had done this, he told them, “If you look at your drawings you can actually find some fish forms in your ponds. Look for them, and draw heavy colored lines around each one you find.” The children found a surprising number of forms, some in front of others, some with only parts of their body visible. But they outlined them all, drew in a little seaweed, and, finally added a fishing line.

The director of the Florence Museum was awed. “These young students actually did go fishing, in a manner of speaking, during that hour. And the ‘fish’ they came back with represented valuable achievement in more areas than art alone, valuable though that was.”

A child studies structure under

Hans Pawley’s tutelage, 1966.

In 1962 Hans, as president of the State Association of Art Teachers, taught a closed-circuit television seres on “Art and Imagination” for the elementary schools in South Carolina. His philosophy was a simple one: “Free artistic expression in pre-school children should be rewarded,” adding: “Many watercolors done by [my] four- and six-year-old students are suitable for hanging in the living room of a home.” To develop their sensitivity to art, Hans maintained that children should be exposed to the various forms of art at an early age, and so, on his television series he had children explore various art media: watercolor, crayon, finger paint, clay, and simple structure. His method was to encourage a child’s artistic vision, not train or limit it. “A child’s perception of a particular object may not be the same as that of an adult or even another child. Thus when he sketches, he should not be forced to copy someone else’s idea of the object, but encouraged to study the model and give his own interpretation.” He considered it absolutely essential to allow children to develop their own forms of creative individuality; after all, “In a world in which we must conform to survive, art is an outlet in which eccentric individual creation is both accepted and admired.”

Hans continued to offer these TV art classes up through the 1960s. He also kept up work with the children often neglected by mainstream education, with disabled children, for example, and with Blacks. “There are many kinds of intelligence that is revealed in children’s art,” he opined in a speech to teachers. “But unfortunately we foster and reward only one.” In February 1970 he participated in a region art exhibit held at the Florence Museum; it must have been a point of pride for him that his youngest daughter, 8-year-old Chrysa , also had a work accepted for this exhibit. It was at about this time that Hans was given the position of director of the museum’s new — and separate — Museum School of Art.

In addition to his work with children, Hans continued to teach college-aged students at the Florence branch of the University of South Carolina, to participate in — and organize — art exhibits there and elsewhere, and to speak to civic and arts organizations on the therapeutic nature of the arts.

Hans and Marion Pawley

Meanwhile, his wife Marion managed expenses, schedules, and a household of nine children, even as she got involved in various civic activities. When she died in October 16, 2010, she had been married to Hans for 68 years. Five weeks later, on November 23, 2010. Hans himself died, at age 97.

- Beverley Driver Eddy,

March, 2022

2. “A Brief Sketch of Hans A. Pawley,” University Libraries, University of South Carolina.

3. “A Brief Sketch of Hans A. Pawley,” University Libraries, University of South Carolina.

4. “Nationalism Afflicts the World, J. Van der Zee Tells Institute: Foreign Students Speak To Delegates At Peace Session,” iowa City Daily Iowan, 19 Feb. 1938, 4.

5. “Sergeant Pawlak Speaks Here Tomorrow,” The Daily Mail (Hagerstown, MD), 24 Apr. 1943, 5.

6. “Local Artists Display Work in Art Week Exhibition at Museum,” The Daily Mail (Hagerstown), 5 Nov. 1947, 11.

7. “City Club Corner,” Florence Morning News, 21, 1959.

8. “Kiwanis Follies Postponed At Darlington Until April,” Florence Morning News, 2 Mar. 1958.

9. Lucy Cherry Crisp, “ ‘Live’ Art at Museum,” Florence Morning News, 22 Nov. 1959, 16.

10. “Darlington Art Teacher on Children: Free Artistic Expression valuable,” Florence Morning News, 25 Dec. 1966, 5.

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