Knowles brings passion for history, knowledge of numbers to museum
January 19, 2016
Craig — Paul Knowles remembers when his fascination with maps started to come into focus. He was working on an annual report about a decade ago for Yampa Valley Bank, where he was marketing director, and he wanted to find something that could represent the region's history.
He said he found an 1877 map by F. V. Hayden, who did some extensive survey work in the area.
"Just seeing that map and seeing places that I knew very well from my own exploring … opened up my eyes to how you can actually see history," Knowles said. "You can connect with it, you can touch it and you can feel it with a map."
Earlier this month, Knowles brought that passion for maps — and more broadly for history — to the Museum of Northwest Colorado, where he now works as assistant director. Knowles, a San Antonio, Texas, native, began his work after the retirement of Jan Gerber, who held the position for nearly 17 years.
Knowles has worked in marketing and related fields for much of his career. Right around the year 2000, he worked as a financial advisor in Dallas, Texas, for PaineWebber, a company later purchased by UBS.
But Knowles has also fostered artistic interests — particularly focusing on images and design — that complement his knack for numbers. Before Knowles landed the financial advisor's job, he'd recently graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches, Texas, with a major in graphic design, along with a minor in marketing. His graphic design major included a photography emphasis.
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The various phases of Knowles' professional interest come together, he said, in the workings of a map.
"I think that's probably what's cool to me about maps," he said. "They take very technical information, such as latitude and longitude, and combine it with artistic representation."
Knowles said he considers himself an explorer, a title that may unite the sorts of visual, physical projects he'll undertake at his new job with the sometimes numbers-based research he'll also conduct at the museum. He's already begun poring over records and statistics surrounding museum attendance. One fact he's discovered is that 60 percent of the visitors to the museum currently come from within Craig, a percentage that stood around 30 about 15 years ago.
"To me it says we're doing a very good job of reaching Craig and Moffat County," he said. "But it also shows there's room to reach outside audiences."
Dan Davidson, the museum director, praised Gerber's accomplishments as assistant director and noted the way she improved the museum's fundamental organization. He mentioned, for instance, her work to upgrade the museum's digital storage system. Davidson, who's served as the museum's director for 26 years, also noted Gerber's deep knowledge of the local community that he said reached back generations.
As for Knowles, Davidson cited his passion for history, his people skills and his marketing abilities as factors that helped him to land the job.
"His understanding of regional history is probably one of the best I've ever (seen)," Davidson added. "You don't find that every day."
Knowles said his museum job fires his imagination in ways that he hadn't experienced before.
"It's such a refreshing change," he said, "to be fully passionate about, and believing in, what you're doing."