91-year-old retired Atlanta architect is a TikTok sensation

Gen Z audience embraces Fred Rogers vibe of nonagenarian artist.
Paul Muldawer is a 91-year-old artist and former architect who has gained enormous fame on the social media platform TikTok. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Paul Muldawer is a 91-year-old artist and former architect who has gained enormous fame on the social media platform TikTok. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

In early January 2021, Paul Muldawer used his cellphone to record his tastefully appointed, midcentury modern living room in Buckhead. The 14-second video captured his couch draped with an afghan, a quilt hung on the wall, a coffee table topped with Moulthrop hand-turned wood bowls, a picture window. The climax was a quick pan to his big screen TV showing MSNBC. Encouraged by his daughter Elisa, he posted it on TikTok where it was viewed 56,000 times.

Hence, Paultheatlartist, TikTok star, was born.

Hundreds of videos later, with 650,000 followers and millions of likes and heartfelt outpourings of love, Muldawer has found his tribe.

His frequent costar is wife Carol Muldawer, 87, a photographer (before macular degeneration and a retinal melanoma struck) and former political operative for Andrew Young and a host of Democratic politicians.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Muldawer asks his followers in a video of his dainty wife hugging a bright yellow DeWalt leaf blower.

Paul prods Carol: “…with her birthday gift. How do you like it?” he asks her.


“Say something, Carol,” he implores.

“It’s my favorite gift. Every wife should have one,” Carol deadpans.

Those glimpses into the couple’s day-to-day life are interspersed with videos of Muldawer, a 91-year-old retired architect, drawing his signature portraits of animals in colored markers: toucans, a golden snub-nosed monkey, sea pigs, a Pomeranian, llamas, sea otters.

“It’s very beautiful and it floats around,” says Paul as he paints a monarch butterfly.

“Hello, I’m Paul the artist and this is a painting I did of Copenhagen, Denmark. Acrylic on recycled wood. Hope you like it!”

Reciting pithy factoids about the animal in question as he sketches, Muldawer conveys the vibe of Bob Ross-meets-ASMR-meets-your-grandfather reading bedtime stories in the soothing tones that carry you to sleepy town.

Paultheatlartist’s TikTok oeuvre is a wholesome combination of family life — blonde granddaughters zip lining in Costa Rica, trips to Sanibel Island, hugging trees in his Buckhead backyard, dressed up for New Year’s in the folk art-filled home he designed himself in the ‘60s.

There are G-rated saucy moments, too, like Paul wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt for his birthday and opening it to reveal “90″ written in what looks like electrical tape stuck to his bare chest. His wife Carol enters stage left to Paul’s prompt to sing Happy Birthday and deliver a chocolate cake.

And for some reason, Paultheatlartist appears to embody exactly what young adults have been looking for.

“Seventy percent of the people who watch me are 19-24,” he says of his Gen Z fan base.

Paul Muldawer's wife Carol is a frequent costar in his videos. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)


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12 million likes

Along with other senior citizen TikTok stars like interior designer Iris Apfel, actor George Takei or the Old Gays, this former architect, who wears a black Guggenheim Bilbao T-shirt and plays pickleball, has found a second life as a granfluencer. Like his north-of-60-brethren, he’s reminding America — or at least an open-minded, younger slice of it — that older people have value beyond writing birthday checks and picking up the dinner tab.

And like Atlanta, Paultheatlartist is resurgent. He has risen again to TikTok stardom after a distinguished career as an architect and political insider who created the official media pavilion for Jimmy Carter’s 1977 presidential inauguration. In 1989 he won the Atlanta Urban Design Commission Design Award for Excellence in Architecture.

Having studied under one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, Louis Kahn, Muldawer’s architectural footprint lives on. He designed eight private homes in Buckhead, which he is delighted to see a new generation of younger homeowners are moving into and preserving.

But even recognition by your peers can pale next to pure, out-and-out adoration from your fans. Muldawer marvels at the affirmation of his more than 12 million TikTok likes.

“There are no negative comments. They’re all positive. They’re young people who are interested in art. They’re interested in experiences. And like Andy Young said, this is the only platform he knows of that (has) intergenerational dialogue.”

Paul Muldawer sells his artwork on Shopify for $45-$75 a piece. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)


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The kids are alright

Muldawer’s achingly cute sketches of the animal kingdom suggest the cartoons drawn in the margins of the New Yorker. And not surprisingly, he has been spotlighted in a New Yorker TikTok about his cult appeal.

His sells his endearing original artworks of walruses and French bulldogs with sweet black eyes on Shopify in the very reasonable range of $45-$75. They are a way for his fans to own a little piece of that Paultheatlartist magic. It’s easy to imagine them tacked to cork boards on college campuses across the country.

His experience interacting with Gen Z has made Muldawer question a recent Harvard study about the negative effects of TikTok on young people. That’s not the social media he sees.

They tell him, “We wish you were my grandpa,” he says.

“The one that got me was the one that said, ‘I was having a bad day. And I heard you, and it made me feel so much better,’” says Carol. “So that’s saying something — that they’re feeling something that maybe they don’t express to their parents.”

“And so much ‘I love you, I love you,’” says Muldawer.

Though Muldawer’s TikToks look like improvised whimsy, there is show business and production values behind the curtain. He has a ring light the size of a wok in his basement studio. He brandishes a script for one of his videos printed out in 35-point font and says that prep for the 60-second videos can take more than an hour.

Muldawer is a born showman who understands that success is, as Thomas Edison noted, 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

As much as TikTok has been an outlet and creative inspiration for Paul, it has been a beacon of light for his young fans.

Last month, a video showed Carol’s Wednesday recycling routine, which includes setting out a bag of snacks and soft drinks for the guys tasked with their waste disposal.

“We need more people like you two,” says May in the comments.

“Best thing I will see today among all the sad news lately. Thank you. Kindness goes a long way,” says Kelsey.

Paultheatlartist’s videos are the antithesis of the braying, shrieking toxic masculinity that seems to have become our cultural standard-bearer. Muldawer is another way to live, a Fred Rogers for a new generation: chill, nurturing, protective. Paultheatlartist is the granddaddy or daddy we had, or wish we had.

In a world of climate change, craven politicians and school shootings, this man with a whispery Winnie the Pooh voice, gentle manner and a passion for drawing animals is a beacon of hope, a reassuring sign that there is light in the darkness.

“There is no end to a life,” says Carol of the example she and Paul offer fans of passionate, vibrant, engaged older Americans. “You make it what it is.”