Luginbuhl’s legacy endures at Bluffton University with Summer Mud 2017
With the flyer for the original Summer Mud program hanging on the wall of the ceramics studio at Bluffton University and with a former student/protégé leading the way, Gregg Luginbuhl’s long-time passion project came full circle in the summer of 2017 despite his passing in the fall of 2016. For more than 30 years, the late professor emeritus of art at Bluffton University had led a ceramics class open to the community. This year, his presence permeated the studio during the three week Summer Mud class offered on campus in June.
“He’s everywhere in that studio from all of his unglazed bisque ware to his scrawled handwriting,” said Megan Etzkorn, a former student assistant of Luginbuhl’s who has taken Summer Mud five times. “Not a class went by without a Greggism mentioned or a story told. I’ve caught myself so many times these last few weeks thinking ‘What would Gregg say to do.’ I’m so glad Bluffton decided to do this class again this year, and I hope the tradition continues.”
TR Steiner, ceramics instructor at Bluffton, led the workshop this summer. Steiner was a student of Luginbuhl’s at the University of Findlay, where Luginbuhl taught before taking over his father Darvin’s spot in the ceramics studio at Bluffton. Steiner was also Luginbuhl’s assistant during one of the original Summer Mud classes held in Findlay.
“It has been a bit emotional at times with Gregg’s absence felt almost daily in the studio,” Steiner admitted. However, “I know he was very fond of the Summer Mud group, and my hope for the Summer Mud workshop is that the tradition Gregg established some 30 years ago will continue well into the future.”
When Luginbuhl’s widow, Karen, found out the class would continue, she dug out the original flyer for the program from 1981—a flyer she remembers Luginbuhl carefully designed to promote the project he was so passionate about.
“He had hoped that somebody would continue it,” said Karen Luginbuhl. “He would be very happy and I feel very thankful to TR that he took this on. There was a big response when people found out it was going to happen again.”
Many of the participants have taken the class for several years and, in the last few years, members of the class have grown very close to each other. The Luginbuhl’s often had participants over to their home for cookouts during Summer Mud weeks and Luginbuhl’s daughter, Alison King, even described the participants as extended family.
“After dad died, they were some of the most supportive people helping us through it, and they felt the loss just as we did,” said King. “There are new people who enter the class every year, but there’s the same base year after year.”
Despite having advanced prostate cancer while being on dialysis, Luginbuhl taught portions of the class in 2016, with help from past assistants like Etzkorn and Steiner. “He said ‘should I teach it or not?’” said Karen. “Finally, he said ‘yeah, I want to.’ He was still throwing to the end. Sometimes he came home early, but he went most nights.” Luginbuhl’s custom made wheel remains in the ceramics studio. Summer Mud participants and former students decorated it with flowers after he died.
Class participants this year also got to experience the completion of a dream Luginbuhl never saw realized. For years, Luginbuhl had been working on building a soda ash kiln at the university. The kiln was designed and parts were purchased, but because of his declining health, construction was delayed.
However, during the fall 2016 semester, Steiner, students and Bruce Chesser, professor emeritus of ceramics at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, completed the kiln project, and just before students left for winter break, the kiln was fired for the first time. Summer Mud students also had the opportunity to fire pieces in the specialized kiln.
“We did it for him. Gregg started that kiln, and he just couldn’t finish it. It was a great tribute to Gregg to finish that kiln,” said Chesser, who served as an assistant at the workshop this summer. Chesser and Luginbuhl both served as officers on the Ohio Designer Craftsmen board and had been friends and colleagues since 1970.
While physical representations of Luginbuhl remain in the studio, participants fondly recall the life lessons he bestowed on them as if he had just uttered the words of wisdom that day.
“The most influential of Gregg’s lessons in my life don’t have much to do with clay,” explained Steiner. “They are lessons like humility, perseverance, experimentation and the ability to always continue to learn.”
“My favorite saying of his that I have brought into my own classroom as a teacher is ‘a machine can make perfect, humans make mistakes,’” said Etzkorn.