Tag Archives: art

Pottery, ceramics, and the snap of a tongue serve as reminders of a beloved man

When you asked Darvin Luginbuhl the age-old question, “What is art?”, he’d turn it right around and respond with a pointed “What do YOU think art is?”

It’s a difficult question and one for which Darvin probably never answered point-blank. Because, artist that he was, Darv never put “art” into a box. He could find art in everything and wanted everyone else to share that experience of discovery.

For example, my husband once asked Darv if he would help him design a children’s Christmas coloring contest for the newspaper he edited. Darv very subtly suggested that the traditional Christmas picture of Santa or Christmas scene — meant to be colored by each child — lacked inventiveness and would produce nothing more than a colored picture. Instead, he suggested including a blank page with instructions that each child draw or color a picture of Christmas. It was his way of encouraging youngsters to discover art from their hearts. It worked.

Growing up, our back door was a quick, 30-second jog from the Luginbuhl’s back door. I say back doors because there was no need to use the front door. Darv and my dad, who were on the faculty together at Bluffton University for about 30 years, were often found in the middle of one of their respective gardens or in Darv or Dad’s shop. Their wives — Evelyn and my mom — still share a friendship as close as sisters.

Our house was always filled with various pottery and ceramic items created by Darv. Because his son, Bill, and I were childhood buddies, my Christmas and birthday presents were often a ceramic pot filled with candy. When my husband and I married, my mom asked Darv to make a tea set for us. The gray and blue-glazed teapot and mugs are still in use after nearly 33 years.Tea-Set

So when Darvin died yesterday at age 91, it felt as if a huge piece of this small, Swiss community had gone with him. No more would we hear his cheery, “Vie gehts?” Even in the past few years as he struggled with health issues that interfered with his mobility, that cheerfulness remained intact and conversations were always entertaining.

Little bits and pieces flit through my mind as I thought about Darv’s contributions to life in a small town, as well as to the wider art community. For as much as we knew him as a small-town Swiss boy who produced beautiful pottery and ceramics, the art world knew him as a creator of fine art and a man of great knowledge.

But there are other, more intimate memories — like Darv and Dad calling us  home from wherever we were playing. Darv could snap his tongue against the roof of his mouth so loud that we could hear him at the old college track field nearly a quarter mile from home. At the same time, Dad blew through a conch shell, producing a quirky “conch honk” that could be heard just as far away. Who needed cell phones? If we missed one, we’d hear the other.

When we wanted to earn quick spending money, one of them would hire us to dig dandelions. We always went to Darv first because he paid a penny for a dozen and Dad made us fill a whole bushel basket. Or something like that…

Ah Darv, we’re going to miss you. We’ve got pieces of pottery to remind us of your creativity, but more importantly you left us with a passel of memories.  Thank you.

Tschantz-Pannabecker “Friendship Quilt” on display at Sonnenberg

Much as I hate to admit this, I guess I’ve inherited yet another trait from my parents –difficulty parting with “things”. Over the past few years, though, I’ve begun to whittle away at this extra stuff…piece by piece.

When my mom moved from her condo to an independent living apartment, she was forced to downsize her belongings. A few years earlier, she’d created a written inventory of what she owned, listing the provenance of antiques and other valuable items.

She provided us with the list and asked us to indicate which items we’d most like to have. Amazingly, between my four brothers and I, and our spouses, children and grands, there were no real arguments over who would get what. Each of the grandkids seemed to have a special affinity for specific items, often stemming from some childhood incident involving Grandma and/or Grandpa.

There were, of course, some family heirlooms, including some quilts, several of which most of us had rarely — if ever — seen, and some of which we didn’t know even existed.

One of the quilts had belonged to our paternal grandmother, Sylvia Tschantz Pannabecker, who taught school at Boone School in Wayne County, Ohio. The hand-embroidered “Friendship Quilt” was made by her students in the class of 1912-1914. In 1931, it was presented to my grandmother when she and Grandpa and their family returned to the United States while on furlough from their mission post in China.

About a year ago, a board member of the Kidron (Ohio) Sonnenberg Heritage Center, asked whether I would be willing to lend the quilt to them for one of their exhibits.

Like my dad, I don’t make decisions quickly or easily, and turning over something of such sentimental value brought out a part of me that I didn’t recognize. I needed to know whether it would be protected from harsh lighting, secure, and most of all, that it would someday be returned — intact — to my family.

Because truthfully, I didn’t see it as mine to give away. My grandmother had kept it safe for all those years before turning it over to my parents. Mother had eventually hung it for display so that others could enjoy it.

Turning it over to virtual strangers wasn’t easy. I consulted with my sister-in-law, director of Kauffman Museum in North Newton, Kansas, because she has expertise with similar exhibits and dealing with donors/lenders of family heirlooms.

Suddenly, I realized I was making this way too hard on myself. If a quilt wasn’t made to be used on a bed, then there must be another reason for its existence. Like a painting or sculpture, this quilt is a piece of art — one that deserves to be enjoyed by many.

And so today, my grandmother’s quilt, is hanging on display at the Sonnenberg. If you’re in the Kidron area, stop by to enjoy this piece of Tschantz-Pannabecker history.

What is art?

Ask 10 individuals to define “art” and you’ll get 10 different answers. In fact, Merriam-Webster.com lists six definitions of “art” as a noun. Technically, it’s impossible to define art because it really is very personal. One person’s definition may produce a look of disgust from another.

Having grown up one house over from Darvin and Evelyn Luginbuhl, much of my own perspective of art was formed by frequent exposure to Darv’s home studio. Our race to the Luginbuhl’s tv room to watch Saturday morning cartoons with Bill, usually took a circuitous route through the studio, where we were met by the heady smell of clay and Darv’s wheel — an awe-inspiring piece of equipment.

Darvin Luginbuhl, c. 1994

Christmas and birthday presents often arrived in the form of a hand-thrown ceramic pot filled with candy, the bottom of which was always signed with Darv’s swirling “Luginbuhl” signature. Later when my husband and I married, we received a wedding gift of a large teapot with matching mugs, of which there are no duplicates.

In a way, I’m an art snob, but mostly in terms of the fact that mass-produced items don’t fall into my own definition. More importantly, though, my definition is formed — in part — by Darv’s belief that personal, creative expression is essential when “making art.” If I learned nothing else from him, it is that one can almost always find beauty in a piece of art.

When my daughters were young, we kept a constant supply of plain white paper for them to draw, paint, and color on. This practice was encouraged by Darv’s admonition that a children’s Christmas art contest should not involve coloring in some preprinted Christmas design. Instead, they should be encouraged to draw their own picture of “Christmas”.

So last night, while my husband and I perused the items to be auctioned off during the Bluffton Center for Entrepreneur’s annual art auction, we agreed we needed no additional paintings or photo productions.

Our own collection of art includes names like

Paul Soldner, "Of Ships and Sea," c. 1950s

Paul Soldner, Darv and Gregg Luginbuhl, Bob Minto, John Klassen, Steve Smith, Richard Minck, and some pretty amazing stuff by Lindsay and Anne Steiner.

That didn’t stop my husband from bidding on a few pieces. What I didn’t realize was that he fully intended to win the bidding on the only item of wearable art,

Barbara C. Fields' fingerless wool gloves

a pair of wool fingerless gloves knitted and designed by Barbara C. Fields, and inspired by Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s painting, “A rainy Day out on sea.”

Suffice to say that we came home with these beautifully crafted gloves. They meet my current need for art to be useable, practical, and unique.

My only regret is that I didn’t need to wear them today with temps in the mid 50s and no chill in immediate sight. But there will be plenty of time for that. I’m just wondering if the hubs was attempting a subtle hint that I resurrect my wish to become a better knitter. Now where did I put that red yarn?