by Clare Gates, Staff Writer
Professor David A. Ludwig passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, January 23 from undetermined causes. He was 64 years old and the third Saint Vincent faculty member under 65 to pass away during the school year, following Professor John V. Serafin, Ph.D. who died in November and Coach Kristen Zawacki, who passed away on December 25. As the memorial service on January 26 highlighted, Ludwig was an outstanding teacher and member of the Saint Vincent community, and those who crossed his path will not likely forget this professor who lived an extraordinary life simply by living extraordinarily.
Professor Ludwig took a circuitous route from his original home in Terre Haute, Indiana to the Latrobe area. Ludwig attended Indiana State University before moving on to graduate school in Philadelphia where he attended the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Ludwig then took on a variety of jobs, including everything from freelance house painting to model building for the EwgingCole architectural firm in Philadelphia. Ludwig was also one of the co-founders of the design firm Exhibits Associates in Etna, PA in the early 90s. Ludwig also collaborated on the 1997 maze garden, Labyrinth, for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 7th Street and Penn Avenue parklet, to name just a few of Ludwig’s accomplishments.
The sheer amount of people who braved the fierce Pennsylvania winter weather to attend Ludwig’s memorial service, however, attests to the fact that Ludwig’s most important works were the relationships he forged with family, friends, coworkers, students and strangers alike. The Westmoreland Art Museum was a fitting place to hold the service; Ludwig was devoted to the mission of the museum where Barbara Jones, his beloved life partner of 15 years, is the Chief Curator. In addition to Ms. Jones, Ludwig is survived by a son, a brother, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
After Jimmy Wojtila and Lydia Gibson sang Ludwig’s favorite song “Over the Rainbow” accompanied by Tom Octave on the piano, Ludwig’s friends and family members gave heart-wrenching speeches in which each speaker noted Ludwig’s gift of conversation. A man of interests as diverse as toy trains, industrial archeology, antique photographs, architecture, flea markets and abstract art, Ludwig could strike up a friendly conversation with anyone. The easygoing talker never seemed too busy to chat, and seemed to have a special talent for making the people with whom he conversed come away feeling genuinely appreciated.
Ludwig brought his gregarious personality to Saint Vincent, where he became a faculty member in 2005. He taught drawing, painting and sculpting at SVC in addition to teaching at the Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood, where Ludwig also looked after the school art gallery.
Senior art major and Art Club President Jimmy Wojtila described Ludwig in this way: “Professor is not a word I would use to describe Mr. Ludwig. He was more of a teacher, a motivator and a friend. Kind of like that little voice over my shoulder always asking me questions to make me think deeper and deeper into my work and just life in general. He never stopped moving or talking. He was constantly checking over your shoulder to see how your work was progressing, while in the meantime, talking about some thought-provoking topic that was on his mind that day.”
Ludwig’s teaching style was unconventional in other ways as well; the artist saw the extraordinary in the ordinary. For example, he could talk about the beauty of a simple glass vase just as long as he could discuss the grandeur of the basilica. Br. Nathan Cochran, O.S.B., chair of the Art Department, described Ludwig’s own artwork like the vase: duplicitously simple.
“His artwork had a simplicity to it,” Cochran said, “yet it was exploring complex ideas of relationships in physical form. They were frequently abstracted planes of shape and color that were meticulously crafted.”
Ludwig wanted his students to also be able to see new and surprising features of ordinary surroundings, and so the professor took his students outside the classroom to let them experience the campus in a new way: through art. Ludwig let the young artists find their own vantage points to meet the challenges of completing unexpected assignments which included drawing construction workers in the process of demolishing the science center and even sketching a live horse that Ludwig arranged for a student to bring to campus for a day. Not even nighttime prevented Ludwig from encouraging his students to explore the campus through an artistic medium; the professor took his night classes to the steps of the basilica or to Melvin Platz so that his protégés could experience scenes with different light sources.
In Wojtila’s words, “Mr. Ludwig was always pushing us to think out of the box and push our limits as an artist. I think that’s exactly what he was trying to instill in us: to run with our imagination instead of away from it.”
Although Saint Vincent has lost a remarkable teacher and friend who can never be replaced, Ludwig’s legacy lives on even though his memorial service has passed and the basilica mass in his name has ended. Wojtila said of Ludwig, “His legacy lies in the impact that he had on his students. He had a way of making you feel like the most important person in the world, and I think he honestly touched everyone he came into contact with in one way or another. His positive and gentle presence will not be forgotten in the halls of the Art Department.”