A simple, black and white illustration hung from the display wall in the Visual Arts Studio at Webster University. Sarah Houseman drew a pen and ink image of art professor Brad Loudenback hours after his death. She hung it up in the printmaking room where art students and faculty alike could see it.
“It was honestly just a personal moment that day,” Houseman said. “I just sat in the art building and drew that … that was really just a moment for me for the inspiration that he gave me. Because he had a really strong effect on me, even though I had only known him for a year.”
On April 3, 2018, Loudenback died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was 62 years old.
Loudenback was a drawing and art history professor at Webster University. He taught all levels of drawing and introductory painting. He also taught Northern Renaissance and Nineteenth Century art history courses.
Houseman came to Webster because of Loudenback. Houseman, an illustration major, attended classes at St. Charles Community College when Loudenback saw her work.
When she met with Loudenback, she said he told her she needed to be a part of Webster’s illustration program. Houseman started her academic career at Webster just last semester. She said she had never had a class with Loudenback, but he had had a big impact on her artistic development.
Houseman said she learned about Loudenback’s death after her morning class ended around 11:20 a.m. April 3. A fellow art student told her Loudenback had died overnight after her class.
“When she told me about Brad passing in his sleep, my stomach dropped,” Houseman said. “I didn’t even say anything to her. I grabbed all of my things, ran all the way from the EAB to the Hunt House and threw my stuff down and just looked and said ‘Please, tell me this is not true, please tell me this is just some sort of miscommunication.’”
Loudenback’s visitation took place last Friday, followed by a memorial service on Saturday.
Houseman attended the services, along with Loudenback’s wife, Gwyneth Williams. Williams teaches at Webster as a professor of political science.
Williams said the sudden loss of her husband left her in shock and despair.
“I can’t imagine what the rest of my life is going to be like,” Williams said. “It’s just, he was the love of my life and I just can’t imagine what I do next. Right now, I am surrounded by family and they are helping me do things, but I don’t think the reality has set in either.”
Williams and Loudenback met in the mid 1990s while on the honors board together. Both of them had previous marriages. Loudenback and Williams eventually married in 2004. Williams’ daughter, Brynn Davis, became very close to Loudenback as his stepdaughter.
Art student Kaitlin Wilfing said she first met Williams when she was asked by Loudenback for help in hosting an anniversary celebration at their house. She said lifelong friends surrounded Loudenback and Williams as the two celebrated. Loudenback read a poem or a monologue to his wife, and Williams sang the same song she sang to Loudenback during their wedding.
Wilfing said she will never forget seeing Loudenback in a different setting.
“It just put him in a whole new light,” Wilfing said.
Loudenback was an athlete as well as a scholar while at Depauw University. He double-majored in European history and studio art, two subjects which would become his personal and professional focus. He would eventually continue his education and receive a master’s degree in painting and a master’s in the history of ideas.
Tom Lang, Chair of the Department of Art, Design and Art History (DADAH) said losing Loudenback was like losing a family member. His office in the Hunt House is just steps away from Loudenback’s, and the two would pass the time talking with one another in their offices on slow mornings.
Lang said Loudenback was constantly reading and referenced Loudenback’s love for knowledge in a speech he delivered during the weekend services.
Following his death, Loudenback’s students organized artifacts and mementos relating to art and history into a “drawing shrine” in the Visual Arts Studio. They built the shrine to honor Loudenback’s memory.
Houseman said the shrine was modeled to look like a “still life” painting, a specific type of painting or drawing of still objects in a certain arrangement. Houseman said Loudenback loved “still lifes” and so the shrine was made to look like one.
Also decorating the shrine were flowers and dozens of handwritten letters, written by various students who were impacted by Loudenback. Another, smaller shrine was built outside of his office.
Williams said she took the mementos with her when the shrines were taken down.
“I was really touched,” Williams said.
Laura Lambrix, formerly with Christ Church Cathedral, an Episcopalian Church located in downtown St. Louis, described Loudenback as a gentleman and a scholar and the perfect example of a nineteenth century gentleman.
Lambrix said Loudenback had been a member of the church for over ten years. She said Loudenback’s spirituality was an aspect which was just as important in his life as his professional and personal life.
“Brad in his spiritual life was the same Brad in his professional life,” Lambrix said. “And by that I mean he always struck me as this very integrated person who was comfortable in his own skin and who was humble a person as one could ever be.”
Loudenback also served as an Acolyte with the church, helping the priest during Wednesday services. Lambrix said Loudenback’s loyalty to the church was exceptional. She said Loudenback trained to be a eucharistic minister so he could assist the priest with the sacraments of the holy communion and say prayer with people who were hospitalized or unable to attend mass.
Although his spiritual life was important to him, Loudenback’s main passions were for his work, family and his students, Lambrix said.
“There was no question about that, but underlying all of that or just a fused into more public life was this deeply spiritual man,” Lambrix said. “So he was just this extraordinary combination of just beautiful qualities and I think that’s why his loss is so serious at this time … it’s people recognizing the significance of the loss.”