Former PLU Professor’s Legacy Lives On

Schwidder ProjectThe Rev. Richard Tietjen stands in front of a piece of artwork by former PLU Professor Ernst Schwidder. Schwidder’s art is found all across the country, including in PLU’s Karen Hille Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo: John Struzenberg ’16)

TACOMA, Wash. (Nov. 14, 2014)—Former PLU Art Professor Ernst Schwidder poured his faith into detailed pieces of art that can be seen throughout churches around the country—and on one wood-carved door at Pacific Lutheran University. And now three seminary classmates are working to preserve Schwidder’s art—and his legacy—through The Ernst Schwidder Project.

Schwidder was a member of the art faculty at PLU from 1967 until his retirement in 1992. He lived with his family in Steilacoom, Wash.

Nearly 100 pieces designed by Schwidder are located in Washington state. Locally, Schwidder’s work can be found at St. Mary’s in Lakewood, Spanaway Lutheran Church and in the Karen Hille Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on campus. The door was preserved from the previous building when it was remodeled in 2013.

Since Schwidder’s passing in 1998, the Rev. Richard Tietjen and two of his seminary classmates from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis have been investigating and preserving Schwidder’s work through the project. Tietjen also was Schwidder’s pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in South Tacoma.

“There was a certain darkness about his art and personality,” said Tietjen. “His style is so unique, we can always tell right away [what work is his].”

The Ernst Schwidder Project serves to investigate, record, interpret and preserve the work of Schwidder, an artist who enhanced worship of the church through art.

Schwidder was the son of a Lutheran pastor and attended Concordia High School in Portland. After high school, Schwidder attended the University of Washington, where he studied art and received his Bachelor of Arts and Master’s of Fine Arts degrees. During his career, Schwidder served on the art faculty at Valparaiso University, Seattle University and PLU.

Most of Schwidder’s work is crafted from wood and made into crosses, panels, pulpits, baptisteries and altars. Even though Schwidder didn’t always fully executive his designs, he always made sure he carved the head and hands of every piece.

“This legacy needs to not be forgotten,” said Tietjen.

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