Brandon Lutterman shapes and molds for a living: pottery, ceramic figures of fantastical animals, and the young men who take his art classes at Saint Thomas Academy.
Joining the Academy in 2018, what Lutterman likes best, he said, is that “We’re at a juncture in students’ lives at this age group where we can shape and mold them just by delivering them the arts and by giving them a chance to work on their skills and their ability to see perspectives. It gives them a much rounder knowledge and wisdom going through life.”
Working on drawing, painting, and ceramics has intrinsic rewards for students, such as the sheer pleasure of interacting with those media and the satisfaction of creativity and self-expression. Beyond that, however, Lutterman’s classes help cadets considering futures in business, architecture, and other disciplines that will require them to “illustrate or express their ideas,” he said. “Also, some day they’ll be walking through a museum and enjoy saying, ‘Oh yeah! We talked about that in Mr. Lutterman’s class!’”
The high school students he teaches (and the middle school students he coaches in basketball) will learn a wide variety of skills, life lessons, and character traits. “My goal with these guys is to develop their ability to see, open their minds to perspectives a little bit, and give them hands-on skills to help them illustrate their ideas in the future, especially through drawing. Ceramics is more about dexterity and a learning process that boils down to time management, craftsmanship, problem-solving, and critical thinking. They learn how to look at an object—its texture and contour lines. Then there’s looking at art history and artists’ viewpoints. Having more viewpoints in life can only make you a better human being.”
Among his favorites and inspirations are Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo, especially his ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Raphael. He also appreciates the drawings of Chuck Close and Rene Magritte, and more than anything else, he said, “I get a lot of inspiration from nature, the beauty of God’s creation.”
He had plenty of opportunity for that en route to the Academy, including time in picturesque portions of Minnesota, Nebraska, Maine, and Tennessee. Lutterman grew up in Madelia, Minn., and walked onto the basketball team at York College in Nebraska. “They offered me a small scholarship and free shoes, so I told them to sign me up,” he said, “even for the ugliest shoes ever, those old blue and white Converse.”
Upon realizing he was not NBA material, Lutterman transferred to Minnesota State University-Mankato, where he earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts and an M.A. in Ceramics, while gaining his first teaching experience as a graduate assistant. Next, he gained an MFA degree from Kansas State University and moved his young family to Maine, where he served at various times at the non-profit Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, the Boone College Craft Center, a community college in Portland, and as an adjunct professor at several University of Maine campuses.
Lutterman’s last stop before the Academy was assistant professor and program director at Lincoln Memorial University, where his office window looked out on the beauty of Pinnacle Point, a place that lets visitors simultaneously stand in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. After three years there, Lutterman and his wife, Lisa, were ready to return to Minnesota with their three children: Kole, now a junior at Chaska High School; Tanner, a 5th-grader at Eastern Union Elementary School; and Hailey, a 2nd grader at the same school.
At the Academy, some of the unique techniques Lutterman uses in his classroom include letting students “learn by osmosis” as he creates alongside them. “I do throwing demonstrations on the pottery wheel,” he said, “or I’ll create a painting in the course of a semester so they can watch the process, see the action, and grasp it better.”
Although Lutterman addresses ceramics as a process that involves chemistry, mixing glazes, firing process, and melting points, he recognizes that he’s not teaching rocket science. “I try to keep the course and the classroom fun,” he said. “I keep it open, so students can speak and feel what they want without being disciplined or lectured. I want them to have the ability to open up. I try to teach the individual, understanding where each of them are in terms of skill level.”
Lutterman exhibits his own pieces nationally and internationally, but his greatest works are the students who leave his classroom. Also, his greatest reward from teaching mirrors his own artistic creation process, wherein he turns shapeless clay into art. “I see kids develop skills that they didn’t have,” he said. “It’s gratifying. You see them start with nothing and later see someone who’s really accomplished.”