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Columbia Missourian

MU Professor Robert Franklin Bussabarger loved art, students

By Meghan Eldridge
January 23, 2013 | 8:14 p.m. CST
Robert Franklin Bussabarger, Sept. 17, 1922 — Jan. 22, 2013, of Columbia

COLUMBIA — Robert Franklin Bussabarger was a devoted professor of art, an avid reader of nonfiction and had an ear for music.

Dr. Bussabarger of Columbia died Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. He was 90.

He was born on Sept. 17, 1922, , in Corydon, Ind., to Russell and Alice (Franklin) Bussabarger.

He married Mary Louise Sterling in 1946 after he served in the Navy in the Pacific throughout World War II.

Dr. Bussabarger taught ceramics and painting in MU's Fine Arts Department from 1953 until his retirement in 1991. Though he specialized in ceramics, after his retirement, he often carried a sketch book to capture his surroundings in drawings, paintings and sketches.

During his time as professor, he traveled to India many times, as well as other international locations to study art. 

His trips to India began in 1961 with a 14-month stint after he was awarded a Fulbright research grant to research terracotta sculpture while completing his own work in Calcutta. Upon returning to Columbia, he created art influenced by his travels. 

In a Columbia Missourian article printed on Feb. 2, 1979, Dr. Bussabarger said that he never attempts to recreate artwork he has studied in the past but merely tries to find inspiration in pieces he has experienced previously. 

Many works of Dr. Bussabarger's were featured in exhibits housed in art galleries in Columbia, elsewhere in the U.S. and in India. With Betty D. Robbins, he co-authored an illustrated book called "The Everyday Arts of India."

Mary Louise Bussabarger described her husband's influence on his students.

"He was very fond of his students, and they were very fond of him," Mrs. Bussabarger said. "He stayed in close touch with his graduate students, and they really admired his work and respected it. They seemed to think his approval was well-earned." 

Growing up with Dr. Bussabarger for a father afforded his two children, daughter Wendi Newell and son David Bussabarger, the opportunity to absorb an appreciation for the arts through osmosis, Newell said. 

Dr. Bussabarger was also an active member of the Calvary Episcopal Church in Columbia, a founder and active member of the Columbia Art League for nearly 50 years and a volunteer in local mental health agencies. He also was a member of the University Choral Union. He also was active in Muleskinners and the Kiwanis Club.

After first developing an interest in art and sculpture at a young age, Dr. Bussabarger developed a philosophy pertaining to his artwork as well as his life in general. In the Missourian article printed Feb. 2, 1979, he articulated this philosophy.

"Whether my work will be forgotten, or I’ll be forgotten in connection with it is less important than what I did and that I got all I could out of it at the time," he said.

"Life faces us with pain and pleasure, good and bad, all the opposites coming together," he said. "It's there, but that means you’re right in the middle, and if you keep your balance, it's more like life as it really is."

Dr. Bussabarger is survived by his wife, Mary Louise; a daughter, Wendi Newell; a son, David Bussabarger; grandchildren, Courtney and Nathan; great-grandchildren, Joey, Jimmy, John and Josh; brothers-in-law, James and Walter; nieces, Laura, Pam and Stacy; and a nephew, Ed. 

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Calvary Episcopal Church, 123 S. Ninth St. Dr. Bussabarger's ashes will be interred in the Memorial Garden of the Calvary Episcopal Church.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Columbia Art League, 207 S. Ninth St., Columbia, MO 65201 or a charity of choice.

Tributes can be posted at

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.