MU artist, professor uses her late husband's clothes to create healing art

A year after Catherine Armbrust’s husband died in 2015, she pulled his old shirts out of the closet and cut them into pieces.

The decision wasn’t made out of anger or sadness but as a way for the artist to move forward after his death.

Eventually, she would incorporate the scraps of his shirts into her artwork as a way to make sense of her loss.

Armbrust, director of the George Caleb Bingham Gallery and adjunct assistant professor in the MU Art Department, has since exhibited them at MU and Western Illinois University. The work included weavings made from strips of her husband’s old T-shirts, glass jars stuffed with his plaid shirts and cyanotypes of his shoes.

For Armbrust, art has become a way for her to remember her husband and help her to heal.

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Catherine Armbrust and her late husband, Eric Sweet.

Courtesy of Catherine Armbrust

‘A perfect pair of artists’

Eric Sweet died in April 2015 after suffering a heart attack while working out at home. He was just 44.

Armbrust describes her husband as a very sweet, hilarious man who was loved by his family, friends and students alike.

“He was really passionate, really loyal, not good at returning phone calls, but he loved and supported his friends a lot,” she said.

Like Armbrust, Sweet was an artist and taught in the MU Art Department. The mediums in his art varied widely, from large linoleum-cut prints to etchings and white-on-white compositions. He also taught classes in 2D design, printmaking and drawing.

“He was a real smartass,” Armbrust said of her husband, “but he was also lovely.”

They met in Columbia in 1993 through a mutual friend and began dating after he moved into the apartment above hers. Five years later, after the couple had finished school and spent time traveling, they eloped to the town of LaBelle in northern Missouri, where his parents lived.

“I actually asked him to marry me,” Armbrust said.

They contacted a preacher and met him early one morning in a nearby field. The ceremony was small and informal, with only two friends to witness the wedding as the sun rose.

For the next decade or so, the couple spent time making artwork, attending graduate school at MU and teaching.

At the time, Armbrust was working on colorful, elaborate costumes and sculptures made of latex and wood, which featured themes of cultural baggage and erotica. Sweet, on the other hand, worked on linoleum and screen prints.

“They were a perfect pair of artists, thinkers, and they were challenging and brought people along with them,” said Matt Ballou, a friend, colleague and teacher.

Catherine Armbrust

Catherine Armbrust poses Friday at her home in Columbia. Armbrust uses art to honor her husband after his death. This year would have been their 20th wedding anniversary.