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By Vicky Dorvee

Niwot High alum an inspiration after life-altering accident


January 17, 2019

Niwot High alum an inspiration after life-altering accident

When winds are high or lights are bright or sometimes for no clear reason, Ivan Schlutz’s head “gets pretty raw,” he said of the pain and sensations that make it hard for him to plan each day.  

Winters are spent in his art studio where he creates award-winning bronze sculptures, an art form he was drawn to while recovering from a near-death accident in his late 20s. The studio once housed calves on his parent’s property, but was renovated into an impressive workspace with a spectacular floor-to-ceiling corner fireplace made out of river rocks from the property.

Schlutz guesses that about a third of his days are spent sitting and thinking about his sculpting, because he can’t do much more than that. He describes his daydreaming as a fake world his head goes to. About five new pieces a year come from that world.

There’s “Passage” depicting an exalting Native American man being drawn to a higher spiritual place, and “Moon over Kansas,” an imagining of Doc Holiday, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson walking together. His piece “Spirit Seeker” has won many awards and was chosen by the City of Loveland out of hundreds of submissions to be on the Mariana Butte Golf Course.

He and his brother Greg earned their pilot’s licenses before they even had driver’s licenses, thanks to their father’s influence. Greg Sr. piloted airplanes for Delta Airlines for 40 years and still has planes at the Longmont Airport. Their mother Hilda was an airline attendant.

A 1980 graduate of Niwot High School (NHS) where he wrestled and played football, Schlutz raised his family, son Logan and daughter Victoria, also NHS graduates, with his wife Dena.

After graduation Schlutz attended Embry Riddle University in Florida, where he trained to be an airplane mechanic. He earned his bachelor’s degree in aviation at Metro State University of Denver and then began his career as a professional pilot. For a few years he flew small planes in and out of the Grand Canyon and piloted for regional airlines.

He was piloting charter flights, doing mechanical work on civil air patrol aircrafts at the Longmont Airport, and had just begun interviewing with major airlines for pilot positions in 1990 when the accident happened.

While repairing an engine, the propeller fired up slicing into the left side of Schlutz’s scalp, crushing the bones of his skull into his brain.

Except for his elbow and knee, he lost all movement on the right side of his body. For years he went to physical therapy four times a week. It was two years before he was able to walk again. Movement and his lack of equilibrium made him throw up. Experts told him he would always need a leg brace.

“I was lost. Even to this day, some days I’m just lost,” Schlutz said. “When all that bone went into my head they had to take that part of the brain out.”

That led to motor skill and cognition issues. For a year after the accident his brain was protruding from his skull, and then doctors put in a protective plastic plate. His full head of hair covers most of the huge scar. That plate, with very little give to it, and the loss of lining for his brain are what causes the difficulties he described.

Remarkably, what has stayed with him are the words of his neurosurgeon, Dr. Bolles, who one night told him, ‘You control it, you’re the one who can make it work again. There’s plenty of unused material up there and you have to make it work.’

Part of his therapy during recovery was to keep his right hand busy with playdough, which led to making clay pots and then faces. Because he couldn’t go out, he spent most of his time making clay creations. Doctors theorize that damage to the left side of his brain started compensation by the artistic side of his brain, the right side.

His wife Dena enrolled him in a sculpting class with Fritz White, a renowned bronze sculptor in Loveland, in 1995. The eighteen years he had with White as his mentor and friend impacted Schlutz deeply, both personally and professionally. The bronze sculpture on Greenwood Drive just beyond the entrance to Somerset Heights in Niwot is White’s work and is called Snow Goose.

Schlutz said no one ever told him he couldn’t do something and his family has always been supportive. The chair his mother sat in at his studio when she would come to talk with him still sits nearby to keep him company since her passing four years ago.

If each piece isn’t better than the last, Schlutz isn’t happy. “You always have to have a goal to improve upon yourself. If you don’t have accountability, what makes you push yourself?”

Going from paralysis to sculpting seems amazing enough, but Schlutz has a lot of talents and interests. He’s a photographer, drawn to long exposure night scenes; he collects and restores classic vehicles; and along with his son, he helps to keep his mother’s wine vineyard up and running.

Then there’s his affinity for fitness. Most days of the week Schlutz runs or works out. He uses his strength and agility to compete in Spartan races, which are obstacle course competitions. And Schlutz does not wear a knee brace.

He said the medication that was supposed to help him feel better made him balloon up to 280 pounds. He felt so horrible he was certain the pills were killing him, so he tossed them out. He started eating better and exercising and lost 80 pounds.

Pointing to his head, he said, “The only thing that beats me down is this. I’ve learned that everything is just temporary and it’s going to get better. Even though it gets me down, I don’t let it beat me.”


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