Henson sculptor killed in fall


April 25, 2008

ENCINITAS – Sculptor Deborah Huglin will be remembered for her passionate interest in art and the talents the Encinitas woman shared with those who knew her.


Huglin, 54, had been reported missing last month. Friends and relatives received the news this week that her body had been found by hikers Sunday at the base of Ansel Rock along the Pacific Crest Trail. A four-day search had been called off March 24.

Although an autopsy report will not be completed for six to eight weeks, Kevin Duffy, a senior investigator from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, said “it appears that Huglin fell to her death” in a remote wilderness area near Hemet.

Huglin’s abilities were recognized while she was still a child, and throughout her life, her artistic pursuits ranged from sculpture to music, robotics and archaeology. “There were so many sides to her, and she grew up with so many interests,” said Ann Dew, Huglin’s older sister and a resident of Palm Springs.

“Her greatest virtue was that she could look at rocks and trees and see what was inside them; that’s what made her such a good sculptor.”

Dew said Huglin graduated from high school at 16; at 13 she was selected to create a mural for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Huglin grew up in Iowa, traveled to Italy to study sculpting and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Drake University.Also known as “Debbie the Roboteer,” Huglin owned Robotorium Inc. in New York during the 1980s. It was there she met puppeteer Jim Henson and collaborated with him on the films “The Dark Crystal,” “Labyrinth” and the television series “Fraggle Rock.”

She also was an expert flutist and sometimes worked as a voice-over artist.

For the past decade, Huglin focused on sharing her love of art with the community. One of her mottos was, “if you don’t roll up your sleeves and get to work, it doesn’t get done.”

Huglin worked as an art instructor at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe. As an activist in the American Indian community, she advocated returning Indian artifacts to tribal descendants.

She shared a home in the Cardiff neighborhood of Encinitas with boyfriend Marty Vogel, and the couple collaborated on numerous projects.

“Deb was a fabulous sculptor,” Vogel said. “With just a few moments and a chisel, she could bring out an expression in a sculpture; you’d swear (it’s) alive and just between breaths.”

Once a month, Huglin and Vogel transported two life-size, work-in-progress sculptures of Kumeyaay women to the San Diego Art Institute’s Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park. They brought tools and plaster so that visitors and schoolchildren could give sculpting a try.

Vogel said the figures were a part of a Kumeyaay diorama commissioned by the Imperial Valley College Desert Museum. Huglin also is featured in how-to art videos, available online at expertvillage.com.

Huglin (pronounced HEW-glin) often searched for Indian pictographs, which inspired her work.

Vogel said he believes that was her intention when she headed up the steep hill on the Pacific Coast Trail last month.

“She was so smart, a beautiful soul, and she knew so much about everything,” Vogel said. “I loved Deb like I never loved anyone before. Her legacy was that anyone can do art – just give it a try.”

A memorial is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 24 at Unitarian Universal Fellowship of San Dieguito in Solana Beach.

Vogel said that in lieu of flowers, donations to the San Diego Art Institute’s Museum of the Living Artist in Huglin’s name are suggested.

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