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Portrait of the Artist as a Community Member
In an exhibit earlier this year, Hutterite artists portrayed what life is like on their colonies.

Hutterites make art? It may seem like a naive question, but that's what many were thinking at a special event celebrating a recent Hutterite art exhibition at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery.

In an exhibit earlier this year, Hutterite artists portrayed what life is like on their colonies.

"This then is our hope, that the kind of art featured here today will become part of our growing repertoire of effective ways to express and share the message of love, peace, community brotherhood and sisterhood—as stepping stones toward making this world a better place, one artist at a time," said Dora Maendel, who teaches at the Manitoba Fairholme Colony School, to a crowd of roughly 100 this past May.

The exhibit featured works from 18 different Hutterite communities, most of them by students taking art classes in school via interactive instructional television. Using TV monitors and remote-controlled cameras, teachers teach from their respective sites, and students respond verbally and visually. The technology connects remote Hutterite communities and offers quality courses to students on a variety of colonies, as opposed to the handful of students in each school.

The works in the exhibit, which included photography, paintings, linocuts and collages, portrayed various aspects of Hutterite life. An acrylic painting entitled "Du Kannst Am Besten" ("You Can Do It Best") portrayed a woman playing baseball. In a statement accompanying the piece, artist Elaine Hofer said baseball is a community-building event on her colony, and she wanted to capture the intensity a woman named Eileen brought to the game.

Marcus Waldner's "Zwillinge"("Twins"), another acrylic painting, showed two girls, their arms draped on each other's shoulders, looking over a valley, while a linocut by Victor Kleinsasser, who teaches at Crystal Springs Colony, showed a mother braiding her daughter's hair.

"What I like is Hutterites seeing themselves in art," Serena Maendel said when asked what she likes most about teaching students from Kindergarten to Grade 9.

She appreciated the fact that the exhibit went beyond Hutterite stereotypes and showed Hutterites as they see themselves. "It validates [our] life;' she said. "It's working together, playing together and saying, `This is us:"

Judging by crowd reaction and attendance, the exhibit was a success.

"I enjoyed it," said Ed Funk of Winnipeg who attended the exhibit with friends. Funk is a credit manager who has worked with Hutterites for years but who never knew they made art. "It's really neat to see what they've done over the past few years," Funk said, "and I think they should do more of it:'

Aaron Epp is the Winnipeg national correspondent for Canadian Mennonite.

Originally published in Canadian Mennonite, June 23, 2008.




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