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Sarah Unruh ’12

Salina artist's show based on farming, family

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Carolyn Wedel, Salina, whose work is currently on display in Bethel College’s Fine Arts Center Gallery, credits some of her artistic technique to past experience with the family business.

Wedel’s exhibit of mixed media is titled “Stewards of the Land” and will be hanging through Nov. 30, with a reception for the artist Nov. 29 from 6-8 p.m. outside the gallery.

Regular gallery hours are Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. There is no admission charge.

Wedel is the daughter of Lois and the late Orlando Goertzen of Newton and a significant part of her past work history took place in the art department of her father’s business, United Printing in Newton.

“This was before the age of computer technology, where cutting and pasting typography and graphics was the means of producing camera-ready copy,” she says. “In early 1997, I began to incorporate this same method of cutting and arranging shapes of painted watercolor paper to create my art.

“My inspiration is derived from life experiences, encompassing the spiritual, emotional and physical world,” she adds. “ I begin innately, but while [I am] engrossed in the piece, it evolves into a deliberate manifestation of shapes, space, texture, shadow and color until I feels as if it is complete.”

Wedel says “Stewards of the Land” is largely based on “the life of a Mennonite farmer.” Her father was raised on a farm in Marion County. Her mother is from Freeman, S.D., and “also lived on a farm for part of her growing up years.”

Many of Wedel’s more recent pieces incorporate paintbrushes of all shapes and sizes, often spatter-painted in silver, gold and copper, as well as organic colors that call to mind fields of grain. She has given them titles such as “Provide,” “Cycle of Growth,” “The Gathering,” “Fruits of Your Labor,” “Festival of Harvest” and “Joy of Giving.”

While she has been using the mixed-media approach of creating collages from cut pieces of painted watercolor paper for the past 15 years, “the use of paintbrushes is new,” she says. “I’m just now exploring how they can work in creating art.”

Several of the pieces in “Stewards of the Land” are collages that incorporate photocopies of photographs. One is “Class of ’83 – The Ripening” with photo images taken from the 1983 Thresher yearbook.

“[This] was my graduating class from Bethel,” Wedel says. “I just thought it would be fun to include them in the exhibit.”

She was raised attending Bethel College Mennonite Church, North Newton, and graduated from Bethel College in 1983 with a B.A. in art.

Another piece in the exhibit uses photo images of Bethel’s 14 presidents and two interim presidents over 125 years. She titled the piece “Building on Tradition – windows of the past, our doors to the future” and says it “symbolizes the limestone used in the construction of the Administration Building, along with cutout pieces of doors and windows.”

Yet another of these is called “We Sing that Others May Live,” the motto of the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus, which gives several concerts a year to raise money for Mennonite Central Committee.

The piece incorporates photocopied snippets of the words and music for “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Probably the largest piece in the exhibit is called “Water, the Drop of Life,” a collage of photo images and painted watercolor paper cut-outs. The photos are of her extended Wedel and Groves families.

“For me, the interesting aspect concerning this piece is that while I was working on it, Kansas was going through a drought period, much like today,” Wedel says. “The title [is] in reference to the fact that without water there is no life.”

She continues, “By incorporating the photos of my family members into the piece, that also referenced my physical life. While the piece was on the studio table, the jagged cutout was to [represent] a creek or stream of water, but once it was framed and hanging on the wall, the creek became a tree, which then symbolized a family tree.”

Wedel says she has “been an artist for as long as I can remember.” She is currently director of the Watson Gallery at Salina’s Stiefel Theatre, though she has owned her own studio and galleries in the past. She has shown her work regionally – in galleries in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado – and nationally.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.