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Eastin’s work ‘bears witness’ to her own and others’ humanity

Hanna Eastin at work in her studio

A version of Hesston College art faculty member Hanna Eastin's MFA thesis show (ceramics), along with some new work, is in the Regier Gallery through Sept. 27.

In January 2017, Eastin’s friend and Hesston College co-worker Russ Neufeld died “after a fierce-hearted and grace-filled battle with [lymphoblastic lymphoma].”

While being part of the support system around Neufeld, his wife Kendra and two children and extended family, Eastin was also in the middle of her MFA work, particularly focused on her thesis and culminating show of ceramics.

Eastin heard that Neufeld had died, “and the glowing beauty and blistering grief of that moment exemplifies the essence of ‘enduring witness,’” the title of her MFA thesis show, a version of which is now in the Regier Art Gallery at Bethel College.

The show opened Aug. 31 and will close with an artist reception Sept. 27, 6-8 p.m. at the gallery, which is located inside Luyken Fine Arts Center on the Bethel campus.

Regier Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. There is no admission charge.

“I have learned, and it was confirmed in that moment [of Russ’s death],” Eastin says in her artist statement for “enduring witness,” “that when someone else experiences a life-changing event, we may not look away. We must bear witness to the stories around us, in all their beauty and tragedy.

“When we listen closely to each other, we know we must endure together. This work invites the viewer into my inner landscape, memories, experiences and observations that inform who I am as a person.”

“Enduring witness” comprises ceramics – mostly plates and urns – and drawings, though those are not included in the Bethel show.

The whole title of Eastin’s Regier Gallery exhibit is “enduring witness: stories and dream-states,” because it also includes some newer work.

“This collection of MFA thesis work and new work bridges the space between autobiographical narrative and memories of dreams,” Eastin says. “I have always had very vivid dreams, only some of which I can remember in detail. In many, it is more the feeling of the dream that stays, and this new work strives to express some of those sense memories.”

Eastin continues in describing “enduring witness,” “The weight and difficulty of working on the [potter’s] wheel … is part of the embedded meaning – there is pain and delight mixed into every piece.

“Likewise, materials consist of the ‘worst’ clay I can make” – she calls it “terrible clay” – “full of heavy grog and small stones, couched in a standard and predictable recipe – life distilled to earth.

“Colors are limited to earth tones to compound this weight, and to keep connotation unmuddied. The use of hand-built display units made of lumber harvested and milled on my home property, in partnership with my parents, root this work in the beginning of who I am, as a kid in the mountains of Tennessee.

“Out of this mess of materials and relentless heat [in the Cone 10 reduction kiln firing] comes work that bears witness to its process and intention – a metaphor for personal growth and inter-personal communion among the searingly tender events humanity endures, and that shape us all.”

In all her work, Eastin says she “uses clay to tell … [the] stories that shape who  I am and who we are as humans.” She creates “books” in the form of wall pieces and sculptures, with the goal of building connections between people by using images, shapes and textures – and sometimes words – to name the events and ideas that live at the core of human experience.

Eastin is a native of northeast Tennessee, where she grew up on a goat farm working with her father, making pots with her mother in her studio, and building hideouts and trails in the woods with her sister.

She describes herself as “a very shy young person,” as such spending an enormous amount of time observing people and their behavior. She now uses that as inspiration, along with the dirt and rocks of Tennessee and her animal companions then and now.

Since moving to south-central Kansas, Eastin says she has “grown to love the subtlety of the landscape, and how that subtlety can shape everyone’s attitude and experience. The outdoors, animals, and interactions with people continue to heavily influence my work.”

She is a 2000 honors graduate of Principia College, Elsah, Illinois, where she majored in studio art with a focus in ceramics. She completed her MFA in ceramics earlier this year from Fort Hays State University.

For a time, Eastin ran the Cobalt Gallery in downtown Newton, displaying and selling her own and others’ work.

She has been on the art faculty at Hesston College since 2008, where she teaches ceramics, 3-D design and drawing, and is building up a 3-D curriculum.

Her work has been included in regional and national, private and juried shows since she began working professionally in ceramics in 2000.

Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.