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Museum artifacts tell stories of life and death

February 28th, 2022

Reinhild Janzen with birth ritual clay pots from Uganda

Kauffman Museum opens its spring 2022 Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum series on March 6 with “Ritual Markers of Life and Death in Uganda and Taiwan” by Reinhild K. Janzen, Ph.D.

The program runs from 3-4 p.m. in the museum auditorium, at the corner of North Main and 27th streets on the Bethel College campus in North Newton.

Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum programs are open to the public with free admission that includes the special exhibition and the museum.

Current Bethel COVID protocols require face coverings to be worn indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

The program will also be recorded, and available for viewing the week following the lecture on the “Kauffman Museum at Bethel College” YouTube channel (linked from the museum’s website at and uploaded on the Kauffman Museum Facebook page.

In her richly illustrated talk, Janzen, Washburn University professor emerita of art history and lead curator for “The Magic of Things,” will discuss artifacts that play significant roles at critical moments in the human life cycle.

Said Janzen, “We make things to help us deal with and celebrate the mysteries of life, especially at its beginning and at its end.”

The lecture accompanies Kauffman Museum’s current special exhibition, “The Magic of Things: 5 Continents, 25 Centuries, 125 Years of Collecting.”

Janzen will explore the agency of tangible things that she selected for “The Power of Ritual,” one of the exhibition’s five themes.

She will begin with pottery made by the Acholi people of Uganda for rituals required on the occasion of multiple births (twins, triplets, quadruplets), before discussing a set of 10 Buddhist paintings from Taiwan.

These so-called hell scrolls were created specifically for elaborate mourning rituals at the time of death. They tell in pictures and words the journey of the deceased’s soul from judgment by the Ten Kings of Hell to reincarnation. 

Janzen served as Kauffman Museum curator of cultural history from 1983-93, and launched educational programming such as school field trips and Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum lectures.

Her research as an art historian has ranged from Mennonite material culture and visual art, to African art and Northern European Renaissance art.

With John M. Janzen, she authored the book Mennonite Furniture: A Migrant Tradition, 1766-1910, that accompanied a 1991 Kauffman Museum exhibition of the same name.

Other special exhibitions that Janzen curated for the museum include “Threads of Life: Mayan Clothing from Guatemala” (1993); “Victorian Sentiments: Beauty and the Beast” (1988); “The Art of Sharing, the Sharing of Art: Responses to Mennonite Relief Work” (1984); and “Kauffman Museum, A New Beginning” (1983).

For more information on “The Magic of Things,” the associated public programs and current COVID protocols, visit or the Kauffman Museum Facebook page, or contact the museum at or 316-283-1612.

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are Tues.-Fri. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 1:30-4:30 p.m., closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the special exhibit and the permanent exhibits – “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture” – is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. The museum store is open during the museum’s regular hours.

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