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Museum celebrates 125 years of collecting

February 3rd, 2022

Getting the hearse ready for the special exhibit

To celebrate the depth and breadth of today's Kauffman Museum, the newest special exhibit, open through May 22, is “The Magic of Things: 5 Continents, 25 Centuries, 125 Years of Collecting.”

In December 1896, students and friends of Bethel College announced the formation of a Museum of Natural History and American Relics at the college.

Starting in 1941, Charles Kauffman began integrating his personal collections with the Bethel museum, eventually opening “Kauffman Museum” to the public. The current building was completed in 1983.

Current and former staff have selected more than 100 artifacts and animal specimens to illustrate how objects astonish collectors, donors and museum staff.

Items in “The Magic of Things” are not on permanent display, and many are being exhibited for the first time.

Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen of rural Newton was Kauffman Museum’s curator of cultural history from 1983-93 and serves as lead curator for “The Magic of Things.”

Said Janzen, “I have always been fascinated by the global and deep historical reach of Kauffman Museum’s collections, so I selected a statuette from ancient Egypt, 20th-century Chinese Buddhist paintings and 21st-century African ritual pottery.”

Demonstrating the exhibition’s subtitle are a ngoma drum from a Zimbabwean healer and a 1914 Indian motorcycle, a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet from 524 BCE and a Macintosh computer from 1986, and a red-sided eclectus parrot from New Guinea and a horse-drawn hearse from a Goessel, Kan., funeral home.

Steve Friesen of Littleton, Colo., was director of Kauffman Museum from 1975-77 and joined the exhibit team for “The Magic of Things.”

“I have always returned to my roots at Bethel College and Kauffman Museum,” Friesen said. “It is a special joy for me to select Charles Kauffman’s rather unusual folk creations using animal horns, hide and hair to construct chairs and decorative items for the home.”

Other guest curators are current museum staff Andi Schmidt Andres, director, Dave Kreider, exhibit technician, Austin Prouty, exhibit assistant, Chuck Regier, curator of exhibits, and Kristin Schmidt, museum assistant; former directors John M. Janzen and Michael Reinschmidt; director emeritus Rachel Pannabecker; emeritus Bethel faculty and longtime museum contributors Dwight Platt and Bob Regier; and former museum staffer Renae Stucky.

Kauffman Museum welcomes the public to the grand opening of “The Magic of Things” Feb. 19 from 2:30-4:30 pm. Many of the guest curators will be present. Lead curator Reinhild Janzen will give remarks at 3 p.m.

Upcoming Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum (SAAM) programs will feature several of the curators.

On March 6, Reinhild Janzen will speak on “Ritual Markers of Life and Death in Uganda and Taiwan,” and on April 3, John Janzen presents “Drums or Organ: Contesting Musical Styles in African Christianity.”

Pannabecker and Kreider will give a program on “Collecting for College and Community: Past, Present and Future,” May 22, the exhibit’s closing day.

All the SAAM programs are free and open to the public and include free entry to the museum.

For more information on the exhibit, the 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.


About Bethel

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.