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New publication allows revisiting of artist’s conversation with memory

October 1st, 2018

Detail from the cover of the "Memory Matters" exhibit catalog

The newly published catalog for a 2016-17 exhibit at Kauffman Museum invokes both how it looked and the memories it sought to recall.

When Gesine Janzen was growing up in the Newton area, her parents, John Janzen and Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen, were hard at work developing Bethel College’s Kauffman Museum.

So it’s perhaps not so surprising that Janzen, who now teaches printmaking at Montana State University, Bozeman, as well as making her own art, turned to Kauffman Museum as both venue and source for an exhibit she mounted there for nine months, from August 2016-May 2017.

Viewers can visit, or revisit, “Memory Matters: works by Gesine Janzen” in a new publication from Kauffman Museum that was released in late August.

The exhibit was curated by Janzen’s parents. Structurally, it was set up with her artwork – prints and multi-media pieces, and one fabric piece – on the walls and a “memory island” in the middle of artifacts, the particular focus of her parents’ co-curatorial attention.

“Memory Matters” was built around the letters of Johann and Maria Janzen, paternal ancestors, who with five of their children emigrated from Prussia (now part of Poland) to central Kansas in 1886, joining other Mennonite immigrants in and around the towns of Peabody, Elbing and Newton.

An art historian and an anthropologist, respectively, Reinhild and John Janzen gathered historical artifacts – including Johann and Maria’s original letters – from the collections of Kauffman Museum and Bethel’s Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA), as well as Emmaus Mennonite Church of rural Whitewater and the personal collection of Melvin Epp, to “join in a dialogue” with Gesine Janzen’s works of art.

“Gesine had been a visiting artist [at Bethel] a couple of years earlier,” said John Janzen, “and the idea of combining her work with Kauffman Museum’s artifacts” began to emerge at that time.

“The main focus of the exhibit was her artwork, but she thought there would be a nice conversation between what is at the museum and her work.”

“The objects were not to be illustrative,” added Reinhild Janzen, “but parallel, how memory is evoked. She wanted a conversation between the objects from the same historical context and her conceptualizing and visualizing memory in her work, which goes beyond mere illustration.”

The exhibit catalogue includes a foreword by former Kauffman Museum Director Annette LeZotte, the “Curators’ Statement” by the Janzen parents, and an essay by Bethel Associate Professor of Visual Art and Design (and catalogue editor) Rachel Epp Buller, “Traveling Across Time with Gesine Janzen.”

There are also photographs of the exhibit and details from many of Janzen’s pieces as well as some of the artifacts.

Epp Buller called it “a lovely documentation of [Gesine’s] show.”

Since her student days at Bethel College, from which she graduated in 1990, Janzen has used printmaking to look back, recollect and evoke a sense of the past.

After a 2009 visit to Poland, where she saw “places my ancestors had lived in the 1700s,” Janzen said, “I began a series of prints that echoed the distinct absence of connection, the loss of and longing for a time I’ll never know.”

In her artist statement for “Memory Matters,” she continued, “Making this artwork was a way for me to try to touch [my ancestors’] lives in a tangible way.”

“Memory Matters” juxtaposed excerpts from Janzen family letters with photographs taken on the 2009 trip to the Vistula Delta, and incorporates photos and prints of the central Kansas landscape where Janzen’s ancestors settled and she grew up.

“We are formed by our past, which helps define who we are today,” Janzen said in a talk she gave at Kauffman Museum about “Memory Matters.”

“My hope is that [viewers of the exhibition] will make associations and connections between the artwork and the objects, and then reflect on [their] own stories and why memory matters.”

Memory Matters: works by Gesine Janzen is for sale in the Kauffman Museum store. Store hours, and regular museum hours, are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.

There is an admission charge for non-museum members to see the exhibits, including the current special exhibit, “Better Choose Me: Collecting and Creating with Tobacco Fabric Novelties, 1880-1920,” but no charge just to visit the museum store.

For more information, call 316-283-1612 or visit the Kauffman Museum website,, or Facebook page.

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.