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Photos contemplate nuclear-armed past, present and future

September 6th, 2022

An image from Nate Hofer's exhibit "One and a Half Acres"

Today is the last chance to see Nate Hofer's exhibit in the Regier Art Gallery in Luyken Fine Arts Center, with the artist reception this evening (Sept. 22) from 6-8 p.m. at the gallery.

According to Hofer, the human race has managed to escape extinction so far most likely by sheer luck.

His exhibit, "One and a Half Acres: Images of America's Decommissioned Missile Silos," is one of arresting aerial photo images of no-longer-used nuclear missile silos in the Midwest.

Hofer is a musician and graphic designer from Overland Park, Kan.

Regular gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. There is no admission charge. The artist reception will be Sept. 22 from 6-8 p.m. at the gallery, the night the exhibit closes.

Viewers and others will have a chance to hear Hofer talk about his work as Kauffman Museum collaborates with the Regier Gallery to bring Hofer to campus for a Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum program on Sept. 18 at 3 p.m. in the museum auditorium (2801 N. Main Street, North Newton).

In 2021, Hofer traveled to Vienna to accept a Global Peace Photo Award for “One and a Half Acres.” Also known as the Alfred Fried Peace Medal, the award is one of several given each year on or near the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21.

On Sept. 18, Hofer will speak on “Decommissioned Missile Silo Sites: Reminders of Our Past and Future.”

He will discuss the process of making the photographs, and also of contemplating why he takes them and whether he considers himself a “legitimate photographer.”

The program is being held in conjunction with the museum’s current special exhibition “The Magic of Things,” a collection of not-often-seen museum artifacts that includes a “Nuclear Free Zone” T-shirt from the 1980s, when North Newton officially became one.

Born in Africa to Mennonite parents who were conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War, Hofer was raised in the Lawrence, Kan., area.

He attended the University of Kansas, earning two bachelor of fine arts degrees in painting and graphic design.

Growing up “during the Cold War culture of the 1980s,” Hofer notes, “my home was within sight of an ammunition plant, a short drive from 150 U.S. Air Force ‘Minuteman II’ intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos.

“Locally, it was common knowledge that in the event of an attack, our town would be wiped out in an instant by Soviet ICBMs. This wasn’t just the stuff of movies – like The Day After, which captured this very scenario unfolding and was actually filmed [in and around Lawrence] – this was very real life.

“The threat of potential nuclear war was literally all around me and overwhelmingly clear, a frightening and compelling backdrop to my childhood.”

The 1990s and beyond brought a shift in geopolitics as the Soviet Union dissolved; the USA-Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) removed and destroyed many nuclear weapons; and the U.S. decommissioned the ammunition plant near Lawrence. 

“Today, news of war in Ukraine, increasing nuclear [arming] and faltering nuclear treaties [has] rekindled my childhood anxieties and intrigue,” Hofer says.

“Chaotic Trump administration rhetoric and foreign policies for Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have resurfaced uneasy feelings all too familiar from my youth. 

“This project helps process these emotions.”

In 2019, Hofer began creating a body of aerial, documentary photographs of decommissioned missile silos, mostly in Missouri, which included finding and traveling to the sites and talking with landowners. 

“Ready access to once-classified military information, paired with new technology in consumer aerial photography, has allowed me to physically explore the same ICBM sites that occupied my imagination as a child and were the root of my anxieties and fascination,” Hofer says. 

“I’m excited to have Nate’s work opening our year of gallery shows,” says Rachel Epp Buller, Regier Gallery director.

“His photographs at first look like aerial views of farm scenes, but there is so much more to the story. I’m looking forward to how his work prompts discussion with students about a Cold War era that predates their lifetimes.”

“In a time of increasing nationalism and global instability, my work contemplates how we have avoided the existential threats from our past, and provides a cautionary work about how we consider our collective future,” says Hofer.

“One and a Half Acres” is in the Regier Gallery through Sept. 22.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel ranks at #1 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” for 2022-23. Bethel is the only Kansas college or university to be named a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

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.