NORTH NEWTON, KAN. The traveling exhibit "Mirror of the Martyrs," which has been hosted in 66 locations across the United States and Canada, has found a permanent home in the Mirror of the Martyrs Gallery, a new addition to Kauffman Museum on the Bethel College campus, North Newton. A grand opening was held Sunday, Sept. 14. The "Mirror of the Martyrs" exhibit is based on the 1989 acquisition by the inter-Mennonite Martyrs Mirror Trust of 23 long-lost copper plates of the Dutch printmaker Jan Luykens used in the publication of the 1685 edition of the "Martyrs Mirror." This large oft-printed volume includes hundreds of stories of 16th century Anabaptist and earlier Christian martyrs.
Reflecting on the team planning in 1990 of the exhibit, designer Bob Regier recalled early expectations that the exhibit might circulate for three or four years but now, "Like a Duracell battery, the exhibit just keeps on going." In a program preceding the ribbon-cutting, Regier spoke of the challenge of using small, uniform copper plates to create "a sense of drama by using large-scale reproductions of some of the Luyken illustrations and by creating a central arena that would allude to the spectacle of public execution."
Chuck Regier, exhibit builder, described the task of fabricating a modular system for large panels, the system designed to adapt to varied venues and with wiring for track lighting embedded in aluminum frames. These and additional exhibit cases were fitted compactly into a custom-adapted truck.
In Sunday’s program David Kreider, coordinator of travel, projected a map of the web of routes crisscrossing North America in the travels of the "Mirror of the Martyrs," exhibited in 22 states, five Canadian provinces, including 10 border crossings. More than 300 volunteers have helped with exhibit installation and dismantling. More than 1,000 have helped in hosting, writing news releases, leading tour groups and exhibit maintenance. An estimated 60,000 to 75,000 have visited the exhibit.
Exhibit locations have included 20 churches, 20 church-related colleges, seminaries and schools, a dozen Anabaptist historical centers, plus public libraries and museums, a Wichita bank lobby, Atlanta City Hall and an Old Order Amish machine shed. The exhibit in Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian settings has provided the occasion for inter-faith dialogue.
Robert Kreider, who with the late John Oyer co-authored a 100-page illustrated storybook/catalog "Mirror of the Martyrs," (published by Good Books) reported that this book is now in print in nine languages: English, Indonesian, Spanish, Rumanian, Russian, French, German, Japanese and Hindi. He said that young Christians in countries suffering harassment have declared, "These stories from the ‘Martyrs Mirror’ are our stories too."
Wherever the exhibit has gone, according to Kreider, it has evoked searching questions from viewers. Would I have the courage to take such a stand? What convictions do I have that no one could force me to abandon? What wrongs are there that no one could force me to commit?
Jim Juhnke, author of "Dirk’s Exodus," a drama based on the Anabaptist martyr Dirk Willems, quoted Dennis Byler, who said that the Willems story "is quite possibly the most potent illustration in the Mennonite subconscious." David Luthy, director of the Historical Library in Aylmer, Ont., has collected 164 examples of photo reproductions of the Willems graphic as they have appeared in print.
Juhnke drew forth a discussion in which it was observed that this was a unique story. In other literature people who do good things are rewarded in the end. This is the only story in which the Anabaptist is in control of the situation he can flee to safety or risk aiding the enemy.
Construction of the addition was supported with grants from the Donald Harder Trust, the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing/Travel and Tourism Development Division, patrons of the Martyrs Mirror Trust, Schowalter Foundation and Goodville Mutual Casualty and contractor Jim Yoder of Burch Construction.
Museum hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on weekends. Regular admission is $3 for adults, $1.50 for children (ages six to 16). For more information, call Kauffman Museum at (316) 283-1612.