NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- Fifty years ago, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) received word that three crates containing more than 50 works of art were on their way from the German Consul in Detroit to MCC headquarters in Akron, Pa. These pieces, created by German artists, were a part of the Dankspende--the official gift of thanks from the German people to the various relief agencies, including MCC, that had provided aid during and after World War II. Now, half a century later, 22 of the original prints are on display at Kauffman Museum in North Newton in the exhibit "The Art of Sharing, the Sharing of Art."
From bouquets of flowers to images of people waiting in line in winter to receive food, the artwork in "The Art of Sharing, the Sharing of Art" expresses both dire need and heartfelt gratitude. With the stated purpose of displaying how people can respond to crisis with dignity, the exhibit gives voice not only to the plight but also the response of the victim--something that, according to the exhibit catalog, goes all too often unheard.
However, that voice has resonated in the special exhibition space of Kauffman Museum before. "The Art of Sharing, the Sharing of Art" was originally assembled for exhibition in 1984 by Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen, a German native who was herself a recipient of Mennonite postwar relief.
"Born into World War II, I have most vivid childhood memories of our family receiving life-sustaining food and clothing from American and Canadian Mennonites," Janzen says.
Janzen assembled the original exhibit in order to display for the first time in one place MCC’s artworks, which had been scattered across the United States among several Mennonite agencies. She also created the exhibit to show the power of art to express gratitude with dignity.
"The exhibition shows how art can create a memory and a relationship that is longer lasting than an event, a speech, a song," says Janzen. "It shows how one nation expresses its gratitude to another nation that came to its aid. The art gives substance and voice to sentiment."
Janzen explains that the exhibit has an important message for contemporary times as well.
"This exhibition offers an opportunity to contemplate how to move beyond war," says Janzen. "The gift of these works of art across what were formerly enemy lines shows a meaningful relationship to the world beyond American borders that is not based upon fear--it shows a form of redemptive international relations."
Rachel Pannabecker, director of Kauffman Museum, echoes Janzen’s statements.
"The message of the exhibit is important for today’s world," she says. "It shows us that wartime enemies can find reconciliation."
In conjunction with the exhibit, Kauffman Museum will offer children’s and adult programs centered on themes of postwar relief and art. Two programs are scheduled for Sunday, March 13, beginning at 2 p.m.
In "The Art of Thanks," Sarah Kaufman, an art teacher at Chisholm Middle School in Newton, will lead children ages 6-12 in an interactive program to create their own artwork that will then be sent to those working today in war-torn areas.
This will be followed at 3:30 by a program for adults led by Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen. In "Sharing Art: A Gallery Walk," Janzen will discuss in-depth the exhibit that she first curated.
Two other programs, one for children and one for adults, are scheduled for early April. All four programs are free and open to the public.
Kauffman Museum is located at the corner of 27th and Main streets in North Newton. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Admission to the museum is $3 for adults and $1.50 for children ages 6-12.