It had to happen eventually. The aged Kelvinator refrigerator that held the lunches of generations of journalists, typesetters and pressmen at Mennonite World Review fell silent and warm in 2015.
As the solid mass of ice that consumed the freezer section dripped down, questions rose. How old is it? Must we throw it away? Who might actually want it?
The answer to the last question answered the others.
With a phone call to Randy Regier, then living in Wichita, Kan., a van showed up at MWR. The curved fridge, though a shell of its former glory, contained the potential to be part of something more. Something bigger than itself. Something artistic. (See “Artist builds on Anabaptist background to dream of yesterday’s tomorrows today.”)
Regier’s vision began to take shape. A tabletop jukebox selector from an antique store in Hesston found new life as a helmet. An airplane nose cone became a pelvis. Chromed pots and pans from antique and thrift stores across the state came together as arms and legs.
What once had been a humble cover section crafted in 1951 for a refrigerator’s lower condenser works was transformed into the torso of a spacesuit appearing to be both ancient and futuristic. By 2016, “The Celestial Mechanic” had found its shape but was far from complete.
To get the patina just right, the shiny spacesuit was buried in a Kansas pasture for years. By the time it was dug up and transported to its final resting place just south of Ahlberg Hall in the collection of Wichita State University’s sculpture garden, corrosion had set in and the midcentury aluminum luster had dulled considerably. She was finally finished.
In his artist talk after the April 2 unveiling, Regier reflected on his Mennonite roots. Standing next to a slightly manipulated photo of Anabaptist martyr Dirk Willems’ ghost reaching down out of heaven toward MWR’s Newton office, he said that while “The Celestial Mechanic” represents different things to different people, its creation owes itself to Mennonite friends who occasionally think, “Randy might be able to use that.”
His faith finds a more direct expression at the center of the suit’s orange belly. Nestled between a couple of important-looking buttons and a scorched rubber tube, a dove is riveted in mid-flight. Quietly bold, it’s his Mennonite mark.
Too often outer space is a realm of adversity or militarism, both in science fiction and real life, and this was his way of claiming an alternative.
Like most pieces of art, the accompanying placard carries the title, artist’s name and identifies the medium — aluminum, stainless steel, steel, tempered glass. In the name of Anabaptist humility and love, WSU can be forgiven if there wasn’t room to list Mennonite friendship.