Photo: Artist Kris Shenk, Goshen, Ind., displayed a piece made of “upcycled” items–household items that had once been discarded–at the Mennonite Arts Weekend in Cincinnati this weekend, Feb. 5-7. Photo by Cara Hummel.
“You here in Cincinnati are the aesthetic envy of Mennonites from coast to coast,” Scott Holland said to open his keynote address at Mennonite Arts Weekend, held Feb. 5–7 in Cincinnati.
Holland, a professor at Bethany Theological Seminary, Richmond, Ind., used Blue Horses, a painting by Franz Marc, and a poem about the painting by Mary Oliver to discuss the re-emerging field of theopoetics. Holland quoted lines from Oliver that set the tone for the weekend: “Maybe the desire to make something beautiful / is the piece of God that is inside each of us.”
This was 13th Mennonite Arts gathering planned by Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship. The weekend’s
theme was “Transformation: Reseeing, Reshaping, Renewing.” Organizers added breadth to the biennial gathering of artists and musicians by having a theologian give the keynote and by inviting Dan Charles, an NPR correspondent.
Charles, who grew up on a dairy farm near Lancaster, Pa., spoke about the process of crafting a news story for the radio. He asked, “Should I even be here? Is journalism art?” Participants engaged in a lively discussion on the topic, expressing appreciation for the artistic choices that go into an engaging radio story.
The weekend included many chances to experience more typical art forms as well, as about 200 participants wandered through an art gallery, listened to live performances and saw artist demonstrations. There was a wide range of ages present, though some participants said they hoped to see more racial/ethnic diversity in the future. The children in attendance expressed enjoyment of presentations by Mike Horner, a puppeteer from Kansas City, Mo. The performers also included some younger faces, like Ethan Setiawan, a mandolin player, and friends from the Berkley School of Music.
Steve Ratzlaff traveled to the event by train from Fresno, Calif.
“I’ve heard about this weekend for many years, and I’ve always wanted to come,” he said. A retired pastor, Ratzlaff enjoyed renewing personal connections and hearing his brother, Keith Ratzlaff, give a poetry reading. Keith, who teaches at Central College in Pella, Iowa, read several poems inspired by the art of Paul Klee, and used the writing/revision process to dig into the conference’s “transformation” theme.
For Jan Sabey, from First Mennonite Church in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., singing was the highlight of the weekend. Participants had several chances to sing hymns together, led by Rebecca Slough, academic dean at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind., and accompanied by Randy Spaulding, project editor for Sing the Journey and Sing the Story and a chaplain in New Haven, Conn. Sabey also enjoyed meeting visual artists and “hearing their descriptions about the way they put things together.”
Sabey’s favorite piece was a large collage by Kris Shenk, Goshen, Ind., made from discarded household
items. Others said they enjoyed the pottery of Mark Nafziger, Archbold, Ohio; stained-glass work by Zachary Nafziger, Harrisonburg, Va.; and printmaking by Andreas Baumgartner, Bluffton, Ohio.
The weekend culminated with a worship service at Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Church. A joint Cincinnati Mennonite and Pleasant Ridge choir sang with guest soloist Tony Brown, a former faculty member at Hesston (Kan.) College who lives near Pittsburgh, Pa. Brown also shared songs and stories throughout the weekend. The service invited people to consider new perspectives through writing and drawing, stretching and breathing, and even moving seats. The service included a homily by Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, vice moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), who came to the area in part to experience the arts weekend worship service.
Hal Hess, a member of Cincinnati Mennonite, has been involved in Mennonite Arts Weekend since its beginning. The impetus came from a gathering for people interested in the arts at a Mennonite convention in 1989. Hess remembers about 300 people showing up to the ad hoc meeting. He heard the strong desire for connection among artists.
“So many of us were ‘uninvited’ from the Mennonite church in the past,” he said. Cincinnati Mennonite decided to make a regular gathering a reality. The planning committee sees the weekend as a way to support people who may feel on the fringes of a tradition that has not always celebrated artistic expression.
The next Mennonite Arts Weekend is planned for Feb. 2–4, 2018.