Abner Hershberger is taking his show on the road. Heritage
Works is a reflection of his own life on a midwestern family
farm. But his images aren't limited to the John Deere tractors
he used in the North Dakota fields. They also include plain coats,
coverings and bonnets -- what he calls 'Mennonite iconography.'
Along side these mostly somber Mennonite icons he places brightly
colored 'flamboyant' 'worldy' images. Like the red necktie he
Abner, the ninth of 10 children, grew up on a farm near Fargo,
North Dakota. His father was Mennonite deacon and preacher in
the Casselton Mennonite Church. Since Abner's interest in art
was not seen as an asset at home, this gift was not affirmed.
But his painter uncle, Ezra Hershberger at Goshen College inspired
him. Abner left the farm to study art. He has taught painting
at Goshen College since 1965.
I suggested to Abner that Heritage Works can help us talk
about Mennonite identity. Identity is on top of the agenda as
we move toward the creation of a new Mennonite Church. The integration
of the Mennonite Church with the General Conference Mennonite
Church and the Conference of Mennonites in Canada forces us to
wrestle with this issue.
Heritage Works will be shown at Lancaster Mennonite Historical
Museum, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, April 3-October 30, 1999, and
at Historical Sauder Village Greenberg Gallery, Archbold, Ohio.
If your local historical committee, or several congregations,
would like to host Abner's exhibit, contact our office. --jes
Abner writes about his work. "Heritage Works is an
attempt to express and record midwest rural communal life. Having
grown up in a Mennonite family and having lived on a farm near
Fargo, North Dakota during the formative years, my life and world
view were strongly influenced by farm work, reliance on family,
and a strong identity with the church community.
"Expression of these influences are sought through imagery
that symbolized directness, truthtelling and simplicity which
characterized Mennonite life. These virtues find expression through
the directness of photo silk-screened images on untreated cotton
duck canvas. This is done with a minimum of flair without pretentiousness
and usually, in a modes monochromatic style. Occasionally, this
spartan approach is contrasted with brightly painted elements
which are flamboyant and more embellished, signaling secular
society and the lure of 'worldly' enticements. Dividing the painting
surface into components symbolizes these disparate entities,
in which aesthetically, a harmonious single environment is sought.
The objective is an aesthetic, which is driven by integrity of
philosophy, theology and practice.
"I approach these new works with concerns that they not
be burdened with didactic nor sentimental content. My intent
is to stay focused on an aesthetic that combines honest, formal,
visual strategies with imagery referencing a heritage associated
with simplicity, concerns of peace, and a rural life style. The
'plain' coat, women's head coverings, quilt patterns, and the
dove -- a symbol of peace -- are but a few examples of Mennonite
"Most of all, I am concerned about not exploiting these
themes for purposes of nostalgia or commercialization. What is
sought is an informed visual expression, which reflects integrity
of purpose, a concern for formal painting issues and artistic
invention by one who has lived his life in the Mennonite community.
"As a painter privileged to have had graduate studies in
fine arts, I want to seek and express that unique vision which
a lifetime of Mennonite experience affords. The Mennonite community
has never really emphasized serious art-making and continues
to be skeptical about its value. The challenge for me is to remain
honest to a personal aesthetic, pay homage to a nurturing community,
and explore a visual arena that is symbolic, iconographic and