Taking Community from the Farm to the World

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

By: Jen Konkle, Communications Coordinator at Conrad Grebel University College

“Advancing peace requires many hands. It requires shoulders to lean on, and to stand on. It is sustained by the mundane tasks that make daily life possible,” explained Paul Heidebrecht, director of Conrad Grebel University College’s MSCU Centre for Peace Advancement. “Peace becomes possible when we experience genuine community.”

Glimpses of peaceful community experiences are evident in many of David L. Hunsberger’s iconic photos. Focused on Ontario Mennonites in the 1950s and 1960s, his photos speak to more than Mennonites.

Partnering with the Hunsberger family, the Mennonite Archives of Ontario, the Institute of Anabaptist Mennonite Studies, and the MSCU Centre for Peace Advancement at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, have created a photo exhibit featuring a select number of Hunsberger’s iconic photos.

For example, there is a photo of a barn raising, an iconic image of mutual aid that has come to define the essence of community for many, including Canada’s current Governor General (and former University of Waterloo President) David Johnston.

There are photos of family and friends sharing food, fellowship, and fun.

It is important to note that these photographs were taken during a time of transition for Mennonites in Ontario; a time when more and more Mennonites pursued their vocational callings in towns and cities. This was also a time when new institutions such as Conrad Grebel University College and the Mennonite Savings and Credit Union were first envisioned. And a time when there was a new awareness of the diversity of the global Mennonite church community.

No doubt this transformed context brought with it many challenges, but it also carried the blessings of a new understanding of just how far the bonds of community could be stretched. It includes a renewed commitment to peace and to sharing the gifts of the Mennonite community with the world.

Almost 5,700 of Hunsberger’s images were donated to the Archives in 2005 and many of these images are available to be viewed online through the archives database. Archivist Laureen Harder-Gissing remarked that “for 40 years, David Hunsberger’s camera was present at special occasions and ordinary days in the lives of Waterloo Region Mennonites. His love of his craft and of his subjects comes through in every frame. His collection continues to be a source of discovery and delight for anyone seeking a window into our shared local history.”

Hunsberger with his cameraBorn in Kitchener, Hunsberger was a self-taught photographer, inspired by photo journalism he learned from books and magazines. His years as a professional photographer coincided with many debates among Mennonites as to what was appropriate for Mennonite dress, and what sort of technology was acceptable in Mennonite homes.

Hunsberger’s photos of Old Order Mennonite adults are often taken from a back or side view, respecting beliefs that photographing adults was not generally accepted as it was counter to their teachings regarding vanity and pride. In contrast, for more “progressive” Mennonite groups this was an era of institution building and outreach to the world, and he was often commissioned to record these activities for posterity.

The exhibit at Conrad Grebel is comprised of three parts. In the Mennonite Archives of Ontario gallery (third floor), David Hunsberger’s photographs of transitional moments in Ontario Mennonite life are complimented with commentary from Sam Steiner’s new book, In Search of Promised Lands. In the Milton Good Library (third floor), the Archives exhibit continues in the display cases beside the circulation desk and Hunsberger’s book, Barn Raising, is available. In the Grebel Gallery (fourth floor), high quality prints of photographs are displayed on themes of peace and community.

Taking Community from the Farm to the World runs until the end of April at Conrad Grebel University College, with a partial exhibit continuing until August.

Join us for an exhibit reception on Friday, February 27 at 7:00pm in the Grebel Gallery.

Monday to Thursday 8:30 am - 10:00 pm
Friday 8:30 am - 6:00 pm
Saturday 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Michelle Jackett
Coordinator, MSCU Centre for Peace Advancement
Conrad Grebel University College
140 Westmount Road
Waterloo, ON N2L 3G6
michelle.jackett@uwaterloo.ca | 519-885-0220, ext. 24221

photos from the Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Mennonite World Conference