Sculpting a Mennonite experience

Since we are in the midst of a worship series on “Being Mennonite,” I thought it was time to highlight one of Arlie Regier’s sculptures found in the Sunflower Room west of the Sanctuary. While Arlie did not give this piece a title (to my knowledge), some people affectionately call it “A Mennonite History Piece,” a visual representation of Anabaptist theology, practice, and experience, especially of Kansas Mennonites on the prairie.

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Arlie didn’t leave much information about this sculpture. Perhaps, as suggested by his daughter Amy, he wanted to “let the changing community interpret and apply to the changing world.” While the following interpretive remarks are just that–interpretive, they represent what I’ve gleaned over these past three years at Rainbow.

In 2008 Arlie was commissioned to build this piece for what is called the Sunflower Room at Rainbow. The Sunflower of course is the KS state flower. Some see loaves of bread in the sunflower, perhaps referring to the KS wheat fields and/or Jesus sharing fish and bread with his disciples (Matthew 14:13-21).

aregiersunflowersculpture-012917-8In their book “Singing: A Mennonite Voice,” Marlene Kropf and Kenneth Nafziger talk about singing as a Mennonite sacrament of sorts. Here are two people singing, perhaps with the musical staff behind them. Some have said that these singers also represent the East Hill Singers, a core program of Arts in Prison at the Lancing Correctional Facility. Thanks to the vision of Mennonite conductor and former Rainbow congregant Elvera Voth, East Hill Singers offers the men of the East Unit the opportunity to experience great choral music in a personal way, and it provides fellowship between inmates and community singers.

Daughter Ami remembers Arlie saying that the image of a single figure (below) might refer to person at the pulpit, engaging in meaningful work of sacred literature. The open book (below) might refer to the Bible, or sacred literature, or as a symbol of education. Mennonites have always believed that we must interpret Scripture in a Christ-centered way, which is to say that the narrative of Jesus’ life provides for us the interpretative key for how we view all of scripture.

Can you see a KS tornado in the image below? Arlie supported the work of Mennonite Disaster Service, a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches that responds to those affected by natural disasters such as tornadoes. Daughter Ami writes: “Dad felt strongly about the importance of such service acts and appreciated the Mennonite translation of discipleship into service actions.” Can you also see a sword being transformed? At Arlie’s memorial service we read Isaiah 2:4b: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Some see this sword-into-plowshare movement and struggle in this piece.

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Arlie enjoyed finding artifacts from salvage yards. From Amy: “He giggled about this object resonating with the Bethel College threshing stone, but it has one excess spoke (threshing stones always have 7).”

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Every year on a Saturday close to Easter, Rosedale residents and church members enjoy the Easter egg hunt in Whitmore Playground. Hundreds of dyed eggs and candy are hidden.

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Arlie often spoke of restoration, creativity, and possibility. There is a movement in this piece from rural to urban, from past to future. Again from Ami: “The sculpture shows a big complex system of process, with excess creativity that always wants to connect and make something else.” There are, she writes, “a lot of representations of creative process and struggle.”

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Finally, here is poem by Arlie’s wife, Sue:

I see a collection
of shiny parts-
a typewriter whose creator
never pressed ENTER,
metal fingers affirming
unbending togetherness,
individual, shiny petals
circle center seeds of a plant.
Are Mennonites, people of The Book,
a collection of humans,
anchored, like I Beams,
amidst solid stones?

Arlie Regier (1931-2014) grew up on a farm near Burrton, Kan. He attended Bethel College and married Cornelia “Sue” Neufeld. They had four children David, Paul, Beth, and Ami. Arlie, a former industrial education teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District, specialized in welded steel. Here are some of his other sculptures that we are graced to have in our care here at Rainbow.

Many thanks to Jan Buerge for the beautiful photos. And please share your own interpretive remarks!

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One Response to Sculpting a Mennonite experience

  1. Linda Graham says:

    I always thought the two people with books represented Mennonites’ love of music, hence these two were reference to a choir. The abstract fish stood for the teachings of Jesus. The large open book to me represented the Bible and the computer with screen meant a modern day interpretation of the scriptures and our role in the world. The plowshare and church on its side represented the Mennonite dedication to helping during natural disasters . The sphere with the hands meeting around was the globe showed God’s love for all people. Arlie once told me that the flower which has bread shaped petals stood for the coming together of people with the rite of communion.

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