The Art of Mennonite Clocks
An Exhibition of Mennonite Wall Clocks and Their Stories
Spanning More Than Two Centuries
The exhibition showcases 33 clocks and their stories.
Exhibition runs from May, 2018 – April, 2019
Mennonite Heritage Village Steinbach, Manitoba
A joint exhibition of the Mennonite Heritage Village and the Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation
Baring the Marks of History
Adapted from a speech written for the opening, May 12, 2018, of the exhibition “The Art of Mennonite Clocks”
By Andrea Dyck, Curator, Mennonite Heritage Village, Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada
Artifacts are objects that are preserved, stored, and exhibited as a part of a museum’s official collection. If you’ll excuse what becomes–in the particular case of clocks–a pun, they are objects upon which time has essentially stopped.
When an artifact becomes part of a museum’s collection, the state it’s in upon entering the collection is usually the state in which it’s kept. Of course, preventative conservation measures are put in place to prevent further deterioration and to stabilise the object, but scratches in the paint or dents in metal, for example, are for the most part left as-is. This is because they stand as evidence of an object’s past, as markers of its experience, and they speak to its history in a way that repairing this damage would erase.
So, in ‘The Art of Mennonite Clocks’, which is on display at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) in Steinbach, Manitoba until April 2019, visitors will see clocks that may be bent, marked, or in some other way no longer in pristine condition. These clocks–half of which come from MHV’s collection of artifacts, the other half on loan from organisations and individuals from the community, most through the Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation–bare the marks of their history.
In post-revolutionary Russia, anarchists lead by Nestor Makhno raided Mennonite towns and villages, demanding food and shelter and often looting homes of everything valuable. According to the owners of this clock, the home of Peter Martens was taken over by Makhno to serve as his headquarters. When the clock started to chime, Makhno ripped it off the wall and stamped on it with his boot, leaving a permanent reminder of his terror. Loan courtesy of Mennonite Heritage Archives.
A Mandtler clock in the Mennonite Heritage Village’s collection, with scratches of anarchists’ swords marring its face, is a good example of how the imperfections in an object can be more important than restoring it to perfect condition.
Artifacts in a museum’s collection also change ownership from individuals to the museum. In coming under the legal ownership of a museum and becoming part of its collection, artifacts receive a certain measure of protection as part of the collection, with environmental and care restrictions placed on them, while becoming accessible to the public in a way they wouldn’t if they remained in private homes.
On the other hand, objects kept in people’s homes continue to accumulate a history. They continue to have a life of their own. The clocks loaned from the community for ‘The Art of Mennonite Clocks’ are part of the life in the houses from which they came, part of the story of their owners’ lives.
These living objects don’t have the restrictions placed on them that the artifacts in museum collections do and they may be repaired, painted over, or otherwise altered–sometimes for better and sometimes perhaps not. ‘The Art of Mennonite Clocks’ contains wonderful examples of beautiful clocks, but it also presents examples of more debatable restoration choices. Even being a part of an exhibition becomes a part of the history of a living object in a way that’s different from an artifact held in a museum collection.
Mennonite wall clocks are artifacts with full and rich histories. Museums such as Mennonite Heritage Village and the artifacts in its collection, and organisations such as the Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation, with the stories and visual records it collects for its virtual collection, share a role in helping to preserve this history.
Exhibitions such as ‘The Art of Mennonite Clocks’ help to preserve the history of these unique objects, highlighting the role they’ve played in the span of Mennonite history, while presenting them as works of art, inside and out, in their own right.
But there is still much more research to be done. The hope is that ‘The Art of Mennonite Clocks’ exhibition will spur on increased interest in the clocks themselves as well research into the material and social history surrounding them and their various makers.
View the beautiful art featured in three Kroeger clocks below.
The floral motif became a common feature on Kroeger clocks in the late nineteenth century.
Suderman Clock Mennonite homes were filled with the sounds of the wall clock. This clock hung in the dining room of Annie Suderman’s farmhouse. It was the children’s responsibility to wind the clock each day. At night, the ticking of the clock was heard throughout the house and chimes rang out every hour. The floral motif became a common feature on Kroeger clocks in the late nineteenth century. These floral images were likely inspired by the popular artistic movements of the time period, such as the Art Nouveau style of the 1890s.
This clock face is unique, painted a deep brown with detailing that appears to imitate a wood grain.
Cityscape Mandtler This Mandtler clock face is unique. It is painted a deep brown and has detailing that appears to imitate a wood grain. While this was a technique sometimes used on traditional Mennonite furniture, it was not commonly used on clocks. It also features a city scene, either real or imagined, in the arch where most Mennonite wall clocks focused on floral or nature scenes.
While other clock makers switched to decals for arch designs the Mandtlers continued to hand paint the clock face.
Lilac Mandtler Compared to others in this exhibit, Mandtler-made clocks are easy to identify. The clocks tend to have larger and squarer faces than others, and are typically painted darker colours. Additionally, while other clockmakers switched to decals for arch designs the Mandtlers continued to hand paint the clock face. In the industrial period, they continued to hand paint this feature. The inside mechanism of this clock features Gerhard Mandtler’s signature.