‘A window into our shared local history’

David L. Hunsberger photo exhibit takes ‘community from the farm to the world’

March 11, 2015 | Artbeat | Volume 19 Issue 6
Jennifer Konkle | Conrad Grebel University College
<p>&lsquo;Barn raising,&rsquo; an iconic image by David L. Hunsberger of mutual aid, has come to define the essence of community for many, including Governor General David Johnston. (Photo by David L. Hunsberger, The Mennonite Archives of Ontario)</p>

According to Paul Heidebrecht, director of Conrad Grebel University College’s MSCU Centre for Peace Advancement, “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. Peace becomes possible when we experience genuine community.”

Glimpses of peaceful community experiences are evident in many of David L. Hunsberger’s iconic photos. Focussed on Ontario Mennonites in the 1950s and ’60s, 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 have created a photo exhibit—Taking Community from the Farm to the World—featuring a select number of Hunsberger’s iconic photos.

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 David Johnston, Canada’s current Governor General and former University of Waterloo president.

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 were pursuing their vocational callings in towns and cities. This was also a time when new institutions such as Grebel 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 included 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 says of the collection, “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.”

Born in Kitchener, Ont., Hunsberger was a self-taught photographer. Inspired by photojournalism, 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 since 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.

Taking Community from the Farm to the World runs until the end of April 2015 at Conrad Grebel University College, with a partial exhibit continuing until August 2015.

‘Barn raising,’ an iconic image by David L. Hunsberger of mutual aid, has come to define the essence of community for many, including Governor General David Johnston. (Photo by David L. Hunsberger, The Mennonite Archives of Ontario)

With his camera and notepad, David L. Hunsberger captured on film Mennonite life in Waterloo Region in the 1950s and ’60s. (The Mennonite Archives of Ontario)

Pastor Wilfred Ulrich greets his congregation at Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church, Kitchener, Ont., on a Sunday morning  in 1958. (Photo by David L. Hunsberger, The Mennonite Archives of Ontario)

Abner Martin, founder of the Menno Singers, examines one of David L. Hunsberger’s photographs on display at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ont., at the show’s opening on Feb. 27, 2015. (Photo by Dave Rogalsky)

The 1962 Mennonite World Conference assembly at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, Ont. (Photo by David L. Hunsberger, The Mennonite Archives of Ontario)

Share this page:

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.