The legacy of Arthur Kroeger's curiosity, passion, extensive travel and craftmanship continues to be shared with the latest display of historical Mennonite clocks which opened Thursday at Altona's Gallery in the Park. The partnership between the Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation (KCHF) and Steinbach’s Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) started in 2018, and has continued to grow over the years from that first exhibit at MHV to the more than twenty clocks on display through July 29th inside the Schwartz House.
In 2012, the late Arthur Kroeger published "Kroeger Clocks" which highlighted the author’s research of 55 surviving clocks. Beyond this, his work resulted in the verification and detailed documentation of at least 200 additional clocks currently in private collections and museums in Poland, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Mexico, Belize and Paraguay.
It was from that work the Foundation sprang out of in 2017, with Arthur's late daughter Dr. H. Elizabeth Kroeger its founding director. Her daughter, Alexandra Olivia Kroeger Zeitz has continued the work as a Director with the group, alongside a number of researchers, museum professionals and supporters.
"All through his life here in Winnipeg, (he) collected stories first connected to clocks, and then himself started to repair and restore clocks," shared Zeitz. "Through that (he) sort of built his own database, and then what happened is when he passed, my mom took over that work, and started the Foundation in order to keep that going."
Zeitz, as well as Mennonite Heritage Village Curator Andrea Klassen, were at the exhibit opening Thursday night.
"The Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation was founded in 2017, with the mission to preserve the heritage of Mennonite clocks and Mennonite clock making, and the main way we do this is through the Virtual Museum of Mennonite Clocks which is on our website krogerclocks.com," explained Zeitz. "What we do there is provide beautiful museum-quality photographs and in-depth details about clocks, which also connects to the human stories of clocks. Who owned these clocks, what role did it play in those families' lives? The goal of the Foundation is to move the history of these treasured artifacts into the digital era."
Alongside the digital displays, are the in person, curated events like the one underway at Gallery in the Park, which included the work of MHV Curator Andrea Klassen on the interpretive plan which accompanies the clocks installed.
"It started off with that exhibit in 2018, and the conversation got started a few years later, it was KCHF that said, 'Hey, we'd like to do this again,'" explained Klassen. "That idea went through several iterations until we finally ended up with the exhibit here at Gallery in the Park."
The exhibit titled "Keeping Time: The Art and Heritage of Mennonite Clocks", tries to connect with both of those things, art and heritage. Zeitz says there are three themes they wanted to highlight.
"One was history, the history of clock making," she noted. "The history of this is really a Mennonite craft, and the role it had, and how it changed in the context of industrialization. The second theme was around migration, so the fact that clocks are found across the Americas today, because of the spread of the Mennonite diaspora. And then a theme around home. Clocks were often given as a wedding gift. They often marked the beginning of a couple's life, and clocks are often passed down through generations. We tell various stories in the exhibit that really connect those clocks to families across the generations."
Klassen reflected on the importance of patrons having the opportunity to see these clocks in person, as they are exquisitely displayed in the gallery.
"I think there's something about history, and maybe empathy toward the past or the people living in the past, that an object sort of beckons you into," she explained. "It's easy to read something on a page. It's a lot more compelling, I think, when you see it right in front of you, and then you read what the significance of it is, and you think, 'Wow, this object has lasted for 100 years, and made the trip across the ocean how many times, and it's still intact. And not only that, it still works!'"
Alongside that thought, Klassen added the clocks are not perfect, and if they are, it's because they've been restored, many of them by Arthur.
"That imperfection tells about their history," she said.
- With files from Candace Derksen -
You can listen to CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner speak with Alexandra Olivia Kroeger Zeitz and Andrea Klassen, below.