Art exhibit features courageous Mennonite women

The public has until March 15 to view a remarkable salute to Mennonite women of courage and faith who fled the chaos in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the horrors of Stalin’s persecution that followed.

Ebel Art Gallery - Mennonite Women“Along the Road to Freedom” features 26 watercolor paintings and seven didactic panels created by Ray Dirks, a Mennonite artist from Canada. The exhibit opened Feb. 14 in the Ebel Gallery within the Shari Flaming Center for the Arts on the Tabor College campus.

The exhibit reflects the story of the many women who were part of the Great Trek in 1943, which, in the midst of war, wove its way from Mennonite colonies in south Russia (Ukraine) toward the west and hoped for eventual freedom and peace

“Along the Road to Freedom” reveals the stories of women, mostly who escaped, and some who did not. All are quiet heroes whose stories should not be lost to history.

Anarchists caused many deaths during the Civil War that followed. Then came devastating famine and disease. In the 1930s, many men were taken, killed or disappeared into Stalin’s Gulag.

The exhibition centers on Dirks’ collection of paintings. For the most part, the paintings are sponsored by families. After a painting was sponsored, Dirks met with family members to talk about the subject, to collect old photos, diary entries, notes and documents, stories. He asked for songs, poems, Bible verses which were important to the women.

In 2008, Dirks received the “Above and Beyond for the Arts” award from the Manitoba Foundation for the Arts. In 2011 he received Canadian Mennonite University’s Blazer Distinguished Community Service Award.