I’ve started reading Preservings… like really reading Preservings. Every issue, in order, from cover-to-cover.
I thought I’d read everything in those first few slender issues… but for the sake of covering all my bases, I began reading at the beginning anyway, just in case something new would jump out at me. (Isn’t this why people read the Bible over and over?)
I was in the midst of issue 2 when my gaze fixed upon a face I’d seen before. Brilliant. Stylish. Refined.
The caption: Dr. Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen.
I’d met a Reinhild once.
My mind leapt back to October 2019.
It was a Friday, the first day of the annual conference hosted by the Chair in Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg. The focus was anthropology.
Andrew had professional development in Winnipeg, so that morning he dropped me off on Portage Avenue. In the crisp autumn air I joined the stream of students hurrying into the university, knowing Andrew would find me there later.
Alone at a conference that was way above my head, surrounded by brilliant scholars, one woman caught my eye, her style beyond compare. I could tell the fabric of her garments was well chosen, well thought out.
But I wasn’t there to stare at the others in the audience. I was there to listen to the papers being read, because for whatever reason that is my favourite activity.
Anthropologist Dr. John Janzen shared his fascinating paper. Several others presented papers, then suddenly a quick window of time for lunch. A loner in this situation, I’d come prepared with a book. I made my way upstairs to see what it was like to dine alone at the faculty pub.
The tables were quickly filled with conference-attendees. Suddenly, a voice, addressing me — would I mind if they joined me?
I looked up and there was Dr. John Janzen and the woman whose intelligent style had so captivated me. I quickly made room.
What ensued was a fascinating conversation, a moment in time in a little pub overrun with Mennonite scholars, harried waitstaff, and a clock ticking down to the next presenter who would wait for no one.
We talked about travel and our families and I don’t remember much else, I was too focused on fretting that I did not sound very smart while at the same time feeling like this exchange was extraordinary.
“What is your name?”
I’d never encountered a name like it.
After lunch she declared that she must take in the Kent Monkman exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Later that afternoon, I met her again, fresh from the WAG. I cannot remember her exact words but she was exhilarated and bright-eyed, impressed a city as small as Winnipeg would feature such a talented artist and challenging subject matter.
Now as I read those first issues of Preservings, I realized a few things about Reinhild that she had not told me that Friday in October 2019. She is Dr. Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen, and she is an art historian. From 1983 until 1993 she had been Curator of Cultural History at the Kaufmann Museum in North Newton, Kansas, and had written a book entitled Mennonite Furniture: A Migrant Tradition. At the time of this Preservings publication (1993) she had been the world’s foremost scholar on Mennonite material culture. And her message had so captivated the Hanover-Steinbach Historical Society that she was invited to speak at the annual HSHS meeting at the MHV here in Steinbach. Her message had so inspired the HSHS that Preservings then began a column dedicated entirely to material culture. She was referenced in the publication again and again.
I feel like I missed her twice. First, when she was here in Steinbach in 1993, provoking and inspiring the local historical society. And then in 2019, when we were squished together at the same tiny table in the crowded faculty pub at the U of W and there was so much that I did not know… not know how to elicit this information out of her.
I remember thinking that there was a knowing look in her eyes when I had mentioned I lived in Steinbach… but she did not elaborate.
Missed connections. Or maybe a connection, revealed.
I’m still at the beginning of my journey of realizations.