Of Bronze and Bravery includes selected works created or inspired by John Peter Klassen, a Mennonite immigrant from Russia and former Bluffton College art professor from 1924 to 1959. Klassen was born to a Mennonite farming family in the Ukraine, experienced the hardships of World War I and the Russian Revolution, and escaped to Canada with thousands of fellow Mennonites for a new start. Invited to Bluffton in 1924 by President S.K. Mosiman, Klassen began a long career in art instruction and creative production, leaving a legacy on campus and beyond. His life experiences inspired his work in ceramic and other media, and his immigration and citizenship story has inspired peacemakers around the world.
The pieces reflect Klassen’s own experiences during times of warfare, as well as the gifts which he gave to our community as a teacher, artist, and voice of conscience.
The following timeline situates life events of John Peter Klassen among important world event context, particularly for the lives of Russian Mennonites.
|1763||Catherine II of Russia offered economic privileges and religious freedom to German immigrants.|
|1764-1767||Many colonies were established along the Volga River; most were Lutheran and Catholic with a minority of Mennonites.|
|1786||Catherine II issued a special invitation to the Prussian Mennonites to settle in the Ukraine.|
|1789||Chortitza colony established on the Dnieper River.|
|8 April 1888||Birth of John Peter Klassen in a Chortitza village.|
|1905-1914||Klassen attended schools in Basel, Neuchatel, Berlin, and Munich.|
|December 1914||Klassen returned home to the Ukraine because of World War I and served in the Red Cross as an alternative to combatant service during the war.|
|July 1917||First Russian Revolution [Kerensky]|
|October 1917||Second Russian Revolution [Lenin]|
|November 1918||End of World War I.|
|28 June 1919||Treaty of Versailles signed|
|1919-1924||Great Famine in the Ukraine|
|1920||Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) founded as an outgrowth of efforts to send relief to the starving Ukrainian Mennonites.|
|27 Feb 1921||John Peter Klassen and Anna Dyck were married.|
|1922||Birth of Herbert Klassen, John & Anna’s first child, and the family’s move to Canada.|
|1924||The Klassens moved to Bluffton after John accepted an invitation from President S.K. Mosiman to join the art faculty at Bluffton College.|
|25 May 1931||Supreme Court of the United States ruled that an applicant for citizenship must take an oath to bear arms in defense of the United States.|
|27 September 1931||Judge E.E. Everett of the Allen County Probate Court denied citizenship to Klassen because of his refusal to pledge to bear arms in defense of the United States.|
|3 February 1933||Judge Everett overturned previous rulings and granted citizenship to Klassen. The story is carried by major print news outlets around the country, including The New York Times. Eventually the oath of citizenship is changed.|
|1959||John Klassen retires from the Bluffton College Faculty, but continues studio work at home.|
Timeline adapted from information in “John Peter Klassen: Artist as Peacemaker” exhibit brochure