Mennonite Heritage Village

Resurfacing: Mennonite Floor Patterns

September 29, 2022

By Andrea Klassen

There is a stereotype of Mennonites being austere, severe, serious, and much less concerned with aesthetics than with practicality, but when visitors walk into the Summer Kitchen at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), all those assumptions are turned on their heads. What could cause such an overthrow?  Nothing less than the very floor we walk on.

The Summer Kitchen floor is painted a bright ochre yellow and covered with a careful pattern of hand-painted flowers in cheerful reds and blues. The floor is a replica of the tradition of Mennonite floor patterns, an art form practiced not exclusively, but most often, by Mennonite women from the late 1800s to about the 1920s or 1930s. Mennonite women would fabricate hand-made stencils out of everyday objects found in the home (for example, potatoes or tires) to create a new pattern, which they would hand-paint onto their floors. This practice to refresh the floors in the house would often take place in the winter when outdoor work was not as pressing as in the summer. 

The cheerful floor in the Summer Kitchen, painted in about 2010 by Neubergthal artist Margruite Krahn, is a replica of a historic pattern in a real housebarn in Sommerfeld, Manitoba, unearthed by Krahn herself. Since 2001, she has been researching historical floor patterns in Mennonite housebarns, documenting patterns from villages all over southern Manitoba. Her research has taken her from Manitoba to Mexico to the Netherlands and back, discovering more about the patterns, the people who created them, and what they can tell us about Mennonite life in Manitoba around the turn of the twentieth century.

In the new year, MHV will be hosting “Resurfacing: Mennonite Floor Patterns,” an exhibit created by Krahn to showcase this unique facet of Mennonite history. The exhibit, opening January 12, 2023, will explore this story, highlighting Krahn’s research as well as her original artwork, which replicates these historical patterns for new audiences today. 

In preparation for the exhibit, MHV will also be hosting Krahn in the first week of October to re-paint the pattern on the much-loved, but fairly worn, floor of the Summer Kitchen.  Although the heritage buildings in the village will be closed by then, if you’re around the village, consider peeking into the windows of the Summer Kitchen to see this historic activity, recreated by Krahn in action.

Upcoming Events:

Our Climate Quest Exhibit, September 17 to October 1MHV will be hosting a national interactive exhibit about how small steps can lead to big change. It promises to be an engaging experience for the whole family.

All My Relations series, Unpacking the Doctrine of Discovery with Josh Dueck, September 29, 7pm – The Doctrine of Discovery has become a buzzword in the media and in conversations connected to Truth and Reconciliation. This evening’s conversation will unpack this and better equip Settler-Canadians in more thoroughly understanding how historic wrongs (including the church) have created present barriers for Indigenous people. It will challenge us to consider what our next steps are towards meaningful reconciliation.

National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, September 30 There will be free admission and handouts for a self-guided reconciling history walking tour. Visitors are also encouraged to visit the Dirk Willems Peace Garden and take time to reflect and pray for the healing for our nation throughout the day.

Outdoor village buildings close, October 3rd The indoor museum as well as outdoor grounds remain open throughout winter. Your last chance to enjoy the Livery Barn Restaurant buffet and outdoor buildings is Sunday, October 2nd.  

MHV Volunteer Appreciation, October 6, 7pmHave you volunteered with us this season? We want to express our appreciation for you. Join us in the auditorium for an evening of food, community, and celebration!