Himmelbleiw offers a glimpse into the past

The Red River Valley Echo, June 23, 2010

Himmelbleiw (heavenly blue) begins June 27 and showcases the early, colourful home furnishings and decorative arts of Manitoba Mennonites.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Neubergthal Heritage Foundation (NHF) and can be seen at the Friesen Housebarn Interpretive Centre.

Built in 1901, the Friesen housebarn is a classic example of early Mennonite rural architecture, and is a perfect setting for the intriguing, heritage pieces that will be on display.

The interior of the house has undergone a facelift this past year, with layers of paint stripped away, revealing the original, surprisingly bold colours which co-curator Margruite Krahn says were actually typical of that era.

"There was definitely a Ukrainian influence in their decorating," she says.

Himmelbleiw speaks to the simple way of life of the Mennonite immigrants, who built their homesteads and made their own furniture. 

They often also painted decorative designs on their wood floors as a substitute for rugs or other floor coverings. 

Krahn has been hard at work, painting floor cloths, creating documented reproductions of the original patterns.

While most of the furniture was made in Manitoba, the exhibit also includes examples of pieces brought from south Russia, as well as from other western Mennonite settlements. Most of the pieces were contributed from the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum and by local collectors. 

Along with vintage trunks, beds, clocks, tables and cradles, there are interesting pieces like the raft bench, made from the wood of the actual raft which transported the Bernhard Penner family down the Rat River when they immigrated to Manitoba in 1875.

There is also a rocking horse built in 1910 and used by generations of children, as well as an early pinball machine, made out of softwood by a father for his children in the 1920's. 

Krahn says curators Ron and Sandy Mielitz of Winnipeg contributed many pieces as well. They also did much of the research and collected stories for a 36 page catalogue created by the NHF, describing the various pieces and their stories in detail.

The catalogue will be for sale at the opening of the exhibit on June 27. 

The event begins at 3 p.m. and visitors can experience Faspa with bread freshly baked right on site in the housebarn's brick oven. 

Krahn says there will also be a performance by the Brumtopp Singers, and an old-fashioned candy store set up in the barn. 

Himmelbleiw will be open from June 27 to October 11. Opening times are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Thursday to Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

A tour guide will be available to assist visitors.