Eastin Brings Master’s Thesis to Life in “enduring witness” exhibition

By Sarah Miller – Horizon News & Features Editor

Eastin in her pottery studio in Friesen Center. Photo by Sarah Miller

Light shines through the windows of the ceramics studio, reflecting off the tables. Pottery dust covers most surfaces, and completed mugs and vases decorate all of the tables. It may be chaotic, but art professor Hanna Eastin is no stranger to chaos after balancing grad school and teaching for the past four years.

This chaos, though, is far from a burden.

“To be able to do grad school and my life here at Hesston College has been a huge blessing,” Eastin, art professor, said.

Eastin began teaching art at Hesston College in 2008, but in the last four years, she has been working towards a degree of Master of Fine Arts. Her thesis exhibition, “enduring witness,” is now on display in the Regier Friesen Gallery on campus.

The inspiration behind her thesis came from the death of a friend, Hesston’s former IT director, Russ Neufeld, after a fierce battle with cancer. After hearing of his passing, Eastin says she felt both the beauty and grief of the moment. She learned that life-changing events, whether good or bad, are the best opportunities to connect with those around us.

“We must bear witness to the stories around us, in all their beauty and tragedy,” she wrote in her MFA Thesis Exhibition catalog. “When we listen closely to each other, we know we must endure together.”

With Neufeld’s passing as the inspiration, Eastin has used her own personal stories to create connections.

A set of ceramic mugs available for purchase in the gallery.

“By sharing my stories, I hope to bridge that gap between all of us and open conversation that touches the crux of who we are as people, so that we can honestly witness each other,” she wrote.

Eastin believes this vulnerability begins with sharing the awkward, funny stories. Then the difficult stories aren’t so difficult, she said.

“enduring witness” – “a metaphor for personal growth and interpersonal communion among the searingly tender events humanity endures and that shape us all,” she wrote.

The gallery is now filled with her stories, using “texture, color, graphic-novel-based images and abstraction” in her ceramic pieces. Some stories come from specific moments. One wall displays two stories, “A Kansas Narrative,” showing her adjustment to life in Kansas, and “How to Become a Teacher,” showing her experience with the highs and lows of teaching.

Eastin honors Neufeld in this piece titled “January 21, 2017.”

“The other ones are a little more vague, such as the ‘Seven Stages of Life’,” she said. “It’s kind of the story arc of the peaks and valleys of my own experience. They’re not all necessarily bad things that happened, but real moments of change.”

People find it difficult to talk about painful experiences because you’re supposed to be strong, Eastin said. But sharing and listening opens up doors of trust and love to everyone around you.

“If you are truly with someone in the process of dealing with something that’s more painful or more difficult or more amazing to even fathom, how amazing would this world be?” she said. “If we were all a little bit more willing to share and hear, I feel like it would make a big difference in the world.”

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