Paul Friesen sculpts a work to mark a century

Paul Friesen works on the centennial sculpture

A sculpture evoking images of the “School in the West” and its home on the prairie is taking shape as Paul Friesen carves a five-foot section of the trunk of a red cedar to create a Hesston College centennial commemoration.

Friesen, a student at the academy and college in 1941-44, began teaching at Hesston College in 1957. He started the commissioned sculpture in December and works on it in a studio in the college’s newest building, the Friesen Center for the Visual Arts. Friesen Center is named in honor of Paul and his wife Wilma, for their contributions to the college, especially to the art department.

For the medium Friesen chose a red cedar log donated by Michael Overstreet, of Canton, since red cedars were the first trees planted around the circle driveway on the college campus100 years ago. Only a few of the old cedars remain today.

Friesen traces his interest in cloisters to an airline magazine article. The architectural structures of a Mediterranean coastal city shown in the article echoed the styles of a Medieval cloister in ways that intrigued him. A cloister on the prairie began to appear periodically on his mental screen. Later, when reading the journal of Edward Yoder, an early professor of Latin and Greek at Hesston College, Friesen found it interesting that Yoder referred to a favorite wooded spot near Alta Mills as “a cell in my cloister” which Yoder would frequently visit to read and to observe nature.

A cloister is a quiet, secluded place, especially a monastery or convent, devoted to religious study. While the quiet seclusion of Hesston College has changed somewhat through the century, the image of a Christian learning center situated on the Midwestern prairie, is timeless. Friesen hesitates to give his sculpture a name, but is inspired by the concept of a cloister on the Plains as he shaves and shapes the wood and the art emerges.

Working with the natural qualities of the local cedar, Friesen wants to say that “an environment for learning is more than buildings; it’s locality, nature.” Each week’s work exposes new and interesting developments out of Friesen’s creative dialog with the cedar log. The scent of red cedar permeates the cell of his cloister.

Friesen’s finished work will be unveiled at a ceremony during centennial homecoming weekend.