By Jolene VonGunten
Mennonite Education Agency
ELKHART, Ind. – At first look, Emma Zuercher’s sculpture invokes fire. That is precisely the theme she envisioned for “Forged Spirit,” an 11-foot sculpture she designed and created of recycled aluminum materials. The towering, colorful structure was a striking image in the late afternoon sunshine as it was installed at the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) offices on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023.
The partnership between Zuercher and the MC USA offices was established through the Maple Scholars Summer Research Program, an intensive eight-week program of Goshen (Ind.) College, in which faculty submit research proposals, and students apply for projects that interest them. Faculty members are then paired with the students to mentor and supervise their work. The students live in community for the duration of the program and are encouraged to support each other in their projects. Goshen College provides stipends to the students and faculty and most of the funding for the projects.
Goshen College art professor John Mishler, also a 1972 graduate of the college, submitted a proposal to the program on behalf of the MC USA offices for a sculpture to cover the base of a defunct light pole.
Zuercher was the perfect choice for the project, but not only because she is an aspiring artist-welder.
Three organizations occupy the building in partnership, and Zuercher has close ties to each of them: MC USA, Mennonite Mission Network, and Mennonite Education Agency (MEA). Growing up in Apple Creek, Ohio, her family attended Sonnenberg Mennonite Church, an MC USA congregation. After high school, she participated in Service Adventure, a program of Mennonite Mission Network, in which she taught art at a Goodwill Industries program in Colorado Springs for eleven months. She then attended and graduated from Goshen College, a partner-school of MEA. With meaningful connections to each of the agencies in the building, the partnership with Zuercher seemed more than a coincidence.
“Emma is a great example of the interconnectedness between the three organizations and how to relate to each other,” said Michael Danner, Executive Director of MEA and Associate Executive Director of Church Vitality for MC USA.
“Forged Spirit” was influenced by the Exodus stories of the burning bush and the pillar of fire, a concept that resonated both with Zuercher and the three partner organizations that use the building. Zuercher liked the idea of giving recycled materials a second life, a rebirth forged from the fires of the welding process. The church organizations appreciated the symbolism of God’s grace and presence with us and the rebirth we can find through Jesus Christ.
“The apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation,” said Danner. “The sculpture invites us to think deeply about this transformation.”
Professor Mishler gave Emma full credit for the design and creation of the piece. “I really enjoyed working with Emma and seeing her take on this commission for the Mennonite offices,” he said. “She created a large-scale sculpture that looks great in its location. It also captures the uplifting spirit of the church. And when she was welding the aluminum,” he joked, “she only burned me once!”
“On behalf of MC USA and MEA, we are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Goshen College’s Maple Scholar program, and in particular with Emma, in the creation of the sculpture that now graces the MC USA building grounds,” Danner said. “We trust that employees, visitors, and passersby will be blessed.”