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Simply Modern Times

Fullerton Exhibit on Amish Life Shows Life Can Still Be Beautifully Basic


What would life be without television, telephones, computers or cars?

Positively Amish.

"A Different Form of Modernity: Amish Life Across North America" at the Fullerton Museum Center gives a glimpse of contemporary Amish society through a display of colorful photos, household objects and crafts.

As the title of the show indicates, this is a different take on 21st century living. The exhibition illustrates and explains how the Amish live without technology and modern conveniences. Despite Amish reluctance to be photographed, artists such as Doyle Yoder have created postcard-perfect portraits of their everyday life and work. One of his pictures shows a Wilmot, Ohio, farmer on his horse-drawn plow. As the sun sets, he harvests the golden field in front of his red barn. Blue sky and green forest complete the composition, and the idyll.

Yoder, who isn't Amish but lives in Amish country, said he spends most of his time on the road, driving around in search of the perfect picture. Sometimes that involves a lot of patience, he said, recounting a three-hour wait for a photo of a particular picturesque buggy that was ruined when a car zoomed past. Modernity meets 19th century living.

When traveling around Amish country, Yoder often has to field tourists' questions about his subject.

"One of the most common [misconceptions] is that the Amish don't pay taxes," he said, with a laugh. "But other than that, people are mostly curious."

For the curious, the exhibition at the Fullerton Museum Center paints a picture of a society centered around values such as humility, simplicity, hard work and family.

Typical photos show young children--in traditional clothes, suspenders and straw hats--helping on the farm, bundling newly cut wheat, or playing in the grass. Not a PlayStation in sight.

Rich in color and with perfect composition, the photos in the show educate visitors about the Amish but also provide aesthetic statements about the beauty of the simple life and the land.

Beauty can also be found in the crafts and household objects on display. Quilts have a striking graphic quality; created from scraps of clothes, primarily in somber hues of browns and blues. As with all Amish art, they have a utilitarian quality.

Curator John Karwin said the museum has displayed exhibits about different cultures and religions over the last decade but this is the first to feature an aspect of Christianity.

With about 900 congregations in North America, primarily in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Amish society has grown considerably over the last century. Amish numbered only about 5,000 people at the turn of the 20th century. Today, they number more than 150,000.

"It's a fascinating example of a traditional community that has succeeded in not comprising their core values and lifestyle," Karwin said. "One of the interesting things is how they have adapted. Some are using telephones, even the Internet to market their craft. They're able to justify it by using a third party, so a non-Amish is doing the marketing, and they are able to maintain their simple lifestyle.

"It's one of the main points [of the show] that they are a thriving culture . . . a growing and healthy community."

Amish life may seem anachronistic to the outsider but, as the show at the Fullerton Museum Center amply illustrates, not keeping up with the times can be an attractive choice.


"A Different Form of Modernity: Amish Life Across North America," Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave. Wednesday-Sunday, noon-4 p.m.; Thursday, 6-8 p.m. Through Dec. 31. (714) 738-6545.

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