Written by Christine M. Irvin
For those who are curious about the Amish, or who simply want to learn more about their history and their culture, a visit to Holmes County in Ohio is a must. There, at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin, Ohio, in the special Mural House, you will find a giant cyclorama, a “mural in-the-round,” which depicts the history of the Anabaptists. The mural is 265 feet wide and 10 feet tall.
The mural is called Behalt. Behalt, comes from the German “behalten” which means “to keep” or “to remember.” Behalt is painted in vivid colors and bold, sweeping lines. Different colors in the mural have different meanings: reds are used when depicting times of persecution for the Anabaptists; blues and greens are used for sections depicting times of peace or tolerance. Visitors have compared the work to that of Michelangelo, so the mural has been nicknamed “the Sistine Chapel of the Amish and Mennonites.”
The artist started painting Behalt after a conversation with an Amish blacksmith. The blacksmith explained to the artist his frustration with all the tourists who were starting to arrive in Holmes County. The blacksmith said, “I wish there was some place that people could go and find out about why we live the way we do.” Now, there is. Thousands of visitors, from all over the United States and from many foreign countries, travel to Holmes County each year to see this magnificent work of art. A small fee is charged for a guided tour of the mural.
Who created Behalt? His name is Heinz Gaugel. He was born in south Germany in 1927. He moved to Canada in 1951. A self-taught artist, Gaugel has used such mediums as canvas, ceramics, frescos, stained glass, and sgraffito to express himself. In addition to Behalt, he has painted many murals and paintings in churches, public spaces and in private buildings.
Although Gaugel is not Amish, he was fascinated by them when he encountered the Amish on a trip from Ontario, Canada to Columbus, Ohio. While passing through Holmes County in 1962, he met some Amish people for the first time. He was captivated by their language and their lifestyle and he also spoke German and believed in living a non-violent life. He later moved to Holmes County in 1972, where he worked on different art projects in the area.
Behalt would probably be considered Gaugel’s greatest work, but it certainly wasn’t his last. In 1993, he painted another mural about the Amish, also at the Amish Heritage Center. This one was painted on the outside of the Mural Hall and is titled, “Immigrants’ Arrival in the New World.” The mural is done in sgraffito style. Sgraffito means to “scratch.” The work is scratched into colored plaster on the outside of the building. First, layers of contrasting colored plaster were applied to the wall’s surface. Then, the design was scratched into the plaster, revealing the different colors of plaster in an outline drawing. This technique is common in Germany, but is rarely seen in North America. The mural depicts a scene of Swiss and German immigrants arriving in the United States with kegs, chests and basic tools as they are ready to start their new lives in their new land.
Heinz Gaugel died in 2000 at the age of 73. He may be gone, but his paintings, and his message, will live on for generations.
Amish & Mennonite
5798 County Road 77
P.O. Box 324
Berlin, Ohio 44610
(330) 893-3192 or 877-858-4634