Written by Meghan Gattignolo
Life in 2022 can be overwhelming. We are bombarded by notifications and news alerts, and our electronic devices have become requirements for our social and professional lives… and yet, some of our neighbors just over the state line have no need for them at all.
The Amish have lived without modern advances in technology for generations. Through a series of unexpected circumstances, photographer Carl Wilson was able to spend time with several members of the nearby Amish and Mennonite communities. Wilson shares his experiences with us in his new exhibit, A Simpler Life: Photographs by Carl Wilson.
Amish or Mennonite?
For some, the terms “Mennonite” and “Amish” seem interchangeable. Both are tight-knit communities who disconnect from modern society. Both are known for sporting simple pre-20th century styles. Both live by strict religious tenets.
The communities do have a common ancestor: the Swiss Brethren. A branch of the Anabaptists, one of the many new religions that came out of the turbulent Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the Swiss Brethren were a peace-loving group who sought to worship God by following the Bible’s teachings more closely than they believed other groups had. After a dispute involving leader Jakob Ammann and another church leader, there was a theological rift in 1693. The Swiss Brethren became known as Mennonites, named after early Swiss Brethren leader Menno Simons, and Ammann’s followers were the Amish.
Today, Mennonites are often viewed as the less rigid of the two groups, allowing electricity in their homes and shopping in modern stores, while the Amish are more isolated. Both groups can be found in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Carl Wilson and the “plain people”
The Mennonites and Amish began relocating to America in the late 17th century, mostly to widely advertised land in Pennsylvania, seeking to avoid persecution in Europe. Over time, the groups migrated farther south. Kentucky has only hosted the Amish population since the 1950s, but has grown to become one of the fastest growing in the country. The Kentucky Amish is now the 8th largest Amish population in North America.
In 2019, photographer Carl Wilson took on a project taking pictures of fresh vegetables for the Fairview Produce Auction. This work led to other commercial projects in the Fairview area, some of which brought him close to the local Amish community. Wilson became a familiar face within several Amish and Mennonite communities, making friends along the way. Though he admits photographing their life in action while still being “respectful of community members has been a challenge,” Wilson has found photographing the Amish and Mennonite communities incredibly rewarding. One image in particular beautifully illustrates the juxtaposition between modern life and the way the “plain people” live. Leading the New Horse Home depicts a boy riding a bicycle and leading a horse he just bought at an auction down a road lined with telephone poles. The image continues to inspire Wilson and can be found in the exhibit.
A Simpler Life: Photographs by Carl Wilson is on display in the Jostens Gallery on the Lower Level of the Museum until January 2. Explore the life and daily scenes of our Amish and Mennonite neighbors through Wilson’s exquisite photographs.
Kentucky Amish (amishamerica.com)
What’s the difference between New Order and Old Order Amish? (amishamerica.com)
Anabaptist | Definition, Description, Movement, Beliefs, History, & Facts | Britannica
Meghan E. Gattignolo
Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters.
Becky Wood, Technical Writer, edits each blog post. Maegan Collins, Marketing Communications Manager, prepares photographs and visual images as well as prepares the blog posts for the web.