Many people recognize the sculptures “Sky Rhythms” and “Broken Shield” but don’t know the man behind them: John Mischler, associate professor of art and full-time sculptor.
Mischler got his start at Goshen College in 1985 due to a vacancy in the art department. According to Mischler, one of the professors was gone on either sabbatical or SST, so he filled in to teach beginning sculpture. When the same thing happened the next year with another professor, Mischler filled in there as well.
“[The vacancies] continued for several years, and then, eventually, the class kind of became mine,” Mischler said.
Mischler has a squinty-eyed smile and is quick to chuckle. We sat down for an interview on a blue vinyl bench that looked like it belonged in a mechanic’s waiting room. The bench fit right in with the machine-shop vibe of the sculpture classroom.
Mischler teaches the fall, spring and May Term sculpture classes in the Chairman Building, located right next to the Physical Plant.
Heather Gabel, a sophomore art and sustainable food systems double-major, took a class with Mischler the May Term of her first year, and said it was one of the reasons she became an art major.
“That class was a good way to get a feel for the types of mediums you could work with,” Gabel said. “John did a great job of giving helpful tips and feedback, but also [wasn’t] overbearing or too critical.”
Mischler has enjoyed working with his hands from a young age.
“My mother tells this story that when I was in kindergarten, [the teacher] said if you did whatever work you were supposed to do, you could go back and pound on nails,” Mischler said. “I used to like doing that.”
Mischler is dyslexic. It’s the reason he enjoys working with his hands so much, he said. He doesn’t look at his dyslexia as a hindrance, but as an advantage.
“Being dyslexic makes me look at the world a little differently than most people,” Mischler said. “I think that gives me a creative edge.”
When Mischler went to Elkhart County High School, he didn’t take any art classes, but he ran high hurdles on the track team. His track skills led him to Hesston College.
It was at Hesston where Mischler was first introduced to sculpture, taking his first class during his sophomore year. His main medium was wood, working at Hesston’s woodshop in conjunction with his sculpture class.
After his two years at Hesston, Mischler transferred to Goshen College, where he took sculpture classes from Abner Hershberger of the Hershberger Art Gallery in the Music Center. At Goshen, Mischler enjoyed what he said was a strong art department that helped prepare him for graduate school.
Mischler graduated from Goshen in 1972 as an art major. After college, he worked for a few years in a trailer factory until he decided to pursue art in graduate school.
“I didn’t want to wake up at 40 years old and say, ‘I really wanted to do sculpture,’” said Mischler.
Mischler decided to attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. There, Mischler had access to four sculpture professors, and at times was the only sculpture student at the university.
Mischler’s main medium in graduate school was wood, and it wasn’t until after he graduated in 1977 and moved back to the Goshen area that he transitioned to metal.
Goshen’s harsh winters are bad for wood sculptures, Mischler said.
Mischler said his wife thinks that because of his extensive work with wood, he brings a warmer quality to his metal pieces than other metal sculptors.
Mischler takes commissions and works on projects in his studio at 1100 Chicago Ave. in Goshen. But if you’re on Goshen College’s campus, Mischler can be found in Chairman Building, teaching students what he loves most.