Monday, July 16, 2012

Wonderful Exhibit in Warsaw of Gwozdziec synagogue panels

A version of this post appeared on my En Route blog for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

Preview of the Exhibition. Photo courtesy of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A wonderful exhibition opens today at the Arkady Kubickiego (Kubicki Arcade) of the Royal Castle in Warsaw and runs til the end of the month—the colorful ceiling panels that have been painted this summer as part of the Gwozdiec synagogue reconstruction project.

The reconstruction of an 85 percent scale model of the tall peaked roof and richly decorated inner cupola of the wooden synagogue that once stood in Gwozdziec (now in Ukraine) is a project of the Handshouse Studio and the forthcoming Museum of the History of Polish Jews—I wrote about the first stages of the project last summer, when students, master timber-framers and volunteers gathered in Sanok, southeastern Poland, to build the structure, using hand tools that would have been used centuries ago. The reconstructed roof and cupola will be a major installation at the new Museum, which is due to open in the autumn of 2013.
Its elaborate structure and the intricate painted decoration on the cupola ceiling will reproduce a form of architectural and artistic expression that was wiped out in World War II, when the Nazis put the torch to some 200 wooden synagogues in Eastern Europe. Many of them, like that in Gwozdziec, were centuries old and extraordinarily elaborate, with tiered roofs and richly decorative interior painting. 
The Gwozdziec Synagogue, built in the 17th and 18th centuries, was a “truly resplendent synagogue that exemplified a high point in Jewish architectural art and religious painting,” the architectural historian Thomas C. Hubka, an expert on the building, has written.

This summer, at workshops held in synagogues around Poland, teams of students and volunteers have been carrying out the colorful, elaborate paintings that cover in the interior of the cupola—and it is these that will be displayed for the next two weeks in Warsaw.

It’s terrific—and fascinating—work, and this will be a rare chance to see the panels up close before they are mounted as part of the cupola installation!

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