The Gwozdziec Synagogue was a remarkable wooden synagogue built in the Polish Lithuanian Empire in 1731. (The town of Gwozdziec is now in the present Ukraine.) According to Thomas C. Hubka, an architectural historian and expert on this structure, the Gwozdziec Synagogue is a "truly resplendent synagogue that exemplified a high point in Jewish architectural art and religious painting, a tradition that was later abandoned by Eastern-European Jewish communities in the 19th and 20th centuries." Although it was destroyed during the Nazi invasion of World War II, the building's photographic and historical records are notable for their completeness.
Rebuilding the Synagogue 2011-2012
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in collaboration with Handshouse Studio, plans to rebuild components of an exquisite 17th-century wooden synagogue. This historic structure will be set within the stunning architectural space of the Museum's modern building. The Museum is under construction on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto facing the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising monument.
None of these extraordinary wooden synagogues survive. The Nazis burned the last of them to the ground in 1939. But, we do have excellent documentation that will allow us to reconstruct one of the most beautiful of these architectural treasures, the Gwodziec wooden synagogue. We plan to rebuild its polychrome ceiling and timber-framed roof to 85% scale, using traditional tools, techniques, and materials.
The wooden synagogue is a perfect expression of the Golden Age of Polish Jewry during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Gwo?dziec ceiing and roof, a centerpiece in our presentation of the 1000-year history of Polish Jews, will extend up from the Core Exhibition into the grand public space of the Museum's modern building. The building was designed by Ilmari Lahdelma and Rainer Mahlamäki of Finland, winners of our international competition, the first in Poland for a public institution. From the Core Exhibition, visitors will look up at the polychrome ceiling, while from the grand public space of this modern building, they will look through a cutaway in the roof and see the marvelous timber frame structure within.
This truly unique project offers an exceptional educational experience. First, we will bring together an international team of students, conservation architects, architectural historians, master timber framers, and other experts to recover the knowledge of how to build such structures by actually building it. Second, we plan to actually build the structure, in parts, in empty synagogues in eight different locations in Poland and to bring the parts to Warsaw for final assembly. We will encourage participation of local townspeople, with the goal of stimulating local interest in the Jewish past of these towns, connecting Jews around the world that descend from those places with those living there today, and fostering collaborative efforts to preserve the memory of Jewish life in Poland. The Handshouse principle of "learn by building" demonstrates the power of architecture to build community and foster historical awareness and appreciation.
Zodiac Exhibit Sept. 11- Oct. 5
Recovering History Through Art
This educational collaboration centers on the creation of a full
size polychromatic iconographic replica of the interior paintings
of the Gwozdziec Synagogue. The replica was created by high school students as school projects during the past two years (see the reports below. And now you may view the results in an educational exhibit at Arnheim Gallery, Boston, from Sept. 11 through Oct. 5. A reception will be held Oct. 5, 5:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
This is a collaborative project of Handshouse Studio, the Center for
Art and Community Partnerships at MassArt, and art classes
at Ipswich High School, Duxbury High School, Beacon High
School, and Norwell High School.
Location: Arnheim Gallery at 621 Huntington Ave., Boston, Mass.
(MassArt South Hall, set back from corner of Longwood and Huntington)
2006 Bimah Project
In June 2006 Handshouse Studio held a week-long workshop to build a full-size replica of the Gwozdziec Synagogue's bimah, the elevated platform where a rabbi reads from the Torah. The elaborate bimah is wooden and all hand carved. University of Wisconsin Professor Thomas C. Hubka, architect Nat Crosby as well as a team of volunteers were able to design the bimah from existing drawings and other sources; during the workshop, students used traditional tools to build the replica bimah.
The bimah will join other Handshouse Studio projects in an exhibition at Brandeis University in January 2007.
Read the article about the workshop in the June 13 Patriot Ledger.
Wooden Ceiling Painting Replica Project
During the fall 2004 and spring 2005, Handshouse Studio teamed up with the Massachusetts College of Art to develop interdisciplinary coursework to study and create a painted portion of this important synagogue.
2005 High School Project
Working with faculty and historic experts, students researched and painted the complex historic images of the north vaulted ceiling. Tom Hubka, Professor of Architecture at University of Wisconsin and author of Resplendent Synagogue, Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth Century Polish Community, has been the scholar advising on this significant research project.
Referencing the existing documentation of photographs and color studies of the Gwozdziec Synagogue from 1914, students built a 1/2 scale replica of the north portion of the cupola, bringing to life the photographs and showing the broad palate of deep intense colors that saturated the prayer hall with intricate designs like those often found in an oriental carpet. They painting on scaled wooden boards and used period painting techniques of distemper (dry pigment particles bound together by a water soluble organic binder of rabbit skin glue) on traditional chalk founds gesso.
The 9' by 11.5' painting of blues, reds and yellows includes zodiac symbols, arabesques, animal images, and floral designs divided by white strips inscribed with Hebrew text.
View the complete slide show of the Project.
This painting project is part of significant ongoing research of the Polish wooden synagogues and includes the making of the 12:1 scale model of the Zabludow Synagogue in 2004. The model was also produced by students from Mass Art in Boston, Mass., through workshops with Handshouse Studio. The Gwozdziec Synagogue painting and the Zabludow Synagogue model are part of the exhibition "Wooden Synagogues: A Lost World Revisited."