"Wooden Synagogues: A Lost World Revisited" is an exhibition about the 17th and 18th century wooden synagogues from the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth with a particular focus on the Zabludow and Gwozdziec Synagogues. It is a traveling exhibition that has been at the Polish Center of Wisconsin (2004), University of Wisconsin (2004), Oberlin College (2005), and is currently at the National Yiddish Book Center until March 2006. With funding from the Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities, we have organized the exhibition with lectures and events at the Vilna Shul, the oldest existing synagogue in Boston (opening spring 2005).
In October 2003, Rick and Laura Brown represented Handshouse Studio in Bialystok, Poland, at "Annihilated Heritage - Zabludow Project International Workshops for the Preservation of Historic Wood Building Tradition." Participants from around the globe learned about the multicultural heritage of the Podlasie region of northeastern Poland, and its numerous wooden landmarks: farm buildings, Catholic and Orthodox churches, and mosques. The result of the conference/workshop was the adoption of the Bialystok Resolution, whereby participants pledged to develop an international learning network and to reconstruct the 17th century wooden synagogue of Zabludow, Poland, destroyed in World War II.
In 1776, during the American Revolution, a Connecticut Yankee by the name of David Bushnell had a daring idea to break the British blockade of New York harbor: he would build a one-man submarine and somehow attach a bomb to the underside of the British ships and blow them up. Intrigued, Rick and Laura Brown of Handshouse Studio led the effort to re-create the building of a replica of this wooden submarine, nicknamed the "Turtle," using only the tools and technologies of the day. With help from students and professional craftsmen plus the submarine expertise of the United States Naval Academy, they built and tested and ultimately proved the seemingly radical idea of Bushnell's.
Two full-scale replicas of human powered 18th century construction cranes were built as part of a two-year project funded by the Davis Foundation Grant through the Colleges of the Fenway to create interdisciplinary courses between Massachusetts College of Art, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Wheelock College. The Perronet Crane was studied in fall 2001 and built April 5-10, 2002 and the Diderot Crane was studied and built in the spring of 2003, the construction spanning April 18-21 2003.
A diverse group of volunteers, inspired by Rick and Laura Brown, worked with a crew from WGBH/NOVA to film the raising of a multi-ton granite obelisk Egyptian style. The plan involved hauling the huge obelisk, on its side, up a gravel ramp to the edge of a sand-filled pit lined with stone blocks. As the sand was removed from two doors at each side of the pit, the base of the obelisk slowly lowered into a turning groove, to a 75 degree angle, where it could then be pulled by ropes into an upright position.
Rick and Laura Brown designed and volunteers helped build and raise an unusual timber frame structure, destined for use as their artist studio and shop near Norwell, Mass.
The frame is a design that borrows from a combination of Roman tooth beam, medieval northern European timber frame, and 19th century American covered bridge construction.