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West wall of the Zabludow Synagogue model under construction
East wall of the Zabludow Synagogue model under construction.

Zabludow Synagogue Project

Zabludow Model Workshop April 2004

Handshouse Studio hosted the Zabludow Model workshop from April 22-26, 2004, which was associated with the classes at Massachusetts College of Art, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and Wheelock College. The Colleges of the Fenway funded the workshop.

The workshop began with a public lecture at Wentworth Institute of Technology April 22, also sponsored by the College of the Fenway. The first speaker was Antony Polonsky, Albert Abramson Chair of Holocaust Studies at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Brandies University and author of several books including Politics in Independent Poland and The Little Dictators: History of Eastern Europe Since 1918. He spoke on the history of Jews in Poland.

The second speaker was Thomas Hubka, Professor of Architecture at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, and author of Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Workshop of an Eighteenth Century Polish Community and Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England. Tom Hubka spoke about the architecture of the wooden synagogues of Poland. The back-to-back lectures provided insight into the unique architectural qualities of the synagogues of Poland and a vivid historical picture of the cultural complexity of that time and place. We of course also learned of events subsequent to the building of these synagogues, culminating with the destruction of all the wooden synagogues in Poland in 1942 during the Nazi invasion in World War II.

Over the next four days, under the direction of Rick and Laura Brown, Ed Levin, Nat Crosby, and Marjorie Hall, students from the participating colleges were joined by architects, engineers, craftsmen, designers, and builders to construct a wooden study model of the Zabludow Synagogue. The model project began earlier in the Technology and Culture course at the Mass College of Art taught by Rick and Laura Brown. Nat Crosby, Architecture Faculty at Wentworth Institute of Technology, participated throughout the semester as architectural consultant. Marjorie Hall, Art Historian from Wheelock College, taught a companion course in architectural history, and her students participated in selected lectures and demonstrations. Tilford Bartman presented the history of Zabludow Poland and its synagogue, Jan Darsa of Facing History and Ourselves gave us an overview of the history of the Jews in Poland, and Ed Levin of Paradigm Builders in Hanover, NH, provided lectures on timber framing and a history of wooden structures. Ed also provided his expertise in translating the existing documentation of the Zabludow Synagogue into working drawings for the model.

The students first studied the Zabludow Synagogue from several sources: the measured drawings done in 1923 by students and faculty from the Architecture Department of Warsaw Technical University, photographs from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, and Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka's book Wooden Synagogues.

The class then made a 1:12 scaled foam-core massing model to be used as a measuring reference for building a similar scale wooden model of the Zabludow Synagogue. Chris Madigan, (timber framer), Ellen Gibson (Mass Art alum and timber framer), Matt Hincman ( Mass Art faculty) and Wyly Brown (graduate student at Harvard Graduate School of Design) came on board for the workshop as project leaders. Working with students they tackled the roof truss and joinery that comprises the timber framing aspect of the building. Rick and Laura Brown and Nat Crosby assisted another group of students that produced the log wall systems of the Main Prayer Hall and its adjoining entry room, meeting rooms, and women's gallery. The modeling process raises as many questions as answers, and the resulting model will provide a visualization of many of the architectural details of the building. This information will enhance further study of the construction methods and joinery used in the original synagogue, which will be useful to any later attempt at reconstruction.

Another feature of the four-day workshop was a demonstration of medieval axe work and joinery led by master carpenter Petra Ruzicka and structural engineer - designer Vit Mlazovsky, both of the Czech Republic. The international participation attracted a good number of timber framers from Massachusetts and neighboring states. This group felled four eastern white pines on the Handshouse grounds, with axes, and hand carried the trees from the forest to the work site. The four timbers were hand hewn into ten dimensioned timbers, and then these timbers were fashioned into two roof trusses that were scribed and joined with lap joints and double dove tails, all cut with axes typical of the medieval carpenter.

Some additional highlights of the weekend were the extraordinary meals prepared by Susan Norlander and daughter Ravin Mueller. Evenings were filled with fully attended slide shows and videos of Petras' and Vits' historic restoration projects in the Czech Republic. There was a surprise visit from Marek Baranski of the Polish Ateliers for the Conservation of Cultural Property, Marek Lesniewski Laas, the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Poland in Boston, Witold Karvatsky, architect and builder who now resides in New York, Madga Prosinska, cultural anthropologist from Poland, and Will Beemer, Executive Director of the Timber Framers Guild.

Magda Prosinska will co-lead the Mass College of Art travel program to Poland this May and June with Rick and Laura Brown, Ed Levin and Nat Crosby. This group of students will visit historic sites and document one or more existing wooden religious structures in Poland. Several students who participated in the Technology and Culture Zabludow Model class and workshop will also travel to Poland through this program.


2008 Workshop
May 2004 Poland Trip
2004 Model Workshop
Model Workshop Photos
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