Sunday, February 3, 2013

In the news!

Here are two links to web sites that have already started spreading the word about the Gwozdziec synagogue:

scroll down after clicking on the link to the guardians best news pictures of February first.

The second one is a Gazeta of Warsaw article with pictures.,34862,13336147,Boski_namiot_w_muzeum__Dekoracje_olsniewaja__ZDJECIA_.html

No worries here is Olga's translation:


This construction is a masterpiece of timber framing and painted decorations dazzle with the richness of colors and patterns. The replica of the Gwoździec synagogue roof is the first assembled piece of the main exposition of the Museum of History of Polish Jews.

In the basement of the museum building in Muranów, called also "minus 208 level", one can hear drills whirring and hammers knocking. Team of several people is working on a wooden structure reminding a tent.

A complicated skeleton, made out of circa 400 elements, is hanging on massive chains and slinges, 1.6 m beneath the ground. From below, temporary beam cribbing provides the support. Thanks to that, without fear, one can stand underneath and see the ceiling, formed out of more than 300 hundred boards. It is hard to take eyes off the paintings- You can see mythical and real animals here, zodiac signs and floral motives. They all form a visual prayer and lead worshipers towards the East side, where Aron ha-kodesh altar was situated- explains Rick Brown, in charge of works.


The idea to include this replica the synagogue roof in the gallery presenting old jewish towns was born long before works on the construction site have begun. Architects submitting their projects had to design special place for it. In order to fit such a big construction, 8 m tall, it was necessary to leave a hole in the ceiling between the basement and the ground floor- We are making a building inside a buidling- says Robert Supeł, director in charge of the main exposition.

In 2008, american organization called Handhouse Studio from Massachusetts, contacted the Museum. The Studio, run by Laura and Rick Brown, provides classes in reconstructing historical wooden objects. They have already prepared an exhibition about XVII and XVIII century synagogues from historical Poland. Browns proposed to make especially for the Museum, a replica of a roof of a wooden synagogue from Gwoździec, near Kołomyja (today- Ukrainian territories), which was built in the first half of XVII century. The roof reminded of a tent, hiding a two-level ceiling over the room of prayers. Paintings were made by two local artists: Izaak Bar with his son, Israel Liśnicki from Jaryczów, and later- Izaak Leb, son of Jehuda Hakohen from Jaryczów. - This ceiling was a breakthrough in the architecture of synagogues, also had it's decorative value- explains Robert Supeł.

The synagogue in Gwoźiec, just as other wooden synagogues, did not survive WW2. We know it only from the photographs and drawings. In order to reconstruct it's roof, Handshouse Studio called international gropu of art historians, architects, artists and timber framers. Under the
eyes of specialists, there were 200 Polish, American and Ukrainian students working on that, during two summer seasons. The construction was made in the skansen in Sanok, while the paintings- during workshops organised in the synagogues in various polish towns and cities. Everything was done with tools and techniques used in the XVII century. Even the same kind of wood was used for this- silver fir. All the project was funded by Australian-American donor Irene Pletka.

The replica is slightly smaller than the original. In November it was brought to Warsaw, in pieces. The install in the building has started on 14th January. Apart from Handhouse Studio, Timber Framers Guild and polish company Stanko take part in the works. Until now, the frame of the roof and the ceiling have been installed. In February the frame will be covered with shingles, but only partly, in order to let the audience admire complicated combination of the beams. In the beginning of March, all the construction will be raised on the height of 2.5 m over the ground. It will be hung on 16 steel rods attached to the ceiling. Thanks to the hole between two levels, the top part of the rood will be seen from the ground floor. Just as a priceless exhibit- behind a barrier and fire resistant glass.

- The most difficult part was to transform black and white documentation into colour images. Each element required detailed process, investigation of the history of architecture, research on the ornaments from this particular  period and area- says Laura Brown.

Similar constructions were found by the team, in the church of Drohobycz for example. Colours of the decorations- with major part of blue, red and yellow- they found in works by painted named Isidor Kaufmann and antropologist named Alois Breyer, who one hundred years ago were documentating jewish towns in the eastern border of Poland.

In the basement of the Museum, other works take place as well. Assembly of steel construction for the main exhibition is about to finish. This multimedia exposition- as director Andrzej Cudak has recently announced- is going to be finished by the beginning of 2014. Top part of the building- starting from the ground floor- is already finished, in some parts even furnished.

The opening  for the public is announced for 19th April- it will be part of the celebration of 70th anniversary of the Ghetto Uprising.



Saturday, February 2, 2013

The last day is always hectic

Hey all!

I'm sorry about the more than brief post Thursday evening.

Of course we made a full day out of Thursday, then managed to go to dinner all together...just before the kitchen closed. And what else do you do when you've just finished building a synagogue in Poland, but continue on to a 24 hour bar with 4 zl vodka shots...Really, there was only time to post one picture.
And it took most of the 12 hour train ride to the dutch border to get over the hang. And if, after two hours of sleep, you manage to forget your laptop in the hotel in Warsaw, you have to wait until your mother lets you log into hers...

But I am getting off topic.

 Well, we made an almost full day of punch list work:

Last precisely made trim pieces.


The ceiling rules - so the ribs must conform.


 The traditional throughbolts arrived so we could install even more pieces...

...hanging brackets,
 plugging holes,
 breaking off screw tips,
 sweeping up....
All necessary and valid work but:
Boring stuff!


 So when Robert Supel showed up, this time without a crisis to manage (!) he had time to finally give us a tour of the museum building, at which we had only glimpsed so far:

We got to mill about in and be awed by the grand spaces...

...and clean, timeless modern halls...


...on the bridge above the bridge....


...and in the valley below. 

This will be the 'forested' entrance to the entirely subterranean permanent exhibition.

 Luck had it that we ran into the architect, Rainer Mahlamäki. So of course we asked plenty of questions, undoubtedly adding further to the one and a half year delay to completion.

If you are into custom bronze doorhandles and other beautiful things, he'd be one to call.

It was great to finally be allowed to explore this fantastic home for oursyagogue roof. It is a grand building that I like a lot just for itself, without knowing the many thoughts and ideas that relate it to its surrounding and theme. Like the shape of the door handle that takes inspiration from hebrew letters. Or the flowing concrete walls being inspired by Moses' parting of the Red sea. Or the basic design concept of a rather monolythic building with a lively center piece, that mimicks the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes on the square in front of it.

 I'm sure we only scartched the surface.

After lunch we jumped back into the fray:

. And helped install the trim pieces between the pendentives and the dome curves. Which looks like an easy job once it's done!


This freed up the painters to do a little bit of painting in place



Now you see it...


...first layer- not so much anymore... it all comes together!

At a little after seven pm Laura Brown called the day. We had to dismantle the scaffolding underneath the painters to get them to stop. The film crew wanted to do their final shots of the ceiling, seen as it has been dreamt about by many people, for many years. Of course we all were on edge to see it as well, unobstructed and still within reach.


But Alicia, despite all the craziness, had managed to think ahead to this moment: Rick and Laura were distracted and led down the hall, the halogen lights were pulled out and the flood lights turned off. Replaced by a mere two dozen votive candles. 
At first we thought the effect we'd hoped for would be too dim, but Cary Wolinsky, man of calm and experience way beyond lighting told us to give it a minute. And sure enough. The candles warmed up and our eyes adjusted.

 We fell silent. 

Someone remembered to bring back Rick and Laura, 
and the same calm came over them.

 So we sat there for a while.

 Or laid. 

And let it be over us.

Again Cary found words for the moment. He reminded us about the ritual that takes place during a service and sang the hebrew praises that close it. Thus the tying in of this place with the millenia of similar gatherings in countless spaces grander and more humble had begun.

And that is how I felt. Grand and humble.

Jason, Jason and Matt joined Rick and Laura for a few extra days of paint touch ups, but the rest of us got on our planes and trains. Back to the US, Germany, Denmark and Great Britain. There is still much to do in the weeks to come. Most of this work will be in the hands of Witek Laski, who only has an hour and a half drive home, and will be glad for a slower pace I am sure. He and his crew will install battens and shingles on the lower roof and sheathing on the box frame, as well as do some token shingling on the main roof, leaving most of it open to be viewed from above. More trim boards around the outside of the log walls will tidy things up and make it look like a proper roof.
The final hoisting up to its final position will also be his job, and happen in March or April. Maybe with a little help from Alicia. Then it will be wrapped in attempt to keep some of the construction dust out, and wait for the opening, whenever that may be. Perhaps President Obama will attend, like he said he would two years ago. 

I am sure that I will be back to see it. In fact I can't wait. Poland is great. Full of good people and wonderful places.

Thank you all for coming along on this adventure.

Gerald David

(not sure how long the humble part is going to last)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

This spaceship is ready for blast off

On the morning of the last day I am writing about the second to last day. 

For the first time I had the thought/feeling/realization that this synagogue is going to be complete. Somehow, this go around there as been this background sense of impossibility about the work. All the labor and love that went into it from all the people over all the weeks and months and years, all that is now put together. With a few more things on the punch list. 

The pendentive boards (the triangle shaped parts of the eight sided big dome went in yesterday and Witek and I followed the ceiling crew on the outside to scribe the ribs to the boards. It is not the first thing in this frame to be built backwards.

The subtlest clue for this are the paint drips, as Matt in his quiet observing ways pointed out.

So here a selection of pictures from the outside and the inside. 
Both have their beauty, but one of them takes the cake.

I'm a timber framer. So I put the brown side first. 

There are somewhere around 320 pieces of wood in the frame, not counting the ceiling.


The small curve is the Zodiac level. Above it the Lantern. 

Leading up to the Zodiac is the main dome, the part of the ceiling with the most area.

Tying the four sides of the domes together are the pendentive triangles.

These boards got applied to the surface of the main dome boards.

The ribs produced in Sanok did not quite have the correct curve. It's complicated stuff.

So these ribs got put in place and scribed to the installed boards...

...reshaped by Witek with a sweet little swiss adze that Jacob had just bought...

...then screwed into place hugging the pendentive.

Here's the cake. With endless admiration.

Finicky fitting on the transition from the Main dome to the Zodiac level took all day.

All hands below deck for the last pieces. Here a clearly thrilled Jason Loik. Olga I'm sure was just caught in between smiles. A rare shot of her.

The staging slowly gets readjusted to lower levels to reveal the tent roof.

Off to the final day!

The selection of craft brews

Most of them if not all are non pasteurized. A couple of lager beers, one red and a dark beer as well as one with a surprising amount of honey in it. All very tasty and welcome!