A synagogue has unveiled a beautiful, centuries-old mural of the 10 Commandments that offers a glimpse into a lost art style – artnet News | Candle Made Easy

A long-lost relic of Jewish folk art has been unveiled after being hidden – but not forgotten – behind a wall for more than 30 years.

The Lost Mural is an apse interior painting created in 1910 by Ben Zion Black, a 24-year-old Lithuanian playwright, poet, and sign painter, for the former Chai Adam Synagogue in Burlington, Vermont. Aaron Goldberg, a descendant of Burlington’s earliest Jewish residents, founded the Lost Mural Project to restore Black’s work.

According to the project’s website, Black’s 155-square-meter triptych “is part of a long tradition of synagogue mural painting that was particularly advanced in Eastern Europe between the early 18th and mid-20th centuries.” Most works of art in this genre were set on fire during the Holocaust and are now only remembered through old photos and watercolors.

The mural after full restoration, June 2022. Photo by Eric Bessette. All images courtesy of The Lost Mural Project.

“There’s nothing like it anywhere else in this country,” Josh Perelman of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia told the AP, calling Black’s mural “both a treasure and a significant work, both in American Jewish religious life and.” in the world of art in this country.”

The project’s website states that itinerant peddlers from Čekiškė, Lithuania, built the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in 1887. Two years later, Burlington’s Jewish community had grown to 150 residents, laying the foundation for Chai Adam that year. The classic wooden synagogue became their second place of worship, just 150 meters from the first in the city.

Black came to Burlington in 1910 and made a name for himself as a gifted painter, mandolin orchestra leader and champion of Yiddish culture. In 1910, Chai Adam Black offered $200, about $5,314 by today’s standards, to paint the synagogue’s mural and ceiling.

Ben Zion Black, 1910. Photo by Myron Samuelson.

He depicted the Tent of Tabernacles according to the Book of Numbers, “including the Decalogue, flanked by fierce lions and surmounted by a soaring crown, all bathed in sunbeams and framed by architectural elements and ornate curtains.” Although the rich colors and symbolism of the Werk’s aesthetic chords struck, parishioners balked at the artist’s deification of angels and the inclusion of musical instruments forbidden on the Sabbath.

Chai Adam didn’t call Black again. The synagogue was closed in 1939 and merged with the community of Ohavi Zedek.

The building was sold and converted into apartments in 1986, but the owners agreed to seal Black’s artwork behind a wall in hopes that lawyers would one day return to save it. Then it spent 25 years in hiding.

In 2012, the Burlington Jewish community teamed up with the building’s new owner – Offenharz, Inc. – to remove the false wall and assess the condition of the lost mural. Carelessly installed insulation had done its damage. They found peeling plaster, layers of shellac, and natural debris obscuring the mural’s true, vibrant color palette.

Raising more than $1 million from hundreds of donations, the project hauled the artwork out with a crane in 2015 and trucked it to its current home in Ohavi Zedek’s lobby. The cleaning began last year, and professionals at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center have since restored the mural’s tones based on 1986 archival slides and sealed their work with a new glaze.

The mural during restoration in 2021. Photo by Eric Bessette.

Ohavi Zedek Chief Rabbi Amy Small saw it all and called the story “both a Jewish story and an American story” as well as a “universal story” in the AP.

Burlington Free Press said the June 28 unveiling ceremony was attended by officials including former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin, U.S. Representative Peter Welch and Vermont Arts Council executive director Karen Mittelman. Later in the evening, the crowd joined a party of Yiddish music and dancing by the Nisht Geferlach Klezmer Band.

The Lost Mural Project is not over yet. The secular nonprofit is asking for donations “to recreate green corridors on the original painting that has not survived,” Goldberg told the AP. In the meantime, you can take a guided tour of this global relic on your next trip to Queen City.

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