The mural of a long hidden synagogue is rehabilitated and moved

BURLINGTON, Vermont (AP) —

A mural that was painted in a Vermont synagogue more than 100 years ago by a Lithuanian immigrant — and hidden behind a wall for years — has been called a rare work of art and has been painstakingly moved and restored .

The large, colorful triptych painted by sign painter Ben Zion Black in 1910 shows the Ten Commandments with a lion on both sides, the beaming sun, and columns and rich curtains on the borders. Now known as the ‘Lost Mural’, it’s a rare depiction of a type of art that adorned wooden synagogues in Europe that were largely destroyed during the Holocaust, experts say. .

“When I heard about the mural and what it is and the story behind the artist, I was completely amazed, and there is nothing like it anywhere else in this country,” said Josh Perelman, chief curator and director of exhibitions and interpretation at Weitzman. National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

It’s a representation of a style that was present throughout Europe, but Perelman said he’s never heard of anyone bringing that style to the United States.

“That makes it both a treasure and an important work, both in American Jewish religious life and in this country’s art world,” he said.

Black, who was also a musician, playwright and poet, as well as a sign maker, decorated the interior of what was then the Chai Adam Synagogue in 1910 in a Jewish neighborhood of Burlington known as Little Jerusalem. He painted the triptych – the lost fresco – in the apse of the building, as well as other murals inside the synagogue.

But the synagogue closed in 1939 when it merged with another, Ohavi Zedek, and the original building later had other uses, including a carpet store, according to the Lost Mural website.

When the building was turned into apartments in 1986, Ohavi Zedek Archivist Aaron Goldberg and another synagogue member asked the owner to put up a wall in front of the mural, according to the website. Black’s two daughters donated money to have archival photographs of the art taken, but it was unclear at the time if the mural could be saved, Goldberg said.

More than 20 years later, the wall panel was cut down and photographs were taken and sent to museums nationwide and around the world asking what to do with the artwork, Goldberg said.

“The universal consensus then was that we should do everything we can and take every step possible to remove the original mural because of its uniqueness, because it really is a symbol for perhaps thousands of murals. and this type of painting that were lost in Eastern Europe and Western Europe,” Goldberg said.

The plaster was in poor condition and the paint was peeling in many sections. The plaster was stabilized and a restorer worked to glue the paint back on. Then a temporary structure was built so that the roof of the building could be removed, the wall paint slats reinforced and the artwork could be enclosed in a metal frame for the move in 2015 by crane and then by truck to at the current Ohavi Zedek Synagogue.

In its new home, restorers restored damaged sections of paint and cleaned all of the wall paint, revealing its original color and vibrant detail. The paint was also matched and added where it had fallen. This work took place this year and last year, during the coronavirus pandemic, when the building was largely unused.

Approximately $1 million has been raised for the project through donations from local, state, national and international donors. The Lost Mural Project, an independent secular nonprofit, is still seeking donations to reproduce the green hallways on the original painting that has not survived, said Goldberg, its president.

The renewed fresco was unveiled this summer and tours are ongoing.

Chief Rabbi Amy Small saw the beauty of the step-by-step restoration when she came to the office or shrine, which she said was a reminder of the importance of the mural.

This is important not only for the Jewish community and the descendants of those early settlers in Burlington, but also for other immigrants to the United States, who provided safety to Jewish and other families fleeing from many parts of the world, said she declared.

“It’s both a Jewish story and an American story,” Small said, as well as a “universal story.”

Another part of the Lost Mural story is “the beautiful, creative, and dedicated people who nurtured its preservation and re-presentation to the world,” Perelman said. “The community of Burlington, the Jewish Community of Burlington, the State of Vermont, have been wonderful in their sense of the significance of this work of art and their commitment to bringing it back to view.”

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