Evelyn Tauben, who took part in one of the workshops this summer to paint the intricate decoration on the reconstructed ceiling of the Gwozdziec wooden synagogue, writes an expressive personal account of her experiences, in the Forward.
The section we worked on features a griffin and a dragon in a fighting embrace surrounded by a network of vines and stylized flowers. A lower band of the mural depicts several beasts including a leopard, a turkey and a deer. […]
I desperately wanted to paint a flower. My Hebrew name is Vered, or “rose.” It is a reference to my zayde’s sister’s name, Blumeh, which means “flower” in Yiddish. When the men in her family fled, Blumeh followed them but was sent back home to her mother and little brother to wait out the war. Instead, the war came for them. Blumeh was just 15. Among the blossoms on the ceiling would be my quiet tribute — a bloom for Blumeh.
A peculiar flower was assigned to me — a bulbous green pod with curled tips, resting on wide red petals. One of the experienced “painting leaders” patiently instructed me to layer colors and blend them using rabbit skin glue. When the time came to work on the actual panels, my hands trembled and I recalled my initial poetic notion of invoking my zayde’s assured artistry to guide me. But in actuality, it was not easy painting with ghosts at my back.
The Handshouse synagogue project, helmed by sculptors Rick and Laura Brown, is fueled by curiosity and conviction resembling faith. During those two weeks in July, ritual abounded in the shul-turned-studio: Our team rhythmically traced shapes, laid down background colors and ground powder pigments into paint. Instead of talmudic debates, we engaged in a “colorscape chevruta.” Painting leaders argued over the quality of a brushstroke or the details of the color scheme, using archival black-and-white photos of the synagogue and the few remaining pre-1914 color sketches to guide them.