Wooden Synagogue Project History /

The Wooden Synagogue Replication Project began in 2003 with the goal of eventually making a full-scale replica of one of the 200 destroyed 17th and 18th century wooden synagogues that once stood in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Research began in 2003, when Handshouse Studio was invited to participate in an international conference in Białystok, Poland, to investigate the possibility of replicating the Zabłudów synagogue, which was built in 1637 and burned to the ground during the German invasion of Poland. By the end of World War II, all these magnificent wooden synagogues had been destroyed. Architectural documentation by students and professors, many from the Warsaw Technical Institute in 1923, is all that remains. The drawings and photographs of the Zabłudów synagogue inspired Handshouse to initiate college courses and workshops that might lead one day to building a full-scale replica of one of these architectural gems. Many avenues of inquiry evolved as Handshouse Studio explored archival materials, photographs, drawings and color studies and undertook site visits and direct fieldwork in places where related wooden buildings are still standing. Each program and workshop included demonstrations, lectures, and presentations by informed scholars, traditional builders, design professionals, and educators. Handshouse Studio made and showed films and traveled exhibitions about the process. Over a ten-year period, Handshouse Studio involved hundreds of participants and collaborated with many museums, universities, and community and professional organizations.
     Based on archival resources, drawings, photographs, color studies, and written descriptions made prior to the destruction of these synagogues, we created scale models and details, new architectural drawings, photographs and measured documentation. We supplemented the historical documentation with first-hand fieldwork in places where related wooden buildings still stand, made systematic records of painting techniques, color studies, paint pigments, and color formulas, and carefully compared archival photographs with actual replications.

Timeline  2004 - 2014

2004   Zabłudów Synagogue – model at 1:12 wooden scale to serve as a construction and exhibition model to raise interest and popularize the subject. The model was part of an exhibition tour with Professor Thomas Hubka, author of Resplendent Synagogue, and was supported by lectures, presentations, films, and discussions.

2004–2009: “Documenting Historic Wooden Architecture”  6 college travel programs to selected historic sites for first-hand documentation and fieldwork related to the wooden architecture of Poland, Ukraine, and Czech Republic.

2005–2009  Gwozdziec Synagogue Ceiling Painting ½ scale. Created in courses and workshops at several colleges and universities.

2006–2007  Gwozdziec Synagogue Wooden Bimah (platform from which the Torah scroll is read in public) —full scale replica of this 17th-century object created using traditional tool, techniques, and materials.

2007  Fulbright Scholar Research grant awarded to Rick Brown to go to Poland to research architectural details of the Zabłudów synagogue and other wooden synagogues based on documentation in Polish archives.

2008  Zabłudów Synagogue Door at the entry and surrounding log wall—full scale replication.

2009  Gwozdziec Synagogue  1:12 scale model showing details of wooden construction.

2010  Polish Bell Tower  full scale replication of this 18th century wooden structure, including the casting of a 300lb bell.

2011–2013  Making/History: the Wooden Synagogue Replication Project in Poland.

May–June 2011  Timber Frame workshops at the open-air Folk Architecture Museum in Sanok, Poland, to make the 85% scale replication of the Gwozdziec timber frame roof and vaulted ceiling structure with the Timber Framers Guild.

July–Aug 2011  Painting  workshops in Rzeszów, Kraków, and Wrocław, Poland, to paint the Gwozdziec polychrome ceiling.

May–Aug 2012  Painting  workshops in Gdansk, Sejny, Kazimierz Dolny, Szczebrzeszyn, and Wrocław to paint the Gwozdziec polychrome ceiling.

January 2013  Installation of completed roof structure and painted ceiling in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

 August 2013  Donation of the Handshouse Studio Gwozdziec bimah replica and a workshop at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews to paint the bimah using traditional materials and techniques.