Sunday, September 11, 2011

Talk about Stanton Street Shul in Lisbon, Portugal

We are thrilled to be able to share news about this project with our colleagues in the field of conservation at the 16 Triennial conference of the ICOM (International Council of Museums, Committee for Conservation), which will be held in Lisbon, Portual, the week of September 19th. Here is a link for more information about the conference:

We will be sure to share any information we may glean from colleagues there.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rear facade stained glass window discovered!

Work has been progressing bit by bit with the stained glass windows this winter, and we had a pleasant surprise when we removed the rusted steel plate covering the window on the rear (north) facade, above the ark. Ken and David Follett of Quality Restoration Works carefully removed the plate and revealed that most if not all of the window glass and leading is still there. We had assumed that we'd find only bits and pieces, but it looks like the window could very well be completely reconstructed from what is there.

The design of the window appears to be faithfully replicated on the roundel painting on the interior of the sanctuary, consisting of Hebrew text on a background of variously colored abstract shapes. The text reads "In memory of the soul of Rov Yichiel Michel son of Pinchas Roth, of blessed memory." If anyone has any memories or photos of this window or the family it commemorates, please let us know!!

Of course, this leaves us with another fundraising goal! But we have also found excellent contractors to work on these projects, which is sometimes half the battle. Many thanks to Ken and David Follett of Quality Restoration Works, Larry Gordon of Gordon Stained Glass Studios, and Reuben Bechtold of Artistic Renovation LLC for all your work so far!!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Upcoming lecture event

On November 7th as part of the exciting programming for Yugntruf's Yidish Tog (Yiddish Day) we will be giving a short presentation and tour about the mazelos paintings, their history and their restoration. Please join us for all or part of the day - there will be music, poetry, theater and arts demonstrations all afternoon. The presentation will start at 12:30 and the tour will follow. Hope to see you there!

Fall 2010 Updates

Great news on the fundraising front! We have received a $2500 matching grant from the New York Landmarks Conservancy to enable the production of the necessary documents to get bids from contractors for the masonry work on the walls, which is needed before additional conservation/restoration work can continue on the mazelos paintings. Ron and Amy Iles of Building Integrity Associates will be producing these documents and helping us with the bid process. Now we just need to raise the funds for the actual work - a slightly higher figure!!

We've also received a generous $6000 grant from the Bay and Paul Foundations towards the restoration of the stained glass windows. This October we will be working with Mary Clerkin Higgins, a stained glass conservator and artist, to replace missing glass in the lower front window and start some stabilization of the upper window glass. We're also going to be installing a better cover over the upper window, and replacing the rusted iron cover on the window on the rear facade.

Many many thanks to Susan Mathisen of SAM Fundraising for her excellent work on these grant applications!

Sunday, February 28, 2010


It's been a couple of months since we last posted and though there hasn't been any direct work on the wall paintings, we've been busy moving ahead on fundraising and other aspects of the interior work. Below are updates on the different projects underway.

Wall conditions:
We have contracted with Ron and Amy Iles of Building Integrity Associates, masonry condition specialists, thanks to a generous year-end private donation. They will do a thorough survey of the masonry walls and look particularly at conditions that are affecting the wall paintings. The survey is scheduled for March 10th, so let's hope there's no more snow to get in their way before then!

We have also submitted a grant application to the Hyde and Watson Foundation to fund the remainder of the work needed to assess and plan for addressing the wall conditions, including the preparation of drawings, consultation with a structural engineer, and consultation with an architectural firm specializing in the preservation of historic buildings. Tremendous thanks to Susan Mathisen of SAM Fundraising for her invaluable assistance in this application.

We are also very fortunate to have made contact with Michael Devonshire, an architect and professor at Columbia University's School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Mike has not only provided his time pro bono to consult on the building and its needs, but is bringing in a team of his students, Catherine Smith, Benjamin Baccash and Susan Shay, to study the building conditions as part of their course of study. Thanks so much to all of you, we look forward to the results of your great work!

Last but not least, Steve Weintraub of Art Preservation Services, his wonderul employees Chris and Ben, and equally wonderful student Linsly Boyer of the NYU Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center have provided their expertise and equipment (again pro bono, and as part of a student project) to examine the walls with a thermal imaging camera. Results so far were inconclusive due to the close similarity between interior and exterior temperatures - it was a bitterly cold day - Chris and Ben and Linsly will return with additional equipment that will help overcome this minor wrinkle. Thanks again to Linsly for arranging this and to all for coming, we look forward to rescheduling in the next couple of weeks.

We are especially thrilled to have so much student involvement in this project, and to be able to make it an educational opportunity. We are also so encouraged by the great community of people that have been drawn into the project - as the congregation knows well, the Stanton Street Shul is a place that has a unique appeal!

Stained Glass Windows
We've also been hard at work planning for the restoration of the stained glass windows. Two grant applications have been submitted and we will have a site visit from the New York Landmarks Conservancy on March 10th. The plans are to fully restore the two large windows on the front facade, replacing all the old patching materials with historically appropriate glass, repairing and cleaning the old original glass, and repairing or replacing the wooden framing elements as necessary. Mary Clerkin Higgins, a stained glass artist and conservator, examined the windows and suggested that the original flat glass of the upper window may be of a type that predates the 1913 building. She also noted that the glass in the center Star of David medallion is of a later type, and may have been added in later to replace a missing original center piece. We are also planning to examine what remains of a stained glass round window on the rear wall, above the ark, which was covered over sometime in the 50s or 60s after repeated break-ins. The area was covered over with a round painted wood replica (of sorts) on the inside, and a sheet of iron on the outside. We found pieces of glass and lead in the recess under the iron sheet, and we will see if we can potentially reconstruct parts of the window.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Yiddish Letters Revealed

In an area of paint loss located on the original plaster just above the decorative border on the west wall, between Shivat and Tevet, revealed writing in what appears to be pencil. Initially the letters were only partially visible, but as they seemed to be of importance we went ahead and lifted the adjacent paint layers. This revealed more letters...with the help of the the shul members, Miriam, Elissa, Josh and Jonathan, the meaning of the words was clarified, "Leave the whole bench (area) free".

Gantzeh= whole thing, entire
Bank= bank of benches
Frei= free

There are still some letters that remain uncovered. Who knows what new information will be gained when they are revealed. One explanation of, "leave the benches free" could be to keep the benches out of the area in order to have space to paint the mazels. Another explanation is to keep the lower part of the wall open for the the intended decoration to be painted. These words represent a moment captured in time when the original decoration was was being painted. How exciting!

Last week we were able to take measurements of the moisture content in all of the mazels and the areas in between. The specialized equipment was loaned to us by our colleague and great supporter of the Stanton Street Synagogue project, Norman Weiss. It was found that areas with the most visible damage indeed have moisture problems. We are on the ball, and with time, research and further collaboration with specialists, we will know where the problems stem from and how they can be mitigated. We want to keep the great momentum going...

We are well on our way to finishing the stabilization of all of the mazels. Amazingly, we are able to carry out more consolidation than anticipated. This is great for the safety of the paintings as we wait for the next phase to begin...

Original Plaster Walls

We are extremely grateful to Linsly Boyer, our conservation graduate student who is participating in the work, for running a sample of the original plaster walls to determine the composition. She was able to use an XRD-- or x-ray diffraction machine-- at the American Museum of Natural History for this work. XRD uses x-rays to determine the composition of unknown substances. In a (rather simplified) nutshell, the x-rays impinge on the surface of the sample, and are diffracted or bent back towards the machine in different patterns, depending on the arrangement of molecules in the substance. This is a wonderful tool to identify inorganic materials-- which can be extremely important as conservation treatments are planned. We were able to learn that the original white plaster layer is most likely a lime plaster with a small amount of gypsum, which was probably added to help hasten hardening of the wall (or as it is sometimes termed, the plaster was gauged with gypsum). Yet another step towards unraveling the exciting mysteries of the Stanton Street Shul!