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!