Making History In Poland’s Sanctuaries

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A few months ago, I immersed myself in a meditative project at the White Stork Synagogue (the only surviving synagogue in Wroclaw since the Holocaust) in Poland. The Handshouse Studio’s “Learn by Doing” approach has inspired individuals and students of various disciplines to participate in its programs and learn about the process of restoring historical, unique structures. This past summer offered me a special opportunity to work on the Gwozdziec Synagogue Replication Project.

After several sunrise til sundown periods of mixing paint and gesso from raw materials, preparing test panels, scrutinizing 17th century artists’ styles, applying finished pigments onto wooden boards, complying to the rigid guidelines of restoring historical art, etc., our team completed the last portion of the roof’s mural.

The cupola (80% to scale) will be part of the core installation at the forthcoming Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, constructed on the site of the Warsaw ghetto. According to Handshouse Studio, this project took “nearly 10 years of work: 8 years of research and 2 years of workshops, over 300 people, more than 400 pieces of the roof structure made out of 200 logs of wood, 29 sections forming the roof, 13 forming the lantern, 67 paintings of mythical animals, 1000 of flowers, bunches of grapes and buds”.

Here’s a warm thanks to Handshouse Studio staff and supporters for helping to increase awareness of symbolism in art, allowing for the progressive understanding of our history.

Click here for more details about the project.


View Videos Of This Endeavor

PART 1:  Setting Up The Workshop

PART 2:  The Cupola’s Final Stage of Completion

PART 3:  The Meditative Art of Mixing Paint

PART 4:  A Process for Replicating Historical Art


The Challenges In The Work Behind This Project

As a mixed media artist with an abstract style, I was confronted with the challenge of having to learn to replicate the style of another artist while returning to a simpler palette; I had to break away as much as possible from my own techniques and then learn the steps and skills applied by artists centuries ago to preserve the authenticity of the art. Taming my own creativity, I robotically repainted the same strokes daily for 2 weeks to perfect an image on wood, so it would cry out its symbolic legacy. In the end, I learned to make peace with the image and myself through the final stages of the painting. Letting go of the images I painted was at first difficult and then surprisingly easy as the thought eventually entered my mind that they were never my sought out creations in the first place; moreover, I learned to trust that my techniques had aligned with that of the template and protocol. I made allegiance to an academic system to restore this piece of art and quieted my mind to the outside world to merge with the piece I was making – to sense what it is like to be re-born in the modern world, to carry a name long forgotten by many. The discord in ideas between working with other painters transformed into accordance by submission to “it is what it is” as shown in our historical archives. I soon realized that being docile and applying the same nine-to-five, around the clock, work ethic in this Handshouse studio was the way to efficiently master this art of restoration. Turning away from novelty was essential to building this piece.

Follow Jenny S.W. Lee:

Greater Boston based artist and photographer exhibiting nationally and internationally

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