The Eldridge Street Synagogue was originally adorned by two glorious rose windows on its eastern and western walls. Like all aspects of the building’s design, these Gothic windows tell an important story about this landmark’s history.
The western rose window is decorated with twelve floral shaped roundels, each with a star of David in its center. This window is a central feature of the building’s façade and announces to all passerby’s the Jewish and sacred nature of the building. While this window is original to the building’s 1887 design, its counterpart on the eastern wall is not.
No early drawings or photographs of the window originally installed on the eastern wall exist. Records indicate that this rose window was damaged by weather and removed around 1940. Unfortunately, a lack of funds prevented the congregation from fixing the window and installing a new design until 1944, when a congregant donated the replacement pictured above of glass blocks in the shape of two sets of paired tablets.
In October 2010, the eastern window was replaced by a new permanent installation, a monumental stained-glass window designed by contemporary artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. The commission marks the final significant component of our 20-year restoration, and is a wonderful marriage of new and old in our historic sanctuary.
- Look closely at the rose window on the western wall. What do you notice?
- No information exists about the intent of the design choices within the original rose windows. Why do you think the shapes and patterns seen were selected?
- What do you think the original eastern window looked like?
- Because it was damaged, the original eastern rose window was replaced in the 1940s with glass blocks. In 2010, the Museum replaced the glass blocks with a new, modern design. Do you think this was a good idea?
- If you were asked to design a new rose window for the Synagogue, what choices would you make?
- The rose window on the eastern wall represented a huge preservation issue. Should the window remain or be replaced was heavily debated by preservationists and staff. Three views were contemplated. The first was to leave the window alone. The second was to replace the window with something that would have looked more like the original. The third choice was to replace the window with a new design. Have your students debate the issue from a historical, preservation and aesthetic perspective.
- When the Museum decided to replace the eastern rose window, it commissioned many artists to submit design proposals. Have students submit designs for a new rose window. Proposals should including drawings and a short essay explaining their choices of palette, shapes, and theme.
- Listen to Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans discuss their design for the eastern window.
- Watch The East Window, a documentary about Jenny Carchman's documentary about the creation of the Museum's new Kiki Smith-Deborah Gans window.