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September 2017 – March 2018

Michael Weinstein Gallery

A black and white photo of the Main sanctuary in ruin of the Eldridge Street Synagogue taken in1988. Photo Credit: Wijnana Deroo
Main sanctuary of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, 1988. Credit: Wijnana Deroo

Archival photographs from the Museum’s collection traced the journey of the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue as it was transformed from a building on the verge of collapse to an important American-Jewish landmark restored to its original glory.  Along the way, the Eldridge Street Museum’s historic home underwent a painstaking restoration that led to an impassioned debate about commissioning a contemporary work of art for its historic space.  The exhibition was presented to mark the tenth anniversary of the completion of a 20-year, $20 million restoration. 

Main sanctuary during restoration, c. 1990s. Credit: Frank Hallam Day
Main sanctuary during restoration, c. 1990s. Credit: Frank Hallam Day

Rediscovery: Photographs from the 1970s and 80s, some in stark black and white, captured the haunting beauty of this historic structure, with holes in its ceiling, rubble strewn floors, peeling paint, exposed lath and missing stained-glass windows.  Awed and inspired by the building’s history and architecture, preservationist Roberta Brandes Gratz founded the Eldridge Street Project, which became the driving force behind its restoration.

Restoration: Photographs from the 1980s-2000s documented a building filled with scaffolding inside and out, as engineers, artists and artisans shored up the building’s structure, reassembled stained glass, uncovered century-old painted designs and restored lighting, all while retaining elements that reveal the synagogue’s rich history.

Renewal:  In 2007, the restoration was complete with one glaring exception:  industrial glass blocks filled the space where a grand rose window once graced the synagogue’s eastern wall. This raised a thorny preservation question that was complicated by the fact that no photographs or drawings of the original window design remained.  After an extended debate, the Museum’s Board of Directors commissioned a new work for the space that was proposed by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. Photographs documented the design, fabrication and 2010 installation of this contemporary work of art.

A crew of working installing Kiki Smith/Deborah Gans east rose window, 2010. Credit: Kate Milford
Installation of the Kiki Smith/Deborah Gans east rose window, 2010. Credit: Kate Milford

Photographers whose work was included in the exhibition include Peter Aaron, Wijnanda Deroo, Jo Renée Fine, Michael Horowitz, Kate Milford, Leo Sorel and Dan Weeks.

Read more about Museum at Eldridge Street's 20-year, $20 million awards winning restoration project.

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