16 August 2022

Long-hidden rare synagogue mural restored

16 August 2022

A mural that was painted in a US synagogue more than 100 years ago by a Lithuanian immigrant — and hidden behind a wall for years— has been restored and listed as a rare piece of art.

The large colorful triptych painted by sign painter Ben Zion Black in 1910 shows the Ten Commandments with a lion on both sides and the sun beaming down.

Now known as the “Lost Mural”, it is a rare representation of the art that graced wooden synagogues in Europe that were largely destroyed during the Holocaust, experts say.

Josh Perelman, chief curator and director of exhibitions and interpretation at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia said: “When I learned about the mural and what it is and the story behind the artist, I was completely amazed, and there is nothing like this elsewhere in this country.

It’s both a Jewish story and an American story

“It makes it both a treasure and also a significant work, both in American Jewish religious life and the world of art in this country,” he said.

Black, who was also a musician, playwright and poet, decorated the inside of what was then the Chai Adam Synagogue in 1910 in a Jewish neighborhood in Burlington, Vermont known as Little Jerusalem. He painted the triptych in the apse of the building, as well as other murals in the synagogue’s interior.

But the synagogue closed in 1939 when it merged with another one and the original building went on to have other uses, including a carpet store, according to the Lost Mural website.

When the building was being turned into apartments in 1986 a wall was erected in front of the mural. Black’s two daughters donated money to have archival photographs taken of the art, but it was unclear at the time whether the mural could be saved.

The mural’s lathes were reinforced, and the artwork was encased in a metal frame for a move in 2015 by crane and then by truck to the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue.

In its new home, conservators restored damaged sections of paint and cleaned the entire mural, revealing its original vibrant color and detail.

The work took place during the coronavirus pandemic, when the building was largely unused. It is now on view to the public.

Senior Rabbi Amy Small said: “It’s both a Jewish story and an American story.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox