Friday, March 20, 2015

USA: Winter Can't Stop Preparations for Burlington, Vermont Mural Move

Preparations in the summer and  fall were made to protect the mural and ready it for the move to Ohavi Zedek Synagogue.

Despite snow and ice, work proceeded with the construction of the protect work shed.

USA: Winter Can't Stop Preparations for Burlington, Vermont Mural Move
by Samuel D. Gruber 

All photos courtesy of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. You can follow the Lost Shul Mural on Facebook at and 

(ISJM) It has been a cold and snowy winter in Burlington, Vermont (but that is hardly unexpected). It has not stopped the conservation and engineering team of the Lost Shul Mural Project of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue from working hard in preparation for the move of the mural when the weather warms. A lot has happened with the project since I last reported at length on this blog in 2013. You can read more about the history, art and planning of the proejct at

Conservator Connie Silver protects the edges of the mural in preparation for the move.

Last spring consolidation and cleaning of the 1910 synagogue mural took place and funds were successfully raised for the move. Careful conservation and technical planning really began in May 2014 and continued through the fall ,as the team confronted the details of the unprecedented task and developed methods to cope with every conceivable problem that might arise. the team of conservators widened, and all of the architects, engineers and construction contractors became fully engaged and focused. 

In this third  and most difficult (and expensive) phase the project, beginning last October,  there have been four main inter-related activities:

First, the mural itself needed to be protected so that the painstakingly conserved paint surface suffers no damage during the construction work and removal of part of the roof, and then during the full cutting, lifting and moving of the roof section upon which the mural is painted.

Conservator and carpenter work on the removal of the damaged inscription panel at the bottom of the mural. 

Second, the outer roof had to be removed to inspect and reinforce from behind the lathe and plaster upon which the mural is painted. To do this, however, required the construction of a temporary work shed that encloses the entire apse of the former synagogue and the area of investigation and removal. While the shed was still going up the conservation team managed to have a few slates removed for an early peak inside - with the help of a "Go-Pro" mini-video cameras. But then, the entire work shed needed to be carefully attached to the main building while maintaining weather-tight connections, and then topped off and secured.

Videographer, Paul Gittlesohn, feeds a "Go-Pro" mini-video camera inside one of the mural walls, while art conservator Connie Silver, watches the video feed to evaluate the condition of the mural plaster.
Conservator Connie Silver discusses plaster reinforcement strategies with experts Norman R. Weiss and Irving Slavid from MCC Materials, Inc.

Adding the roof trusses (by crane) to the temporary work shed.
The completed shed, entirely enclosing the apse and apse roof.

The completed shed, entirely enclosing the apse and apse roof.  The shed leaves plenty of room for the conservators and engineers to do their work - all in the dead of winter.

Third, the slate shingles of the roof had to be meticulously removed to avoid breakage. The nails attaching the shingles to the roof had to be sawn by hand. Each slate was then carefully marked so they could be reinstalled when the entire process is over.  Only then, when the back of the mural plaster and lathe was reveal could the stability of the plaster be tested and then reinforced.
 Proper precaution against lead are taken in the disassembling phase.

Earlier this week the back of the plaster is finally revealed this setting the stage for treatment which will happen later this month.

Each slate shingle was carefully labeled after removal.
Fourth, while all this has been going, preparations have been in progress at Ohev Shalom Synagogue, where to where the mural will be moved. This month structural supports are being inserted in the ceiling and wall of the vestibule  where the mural will eventually hang.

Preparing the insertion of steel supports in the wall and steel cables from the ceiling of the vestibule are where the mural will eventually hang. 

Since the project got into gear in alt 2013 over $300,000 has been raised, allowing for a meticulously planned project for the unprecedented move of the mural and the roof to which it is attached. The Project will continue to raise funds to pay for the move and the installation and then the necessary in situ final conservation and restoration. The fourth phase of the project will be the development of educational programming and and exhibition materials.  

Donations are accepted for the project via the website and major sponsors still need to be identified and their support will be very welcome and gratefully acknowledged.