Thursday, July 27, 2017

Happy Birthday Albert W. Wein (1915-1991)

Albert W. Wein, The Harvest, bronze, 1939, 36.83 x 16.51 x 31.75 cm. Photo: Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Albert W. Wein, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0119848.
Happy Birthday Albert W. Wein (1915-1991)

I recently wrote about the Jewish artist Leo Freidlander, who was leading American architectural sculptor in the interwar period, and very much part of what we now see as widespread sculptural component of the Art Deco movement. Albert W. Wein, a  sculptor of the next generation, whose birthday is today, should also be remembered. His work is also steeped in the style of the 1930s. Like Friedlander, he was  influenced by the popular and sometimes slick style Paul Manship. I assume Wein was Jewish - though with the exception of some California synagogue commissions in the 1960s - this does not seem to be a significant factor in his career or work. 

Like Friedlander, Wein was a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, winning the Rome Prize in Sculpture in 1947. During those two years in Rome he especially turned to classical themes, though this was entirely in keeping with the tenor of the times - from the 1930s many prominent  sculptors such as Paul Manship (Prometheus) and Jacques Lipschitz (Minotaur) and were using classical myths and heroes to provide narrative, eroticism, allegory and formal experimentation.

Albert Wein,  Arcadian Idyll, bronze, 1948.
Albert W. Wein. Europa and the Bull, bronze, 1948. Photo: Levis Fine Art.
Wein's mother, Elsa Meher Wein, was a portrait painter and introduced her son to art. 

Click here for  Wein's obituary in the New York Times 

You can read more about Albert Wein and see many image of his work on the webpage of the Albert Wein Estate 

After moving to California in 1955, Wein carried out several commissions for the synagogues - which I am still trying to identify.

One of these commissions was in the mid-1960 for Temple Akiba in Culver City (Los Angeles), whose new building was designed by architect Robert Kennard in 1963. In 2015, when Temple Akiba underwent renovation, the 24 foot sculpture,, now called the Akiba Sculpture, was donated to Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary: Garden of Memories in Los Angeles where it was installed along with other decorative sculpture by Wein. The largest work consists of five welded bronze letters the spell the Hebrew word emunah (faith).  This work comes from a period when Wein turned to abstraction - though he continued to work in a more traditional representative language as can be seen in his largest work, the relief for the Libby Dam in Montana.

Albert W. Wein. "Akiba" Sculpture (1968) re-installed at Hillside Memorial Park in 2015. Photo: Hillside Memorial Park.
Albert W. Wein. Libby Dam Relief, Montana, 1970s.

Wein sculpted the largest granite bas-relief on a structure in the United States after winning a competition for the  decoration of the Libby Dam in Montana which spans the Kootenai River, and is part of a joint project of the United States and Canada. The 75-ton 27-by-30-foot relief, which recall architectural sculpture of the 1930s such as that on Rockefeller center in New York, represents, horses, salmon and an Indian taming a river, all themes grounded in the cultural iconography of the WPA.

 Biography from Blake Benton Fine Art

Born in New York in 1915 Albert Wein was the only son of an accomplished woman artist. This early influence had a profound effect on the creative course that the then young Wein would follow.

When Albert Wein was twelve years old, Elsa Wein, a "studio" mother enrolled the two of them into the Maryland Institute, a school that adhered to a curriculum of academic based Classicism. These early influences in the classical tradition formed an impression that would last him the rest of his artistic career. In fact, Albert Wein was once quoted as saying that the main thrust of his work was "to modernize and stylize the classical tradition".

The 1929 Stock Market crash put an end to his studies at the institute and caused the family to return to New York. While attending high school in the Bronx Wein registered at the National Academy of Design taking up study under the well-known painter Ivan Olinsky.

By 1932, Wein enrolled in classes at the Beaux-Arts institute in New York where he expanded upon his academic education in sculpture while studying under some of the most prominent practitioners in their field.

Wein's inclination toward modernization and stylistic composition in his work was made manifest when he decided to enroll in Hans Hofmann's painting class. Hofmann was regarded as one of the most respected leaders in the forefront of modernism. It was around this time that Wein sculpted "Adam," an early powerful modernist work that revealed what would become his signature stylization of classical tradition.

In 1934 he took a pay-cut to join the W.P.A. during which time he was able to produce many fine works for both commission and competition.

Among the many honors and awards bestowed upon Albert Wein during his illustrious career included those of the coveted Prix de Rome, the highest award in art, likened to that of the Nobel Prize in literature, the Tiffany Foundation Fellowship, the Rockefeller Foundation grant for study and more. He also was included in the "watershed" exhibition American Sculpture, 1951 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1979 Wein was elected a full Academician of the National Academy of Design, the highest honor an American artist can receive. During his prodigious career he won every major prize given at exhibitions at the National Sculpture Society and the National Academy of Design.

Some of his important commissions include those for the Brookgreen Gardens, (the world's largest outdoor Sculpture Garden, Steuben Glass Co., Bronx Zoo, Franklin Mint, and the "Libby Dam" bas-relief to name just a few. The latter work, Wein's Libby Dam project, was the largest granite bas-relief ever created, weighing some 75 tons and taking several years to complete. This work "has been likened by critics to other sculptures in the U.S. grand tradition such as Daniel Chester French's seated figure of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, Gutzon Borglum's Mount Rushmore, and Paul Manship's gilded bronze statue of Prometheus in Rockefeller Center Plaza".

Wein's modernistic approach is also manifest in his paintings and related works. He approached painting much the same way he did sculpture, from a sound academic based foundation that gave him the legitimacy and freedom to express his modernistic views. His paintings have been widely exhibited and have gained him much notoriety, with critics lauding his ability to achieved a balance between the extremes of Classicism and Modernism. His sound foundation of academic excellence provided the basis for his stylized, modernistic approach.

Wein Felt that "every good work of art is a good abstract composition" or could at least be represented by one. That the subject, devoid of details and pared down to only what is necessary to convey the "essence" of the composition is what really mattered in an artistic work.

Albert Wein passed away in March of 1991. He left behind a legacy of works that express his goal of forging a union between centuries of artistic styles.

Gordon Friedlander - friend and former 21st president of the National Sculpture Society stated eloquently: "Albert's work will live on and will endure." These sculptures have already passed the test of time - the true measure of the worth of all creative people.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Death of Art Pioneer Dorothy Riester, Sculptor of Temple Adath Yeshurun Art

Syracuse, NY. Temple Adath Yeshurun. Menorah candelabra by Dorothy Riester. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Death of Art Pioneer Dorothy Riester, Sculptor of Temple Adath Art 

Dorothy Riester (1916-2017), a pillar in the art world of Central New York for decades, died this week at  the age of 100.  She had remained active and creative until the end of her life.  Though not Jewish, Riester contributed some of the most memorable "Jewish art," in upstate New York with her sanctuary sculpture for Temple Adath Yeshurun in Syracuse. Designed by Percival Goodman, the Conservative synagogue dedicated its new home with Riester's powerful combined Decalogue and Ner Tamid  over the Ark and menorahs on the bimah in  June, 1971.  Riester also created a sculpture representing the Burning Bush in Temple Adath's Cooper Meditation Garden.  Her sanctuary work recalls that of Seymor Lipton, and is in every way of equal quality.

Riester was one of just a handful of women sculptors who received major synagogue commissions in the 1950s and 1960s.  Others were Mitzie Solomon Cunliffe, Luise Kaish and Louise Nevelson.

Syracuse, NY. Temple Adath Yeshurun. Percival Goodman, architect; Dorothy Riester, sculptor.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Syracuse, NY. Temple Adath Yeshurun. Decalogue and Ner Tamid. Dorothy Riester, sculptor.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Syracuse, NY. Temple Adath Yeshurun. Decalogue and Ner Tamid. Dorothy Riester, sculptor.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Riester did her undergraduate work at William and Mary and Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and graduate work in ceramics at University of Pittsburgh; she received her master’s degree from Syracuse University in sculpture and design.

Syracuse, NY. Temple Adath Yeshurun. Menorah candelabra by Dorothy Riester. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
  You can read her obituary here.

Dorothy had many accomplishments in her long life of art, teaching, and activism. Perhaps her most lasting contribution is the creation of the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, New York, in 1991 for which she served as director and president and hen as an advisor after it was incorporated as a non-profit.  In 2014 Dorothy's house and studio at Stone Quarry were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Monday, July 24, 2017

USA: New York's Stanton Street Shul & Its Painted Decoration, Part I

NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul, facade. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2012)

NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul, facade. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2005)
USA: New York's Stanton Street Shul & Its Painted Decoration, Part I
by Samuel D. Gruber 

[n.b. part II of this post will be devoted entirely to the Stanton Street Shul wall paintings]

I was surprised to realize this spring, while teaching a seminar on synagogue architecture and historic preservation at Cornell University, that I have never devoted a blogpost to the history, architecture, and ongoing preservation efforts at the New York's Congregation Bnai Jacob Anshe Brzezan ("Sons of Jacob, People of Brzezan"), better known as the Stanton Street Shul.

It was surprising and a little embarrassing since it was Jonathan Boyarin, Mann Professor of Jewish Studies at Cornell and author of Mornings at the Stanton Street Shul who invited me to teach the course, and Jonathan's wife, Dr. Elissa Sampson, who has championed the preservation of the synagogue and in the past has made me welcome there.

NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul. entrance vestibule.. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).

NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul. sanctuary, vw. from entrance to Ark.. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).
NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul, Aron-ha-kodesh (Ark). Note Holy Land murals on either side.Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).

NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul, Detail of wall painting of zodiac sign for month of Sivan (Gemini). Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).
I've been thinking a lot this summer about the Stanton Street Shul and the few other extant Lower East Side synagogues because of the recent fiery destruction of Beth HaMedrash HaGadol, one of the grandest and most storied of the neighborhoods Orthodox synagogues, irrevocably burned on May 14, 2017 (see my post of July 4th) 

The Stanton Street Shul, which is tiny in comparison to Beth HaMedrash HaGadol, is one of the few intact tenement synagogues of the Lower East Side. Despite vastly changed demographics in the area, it has managed to continue as a functioning house of worship with a congregation embracing continuity of the older immigrant population while also welcoming younger singles and couples just starting families.

While most synagogues in the area have been destroyed or entirely transformed for new residential or commercial use, the Stanton Street Shul still conveys in its constricted space the real feel of a special kind of Jewish worship space of decades past. It is also important for its painted mazoles or mazolot (zodiac signs), probably painting in the early 1930s, which decorate its walls (read more about the mazoles here).
NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul, interior looking from Ark to entrance. Note placement of mazoles decoration on side walls. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).
NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul, women's gallery looking toward entrance wall. The front rose window was restored in 2012.. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).

NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul, Inside the sanctuary entrance, beneath the women's gallery. Note the tin ceiling and the remarkable florescent chandelier in memory of Max Roth (one of several).   The front rose window was recently repaired. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).
The shul’s size, configuration, and decorations are survivors and now surrogates for all the similar shuls that are long gone; either demolished or transformed into commercial or residential space.  A visitor to the Lower East Side needs to experience both the grandeur of the restored Eldridge Street Synagogue and the simple warmth of the Stanton Street Shul to begin to understand the diversity of religious expression of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Both the now-destroyed Beth HaMedrash HaGadol and the well-preserved Bialystoker Synagogue were created out of former churches. But Congregation Bnai Jacob Anshe Brzezan was created in 1913 by architect Louis Sheinart on a tiny, 99.5’x20’ lot that had  pre-existing front and back buildings whose remains were incorporated into the new Shul. The greatest structural damage appears to be in these older walls. Despite its Renaissance-inspired façade, the building is humble throughout.

When I lived in New York from the late 1970s through the early 1990s there were still other examples of "tenement shuls" such as Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezeritch. Today, however, other than Stanton Street, one can only visit (and attend services at) the beautifully restored Kehila Kedosha Janina, the tenement synagogue of New York's Greek Romaniote community on Broome Street. There are a few other restored and/or active synagogues in the area, but none of them take us to the tenement and landsmanshaft story of Eastern European immigrant Jews the way the Stanton Street Shul does. Today, it is imperative that this space and its decorations be preserved in way that is both historically accurate and Jewishly functional.

The Stanton Street Shul is well documented. It has a good wikipedia page, and also it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2002 with a nomination form (full pdf here) written by Anthony Robbins, who knows his stuff. The nomination came after the shul was almost demolished when, in 1999, the rabbi tried to sell the building against the wishes of the small congregation. A resulting lawsuit was settled in 2000 in favor of the congregation, and this led to the revived commitment to the synagogue as both a living congregation and an historic building.

NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul, Damage to interior wall surface (this is the worst instance). There can be many reasons for the deterioration of wall finishes, but the most likely in this case is water penetration from the walls.  Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).
NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul, Damage to ceiling. Earlier repairs have stopped most of the water penetration from the roof, gutter and other exterior points of entry, but the interior damage seen here on the original tin ceiling, still needs repair. Unfortunately, there are probably also within the walls untraced corroded iron pipes and channels for wiring that now serve as conduits for damp. The hole is because a section was removed to insert a probe. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).
After the NR designation, the congregation mounted a successful fund-raising campaign in 2005 that enabled a complete roof replacement and other repairs. The small congregation has been dedicated to this mission for more than a decade. The building was already in disrepair when it suffered ­­serious water damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  The NY Landmarks Conservancy provided a $30,000 matching grant which is allowing some urgent repairs to take place this summer, but the under and overlying problems are more severe and need substantially more funds.

Since 2000 maintenance, conservation, restoration, and remodeling have taken place in fits and spurts as needs required and funds were available. An intensive examination of the plaster and paint of the sanctuary walls - specially the condition of the painted mazoles - was carried out by Beth Edelstein, Sarah Barack, and Rosemarijn Keppler in 2009-11  The full report - essential background for anyone dealing with the reservation of wall paintings - can be be found online here. This resulted is the complete conservation of one of the wall panels as a test and as an example - but funds have not been raised to carry out the rest of this work.

Meanwhile, greater underlying structural and moisture problems in the walls have further endangered the test mural conservation. As a practical matter, all of the murals are decaying extremely rapidly and decisions need to be made as to what to do.

At present, the Holy Land scenes of The Tower of David (Migdal David) and Rachel's tomb (Kever Rachel) which flank the Ark appear to be in stable condition, but many of the painted mazoles are deteriorating. These murals are rare in their extensive presentation and probably unique in New York in their survival.  They rank among the most intact and representative examples of the Jewish traditional painted art in New York, and in the world. They are part of a nearly-vanished tradition still evident at the Vilna Shul in Boston and the "Lost Shul Mural" in Burlington, Vermont, both places where the value of the murals have been recognized and where extensive conservation and rescue work has been undertaken. Previous New York examples have either been destroyed or “restored” by overpainting (as at Linath Hazedeck in Brooklyn), and even substantial reinvention by mixing old and new designs (as at the Bialystoker Synagogue in Manhattan).

NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul. Migdal David mural to left of Ark. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul. Kever Rachel mural to left of Ark. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
These synagogue paintings and many others now lost comprise one leg of the table of Jewish immigrant folk art. As Murray Zimiles showed in his Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses, From the Synagogue to the Carousel 2007-08 exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum, wood carvers and carpenters made fancy and often exuberant arks and other wood items, best known through many carved lions and eagles in synagogues, as well as festive (and secular) carousel animals. Textile artists embroidered Torah covers, Ark curtains, coverings for the synagogue reader’s table, and other cloth items. Paper artists made paper-cuts for home and synagogue, and decorated certificates, calendars, and other items, Lastly - but importantly - painters decorated synagogue walls and ceilings with symbolic and landscape scenes, including mazoles and scenes of the Holy Land as at Stanton Street Shul. But these - because they are attached to synagogue walls - have not generally been represented in museum exhibition of Jewish art.

Almost too late, the small number of surviving works is now being documented studied and – when possible – conserved. They are direct connections with the immigrant artists whose hands made these works, and by extension, they help link American synagogue art to much older decorative tradition that once thrived in Eastern Europe but is now mostly lost [for lectures by me from 2013 on this subject click here].

Congregations in Toronto and Montreal, Canada; and in Burlington, Vermont have made or are making heroic (and often expensive) efforts to conserve and preserve wall paintings that are part of the same "family" of tradition Jewish religious art. It is important that New Yorkers undertake a similar effort to save those at Stanton Street Shul.

The major technical obstacle to the preservation of the wall painting is that they are applied to plaster that apparently sits directly on the brick structure walls that needs work within. Structural integrity and mechanical systems all need to be tested and upgraded and it is difficult - and might be impossible - to do this without affecting the murals. Ideally this should precede the conservation and restoration of all interior finishes, but the murals would have to be consolidated and secured before this work begins.  How this can be done is under discussion now.

In 2012, the facade rose window was restored by a glass preservation team of Larry Gordon and Reuben Bechtold who reused as much of the old glass as possible. The frame was redone out of old cypress and restorers  were able to reuse a good deal of the old glass.  did the work. 

Also in 2012, a complete historic structures report and preservation plan was prepared for the building. To do everything that is needed it is estimated at least $3.5 million dollars will be needed. This will require a big congregational commitment and creative fund raising to establish some public-private partnerships. It can be done - Kehila Kedosha Janina on Broome Street is proof of what is possible.

This summer a new restoration effort  in getting started. It will be hard work. But it begins. The congregation recently approved a plan to move ahead with approximately $200,000 in essential repairs.
NY, NY. Stanton Street Shul. Zodiac sign (Pisces / Dagim) for month of Adar Detail of Photo: Samuel Gruber (2017).

The shul that stands at 180 Stanton Street is the first American home of Congregation Bnai Jacob Anshe Brzezan ("Sons of Jacob, People of Brzezan"). Incorporated in 1893, the community of Jewish immigrants from the town of Brzezan in Southeast Galicia, (formerly Austria-Hungary, then Poland, now the Ukraine), created their place of worship from an existing structure on the site in 1913, within a thriving Lower East Side Jewish community....

... The stone and brick structure is wedged into a tiny, narrow lot—only twenty feet wide and roughly 100 feet long. A three-story building, the synagogue houses the beis midrash (house of study) in the basement, where members daven during the week in daily prayer. It includes a raised reader’s platform, and a built-in ark for the torah scrolls at the north end. Rising above the room on either side are galleries for the women’s section, and a pressed-metal ceiling with two octagonal skylight domes. A series of 12 wall paintings of the months, with zodiac signs – said to be unique to the Lower East Side – date back at least to 1939.

In 1952, Anshei Brzezan merged with the joint congregation Bnai Joseph Dugel Macheneh Ephraim which represented two other towns from Poland, Rymanow and Bluzhower, a common practice at a time when the Jewish LES was shrinking so rapidly. Many of the shuls were also being displaced by the urban renewal projects taking place in lower Manhattan in the late 50s. The Stanton Street Shul, located in a Latino part of the Lower East Side, was one of only a few that survived.

Again, from the congregation website:

The survival of this small shul (one of approximately a dozen functioning synagogues in the neighborhood today) is not only a testament to the perseverance of its elderly, immigrant members, for whom it is a true home and living memorial to otherwise forgotten towns. It is also a symbol of the renewal of the Lower East Side as a neighborhood where younger Jews with their own traditions are now moving in and forming connections, reweaving the chain of generations so nearly unraveled in the turmoil of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

USA: Arnold Brunner's "Forgotten" Synagogue, the former Cong. Shaaray Tefila

New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
USA: Arnold Brunner's "Forgotten" Synagogue, the former Congregation Shaaray Tefila
by Samuel D. Gruber

The synagogues of architect Arnold W. Brunner (1857-1925) are increasingly well known.  I have published about Brunner, as have colleagues Steven Fine and David Kaufman. But despite a few articles and passing mentions in various works, there is still much to be discovered and presented about Brunner's influential residential, institutional, synagogue, and urban design work (I've been working off and on toward that book for several years now).

I'm inspired to come back now to one significant, though little known, Brunner project because I recently walked by it while visiting David Kaufman. So of course the building - the former Congregation Shaaray Tefila, built in 1896, and now the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral - came up in conversations about New York synagogues and Jewish history.

Earliest image of former Shaaray Tefila from New York Times (April 14, 1894, p. 8)
Brunner designed at least seven independent synagogues as well as several synagogues included as parts of larger complexes, especially hospitals. The early synagogues are each quite distinct, as Brunner incorporated elements from various sources, and was still grappling with his own idea of what a synagogue is and how a synagogue building should appear. In the mid-1890s one can see Brunner moving away from the more exotic Romanesque, Venetian and Moorish influences and developing a more contemporary style rooted in Georgian or Colonial architecture, and then, with the success of congregation Shearith Israel, combining this with fully classical exteriors.  By the late 1890s he settled on his preferred form and decorative palette – which  he stayed with for a quarter century. This was linked to an intellectual foundation for his synagogue designs, adapting ancient architecture to contemporary needs as expressed in his writings on synagogue architecture.

New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo:
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Detail of original stained glass. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo:
New York, NY.  Cong. Shearith Israel, Central Park West. Detail of original stained glass. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896-97. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Because they were highly visible, all of Brunner’s New York synagogues were quite influential, though his own rapid development in the 1890s made his earliest work at Beth El and Shaaray Tefila almost obsolete as a source for others within a few years of their erection. Still, both synagogues were copied in part, and at least two close copies of Shaaray Tefila were built by other architects in Manhattan.

Just two year’s after the dedication of Beth-El, Brunner (and his partner Tryon) were at work on a new synagogue project – the new home of Congregation Shaaray Tefila, designated for a site at West 82nd Street and Amsterdam avenues on the Upper West Side. The cornerstone was laid on October 5, 1893.  The rabbi of Beth-El, Rev. Dr. K. Kohler offered the dedicatory prayer. [see: “Synagogue Cornerstone Laid,” New York Times (Oct. 6, 1893), p. 9.].

Congregation Shaaray Tefila grew out of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. The congregation had previously worshiped at Broadway near Franklin Street, and then moved to Wooster Street, and then in 1866 they bought land on 44th street near Broadway and erected a new building designed by Henry Fernbach, that was dedicated May 4, 1869. Brunner probably grew up as a member of that congregation and would have been very familiar with the earlier building, and probably celebrated his Bar mitzvah there in the fall of 1870. The building influenced his design for Beth-El. Services for Brunner’s deceased uncle Samuel Brunner (1830-1872) took place there in 1872. Samuel was the brother of William Brunner, and he was married to Brunner’s mother’s sister Sophia (1846-1922). There were even closer family reasons for Brunner’s receiving the commission. The president of the Congregation was Solomon B. Solomon (1842-1930), the younger brother of Brunner’s mother Isabella. Arnold Brunner’s grandfather, Barnett Solomon (1806-1897), past president of the congregation, had the honor of tapping the cornerstone into place.

I have not consulted any records of the congregation, but some are preserved at the American Jewish Archives and I'll try to look at them when in Cincinnati in November. 
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Window dtl with Mo0rish elements. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008
The design of the synagogue was described in the New York Times as being:
“designed in the Moresque manner, the Alhambra at Grenada (sic) having been taken as a model for the ornamentation and general treatment. The front will be partly of Indiana limestone and partly of brick and terracotta, of the same color. The main entrance will be arcaded, and over this will be an elaborate group of arched windows, separated by slender columns with carved capitals. The vestibule will be reached by a double flight of steps, with stone balustrades. The auditorium will be 60 by 70 feet and 50 feet in height, and will seat 650 people. The ark will be placed in an arched recess, against a background of highly-decorated arcaded windows, filled with stained glass. By special arrangement of lighting, the same effect will be obtained at night as by day.”
The form of the building façade can also be described as Venetian, for Brunner adapted the traditional Venetian palace façade for the synagogue’s public face. There were other Venetian buildings in the city at the time and the influence of John Ruskin in America was still strong. Many of New York’s Venetian buildings however, such as the Academy of Design (1862) and McKim Mead and Whites’ Herald Building (18??), use the Doge’s Palace as a model. As Rachel Wischnitzer pointed out many years ago, Brunner also used Venetian elements in Temple Beth El.

Within a decade Brunner would fully eschew the Moorish style for synagogue. In his 1905 Jewish Encyclopedia article he wrote:

The general results of the Moorish movement have been unfortunate; the greatest delicacy of feeling for both form and color is needed to preserve the beauty of Moorish architecture, and curiously shaped domes and towers and misapplied horseshoe arches, turrets, and pinnacles have often resulted, presenting in many cases a grotesque appearance rather than the dignity and simplicity that should have been attained.
The unpleasant results may be seen in St. Petersburg, London, Philadelphia, and in many parts of Germany. Emphasizing the towers that contain the stairs to the galleries, which are invariably on either side of the main entrance, is a common device, and the Temple Emanu-El in New York is so treated. In this case the minarets are graceful and skilfully placed; but the usual result is a loss of dignity; a single central motive is more pleasing. 
The most successful buildings in all great architectural periods are simple in design; whether large or small, richly decorated or not, simplicity is their main characteristic, and the desire to produce the picturesque and unusual is fatal to the dignity which should characterize the synagogue.
But in the early 1890s Brunner was still content to use Moorish forms - even though the building's side walls, visible only from within, employed large Georgian tri-partite window arrangements, with the center window much wider and taller than the flanking one, in the manner of Palladian  windows.
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008
New York, NY. former Temple Beth El. Brunner & Tryon, archs, 1891.
Like the Venetian palazzo, the synagogue is not free-standing, and is mostly viewed obliquely, from one end or the other of the relatively narrow West 82nd Street. Unlike Beth El, with its great dome facing Central Park, there is no distant view of Shaaray Tefila. Like Venetian palaces (and many New York row houses) Brunner placed the more important spaces high up. The main entrance is reached be ascending stairs which run parallel to the street and the façade, and terminate on a wide stoop from which one can survey the street the height, or turn and enter through a colonnade of four short columns carrying slightly pointed arches. Both stairs and stoop are lined with a fine balustrade. This type of portico, which is copied above, but with taller windows, is also a staple of Venetian palace facades. 

New York, NY. Kehillah Jeshurun,  East 85th Street. George Pelham, arch 1902. Photo: Wikipedia (2008).
New York, NY. Congregation Sons of Kalwarie  Pike Street. Alfred E. Badt arch, 1904. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
The design of Sharray Tefila was subsequently copied almost in its entirety for New York’s Kehillah Jeshurun on East 85th Street in 1902 by George Pelham (this synagogue was severely damaged by fire in 2011). The more overt Moorish or Venetian arcades have had their pointed arches transformed with sober round-arched opening. But otherwise the Pelham’s façade copies Brunner’s in all its essentials. That an Orthodox congregation should sanction the copying of the design of a Reform synagogue is remarkable, and perhaps is a testimony to the effectiveness of Brunner’s solution for a synagogue forced to build on a side street. The design was copied yet again by Congregation Sons of Kalwarie for their building on Pike Street on the Lower East Side.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Happy Birthday Leo Friedlander!

New York, NY. 1939 World's Fair. Four Freedoms statues by Leo Friedlander. Photo: NYPL 1654212

New York, NY. 1939 World's Fair. Four Freedoms statues by Leo Friedlander.

Happy Birthday Leo Friedlander (July 6, 1890 - Oct. 24, 1966)
by Samuel D. Gruber

Leo Friedlander may be the least known but most visible of American Jewish sculptors, He was a leader of architectural and monumental sculpture in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, and many of his works still adorn public buildings and spaces.The height of his career was in the 1930s when his figurative sculpture - free standing and in relief with recognizable but slightly distorted body types - was applied to some of the visible sites in New York, Washington, D.C. and in other major cities.  I don't think anyone today would consider Friedlander a great sculptor - but he was regarded as a highly capable one, and a sculptor who was able to consistently combine his personal aesthetic with an appeal to popular taste. His combined work straddled traditional Beaux-Arts figurative composition and  Art Deco patterning and stylization.

He sculpted reliefs on Rockefeller Center in New York and provided the highly visible thirty-three-foot figures representing the "Four Freedoms (speech, press, religion, and assembly) at the central esplanade of the 1939 World's Fair. The Fair was one of the the last great moments for figurative sculpture in the United States. Following World War II abstraction quickly gained favor. Friedlander was president of the National Sculpture Society in the 1950s a position from which he railed against the newest trends.

New York, NY. Rockefeller Center under construction with Leo Friedlander reliefs.
New York, NY. Rockefeller Center. Radio by  Leo Friedlander reliefs. Photo: Photo-ops
New York, NY. Rockefeller Center. Radio by Leo Friedlander. Photo: Photo-ops
New York, NY. Rockefeller Center with Leo Friedlander reliefs. Photo: Photo-ops

New York, NY. Rockefeller Center. Television by Leo Friedlander. Photo: Photo-ops
 At Rockefeller Center, Friedlander supplied reliefs on several themes for the side entrances. He had previously worked with architect Raymond Hood on the Social Science Building for the  1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition, in Chicago, and had also been an assistnat earlier in his career to Paul Manship, who sculpted the central plaza figure of Prometheus. Friedlander's primary relief was at the 49th Street entrance, and was titled:  Transmission Receiving an Image of Dancers and Flashing it Through the Ether by Means of Television to Reception, Symbolized by Mother Earth and her Child, Man, perhaps the first work of art addressing the new medium of television. Carol Krinsky notes in her book Rockefeller Center (Oxford, 1978, p. 144) that John D. Rockefeller did not care for Friedlander's work and that he wrote that they were "gross and beautiful."

Friedlander is also well known for his colossal public monuments, including the equestrian statues for the Arts of War installation of the equestrian statues Valor and Sacrifice at Washington, D.C.'s Arlington Memorial Bridge. 

Washington, DC. Memorial Bridge. Arts of Wars (Sacrifice), by Leo Friedlander.
Friedlander is included in Who's Who in American Jewry 1926, but I have found few other mentions of Jewish affiliation. He was born in New York David and Margarethe (King) Friedlander. He was a precocious artist and exhibited drawings at the Art Students League in New York when he was only twelve years old. He trained in Europe at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Brussels and Paris, and then as an Fellow in Sculpture at the American Academy in Rome (Prix de Rome 1913-1916), probably the first Jewish artist so honored. He also worked as an assistant to sculptor Paul Manship, America's leading exponent of Art Deco style sculpture.

Leo Friedlander standing in front of model for relief panel for Television, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0119041.

Friedlander later headed the sculpture department at New York University and was also president of the National Sculpture Society. In 1936, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1949.

I have not done any deep research on Friedlander, but am not aware of any specifically Jewish commissions or works of Jewish content. There is, however, a bronze sculpture Tree of Life in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. While this theme could be Jewish, but it is a common theme non-denominational theme, too.  You can see other works by Friedlander in the Smithsonian collection here.

Tree of Life n.d. Leo Friedlander Born: New York, New York 1888 Died: White Plains, New York 1966 bronze 23 x 9 3/4 x 12 1/2 in. (58.4 x 24.7 x 31.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Gordon D. Friedlander 1971.151 Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friedlander was also one of many leading artists who exhibited a model at the Jewish Museum in October 1949 for the proposed Holocaust Monument planned for Riverside Park in New York City, but never built. 

Here is a partial list of his major works (from Wikipedia). I'll expand this in the future: 

• The central pediment (1930) at the Museum of the City of New York 
• Sculptures at Washington Memorial Arch, Valley Forge National Historical Park 
• Reliefs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. 
• Sculpted reliefs (1931), Jefferson County Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama 
• Pylons, Social Science Building, (1932) 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago 
• Reliefs (1939) on the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center 
• The Arts of War sculptures, Sacrifice and Valor, flanking the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C. 
• Four Freedoms statues, 1940 New York World's Fair 
• Memory Sculpture, War Memorial, Richmond, VA 
• American Military Cemetery, Hamm, Luxembourg 
• Covered Wagon sculptural panels, Oregon State Capitol, Salem, OR

• Lewis and Clark sculptural panels, Oregon State Capitol, Salem, OR 
• Roger Williams Statue, Prospect Terrace Park, Providence, RI 
• Pioneer Woman Statue, Texas Women's University, Denton, TX

• Sculptured Clock, House of Representatives, Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. 
• Bacchante, bronze statue, Metropolitan Museum of Art 
• "Harmony Creates Tranquility" bronze medal, Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Good biographical and critical source material on Friedlander is not readily available - so reader's are invited to send in more information