Sunday, April 5, 2020

USA: Montefiore Synagogue in Lowell, Massachusetts Closes; ISJM Documents Interior Before Building is Sold

Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

USA: Montefiore Synagogue in Lowell, Massachusetts Closes; ISJM Documents Interior Before Building is Sold

by Samuel D. Gruber

After nearly a half century, the Montefiore Synagogue in Lowell, Massachusetts has closed. The mid-century modern synagogue opened in 1972 after the 1968 merger of the Orthodox Anshe Sfard Synagogue and the Montefiore Society Synagogue. On a quick visit to Massachusetts last fall I managed a stop in Lowell where congregation members allowed me to photograph the synagogue and its art before all the items were dispersed and the building sold.

I have found little about the architecture, but the architectural presentation drawing is signed by Howard Associates. The design is typical of the time, but in its compactness of plan and in its materials, it more closely resembles synagogues of the 1950s than the more expressive synagogues of the late 1960s. The  sanctuary is built of wood. Large wood laminate arches carry the roof, and there is fine wood paneling all around the room. If any reader knows more about Howard Associates please let me know.

There was once a small courtyard that gave access to classrooms, chapels and other spaces, but this was later enclosed.


Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. The presentation drawing, Howard Associates. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.


Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. The presentation drawing was used extensively in the fund raising for the new synagogues.


Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.


Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Enclosed courtyard. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

The origin story of the new synagogue fits nicely-and sadly-into the history of mid-20th century American synagogue construction, and in the saga of American "urban renewal". The older buildings of the two merging congregations on Howard Street were demolished as part of the nationwide clearing of older neighborhoods in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a practice that saw the destruction of old Jewish neighborhoods in dozens of towns an cities across the industrialized North. Then, there was even more destruction when the Highland Congregational Church was torn down to allow the newly merged congregation a place to rebuild. I have not found any interior pictures of the 1907 Montefiore synagogue, and I wonder if it had any wall paintings, similar to those that we can see in a preserved interior of the old Anshe Sfrad. 


Lowell, Massachusetts. The former Montefiore Synagogue on Howard Street, built in 1907, was taken by the Urban Development Agency by imminent domain and demolished.
Lowell, Massachusetts. The former Anshe Sfard Synagogue on Howard Street was taken by the Urban Development Agency by imminent domain and demolished.
Lowell, Massachusetts. Interior view of former Anshe Sfard Synagogue on Howard Street. note the painted lions on the Ark wall.
Demolition in March 1970 of the Highland Congregation Church,  to make way for the new Montefiore synagogue.

In the fall of 2019 the congregation was seeking to find new homes for the synaoggue's art and furnishings Apparently that is still the case. Information on the arks and other items can be found at a webpage of Maavar, a program of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts here. My understanding is that for legal reasons all items must be sold - not donated - but that all offers will be considered.

Maavar offers services to congregations that are closing, merging, expanding, or facing other major changes. The organization helped find new homes for sacred objects from Congregation Tifereth Israel in Revere, including the carved 1916 Ark that was moved to and rededicated in the the Beit Midrash Chapel at Shir Tikva, Wayland.

Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.


Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Better known than Howard Associates is the versatile Lexington-based artist David Holleman (b. 1927), who designed arks in both the main sanctuary and the Anshe Sfard chapel, the accompanying mosaics and parochets, and the stained glass skylight in the chapel. He probably also designed the impressive metalwork menorah on the building exterior, and the  Decalogue and Eternal Light over the sanctuary Ark. Holleman also created a large series of mosaic panels of the Tribes of Israel that also commemorate donors. These are all impressive, beautiful, and finely made works. Their future is uncertain.

Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Main Sanctuary. Ark and parochet by David Holleman, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Main Sanctuary. Ark and parochet by David Holleman, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Howard Associates, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

In addition to his work for the Montefiore Synagogue, Holleman has created artwork for over 40  synagogues, including Temple Beth El in Quincy, Temple Beth Am in Randolph, Temple Reyim in Newton, Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Temple Beth El in Lowell and Temple Beth Am in Framingham. He has also done work in synagogues in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Manchester, NH, Skokie, IL and Cincinnati, OH.

The series of large stained glass windows which Holleman made for a chapel at Temple Beth El in Quincy, Massachusetts were donated in 2015 to the museum at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati after the Temple merged with Temple Shalom in Milton the previous year.

Holleman also created a large series of stained glass windows for the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield, CT, which I photographed a few years ago and will post as a separate item on this blog.

Holleman has created many secular murals, too, including for the Museum of Science in Boston, Stonehill College and Boston College, as well as two large works in the Bronx, NY;  for the  Harry Truman High School and at the Northeast Bronx Educational Park. 

Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Chapel skylight by David Holleman, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Chapel. Ark and parochet by David Holleman, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Chapel. Ark by David Holleman, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Chapel. Ark by David Holleman, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Chapel. Ark and parochet by David Holleman, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, MA. Montefiore Synagogue. Chapel by David Holleman, 1972. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

Near the entrance to the synagogue, Holleman also helped create a donor wall, which thanks the benefactors to the Temple in a series of mosaic panels depicting Jacob's Dream in the center, surrounded by panels depicting the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

David Holleman. Jacob's Dream (angels ascending ladder). Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.



Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Lowell, Ma. Montefiore Synagogue. Tribes of Israel. David Holleman, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.















Saturday, March 21, 2020

Paris: Observations on Jacob Epstein's Sculpted Tomb of Oscar Wilde

Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Oscar Wilde. Jacob Epstein, sculptor, 1908 Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Oscar Wilde. Jacob Epstein, sculptor, 1908-1912. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Paris: Observations on Jacob Epstein's Sculpted Tomb of Oscar Wilde

By Samuel D. Gruber

Here is one more post about the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. I've already written about some Holocaust monuments and graves of 19th-century Jewish notables. But there is at least one more sort-of Jewish monument that deserves a look--that's the boundary-breaking sculptural tomb of Oscar Wilde carved by the young American-Jewish sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), who beginning in 1902 made his life and career in England, where he became a citizen in 1911.

The circumstances of Wilde's death in exile in 1901 and the commissioning of the tomb are well known. I am indebted to the excellent catalog essay by Evelyn Silber, "The Tomb of Oscar Wilde,"(in Jacob Epstein: Sculpture and Drawings (Leeds: Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1989, pp. 124-131).

George Bernard Shaw had introduced the young sculptor to Robert Ross, Wilde's literary executor, in 1905, while Ross was still publishing Wilde's works and paying of his debts. Wilde, the Anglo-Irish writer who was in the 1880s and 90s the chief spokesman for the Aestheticism Movement, was at the time of his death widely reviled in England for dandyism and homosexuality. He was, however, still revered by a loyal literary and artistic public, and a small circle of friends were dedicated to perpetuating his literary and critical work. Wilde was able to find a resting place in more forgiving Paris, where he had moved after his release from two years in prison in 1897. At Pere Lachaise, he joined other esteemed writers in eternal repose. He would be later joined by American writer Gertrude Stein, whose modest grave and marker are not far away.

Still, when Epstein's large Hoptonwood stone sculpture was installed in 1912, the work caused quite a scene, and stirred memories of Wilde trial and conviction in England for "gross indecency."

Jacob Epstein in his London studio with the Tomb of Oscar Wilde, 1912. Photo: Jacob Epstein: Sculpture and Drawings (Leeds: Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1989), fig. 45.
I've written before about Epstein's life, work and influence; he was a pioneer of modern sculpture. Here we can take a closer look at one particular work for which he was both notorious and celebrated.

Born in the United States, Epstein was the child of Polish-Jewish immigrants and he grew up on the Lower East Side, where he got his first artistic training at a Settlement House. His first significant commission was to illustrate Hutchins Hapgood's Spirit of the Ghetto, for which he produced a series of naturalistic street scenes of mostly Jewish characters and life from the world he knew well. As young man he would also have been familiar with the art collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When he moved to London in 1902 he frequented the galleries of the British Museum. When he turned his hand to stone carving he was much impressed by the Assyrian sculpture at the museum.

The flying figure on tomb of Oscar Wilde draws on subject and forms familiar to Epstein from ancient Near Eastern art, especially the great Assyrian Palace sculptures excavated by Austin Henry Leyard in the mid-19th century, parts of which were on view at the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum and the Louvre.

Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Oscar Wilde. Jacob Epstein, sculptor, 1908. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
A Lamassu, from the entrance into the kings private apartments in Nimrud; 865–860 BC. British Museum (London). Photo: Wikipedia.
Frederick Charles Cooper. Drawing showing the winged bulls found by Layard at Nimrud. Watercolor on paper, mid-19th century. Photo: British Museum.
Study for the Tomb of Oscar Wilde, ca. 1909. Pencil, 50.8 x 35.6. Photo: Jacob Epstein: Sculpture and Drawings (Leeds: Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1989), fig. 47.
Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Oscar Wilde. Jacob Epstein, sculptor, 1908 Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Oscar Wilde. Jacob Epstein, sculptor, 1908 Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Silber has noted that the Evening Standard, which had previously attacked Epstein's work was much more enthusiastic about the Wilde tomb sculpture, praising the artist's "regard for his material, and its purpose. The work ... is as reserved in execution as it is monumental in conception so that nothing destroyed the effect of a rectangular block of stone which has felt itself into expression". 

The Pall Mall Gazette enthused:
Mr. Epstein is a real sculptor — a carver not a modeller — but he is also a Sculptor in Revolt . . . This brooding, winged figure, born long ago in primitive passions, complex and yet incomplete, is a child of the marble, and not an enlarged copy, by some other hand, of a highly finished plaster model . . . This is Mr. Epstein's commentary, serious and profound, unobscured by conventional formulas, and inspired by an acute necessity for utterance. "Go and see it at once", is my urgent advice to all who are interested in sculpture, and think of it, if you can, on a hilltop in Pere Lachaise, dominating all those tawdry memorials of the easily-forgotten dead.
One of Wilde's most famous poems is "The Sphinx." It  was begun when Wilde was a student at Oxford, and then rewritten in Paris in 1883, and worked on until publication in 1894. It begins with a raven-like sphinx in the corner of the poet's room and "proceeds through a series of imagined scenes in which the sphinx is depicted as a goddess, a prophet, and a lover." (Poetry Foundation). 

Epstein's figure is a cross between a sphinx and an angel. The sphinx (and the related cherubim) as described in the Book of Exodus, was frequently depicted in antiquity, and it was revived and popular by the symbolism writers and artists. Perhaps the best known images is the 1864 painting by Gustav Moreau of the Oedipus and Sphinx in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Moreau's imagery was an influence of Oscar Wilde. Moreau's Sphinx, however, is decidedly female, and she thrusts her breast at the nude male Oedipus. Epstein's figure is male, and it the prominently dangling testicles  provoked a response and calls of "immorality" (in some drawings, however, the testicles are not so pronounced).

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Gustav Moreau. Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Jacob Epstein. Study for Tomb of Oscar Wilde and a frieze, ca. 1910. Photo: Jacob Epstein: Sculpture and Drawings (Leeds: Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1989), p. 128.
Silber quotes a letter from Epstein to Francis Dodd describing his encounter with local authorities who were hell-bent on censoring the sculpture and literally "covering up" its "immorality":
...Imagine my horror Dodd when arriving at the cemetery to find that the sex parts of the figure had been swaddled in plaster! and horribly. I went to see the keeper of the cemetery and he tells me that the Prefect of the Seine and the Keeper of the Ecole des Beaux Arts were called in and decided that I must either castrate or fig leaf the monument! What am I to do? Here is the Strand business all over again. You cannot imagine how terrible the monument looks now. The work is nearing completion and the inscriptions will begin tomorrow. I am going to get of course Leon Bakst and any other influential people I know here to stop all this miserable business. I feel quite sick over it but ridicule will do the work I think. Imagine a bronze fig-leaf on the Oscar Wilde Tomb. For that is what the guardian of the cemetery suggested might be done . . . This is a mad world.
Yours ever Jacob Epstein>
Four studies for the Tomb of Oscar wilde, 1908-1910. Pencil, 50.8 x 35.6. Photo: Jacob Epstein: Sculpture and Drawings (Leeds: Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1989), p. 125.
Of course, the figure is also a stylized version of the common winged victory known from ancient Roman triumphal monuments and sarcophagi, and these figures are the precursors of the ubiquitous winged angels of later Christian art. In both cases the figures can refer to an earthly triumph, but also a spiritual one over death.

Rome, Italy. Winged victory from Arch of Septimius Severus, dedicated 203 C.E. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2010.
Gubbio, Italy. Detail of Roman Sarcophagus showing clipeus supported by winged figures, 3rd century C.E. Palazzo dei Consoli Museum. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Jacob Epstein or Charles Holden. Study for Tomb of Oscar Wilde, 1909-10. Walsall Museum and Art Gallery (Garman-Ryan Collection). Photo: Jacob Epstein: Sculpture and Drawings (Leeds: Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1989), p. 130.
Jacob Epstein. tomb of Oscar Wilde, as reprodiuced in The New Age (June 6, 1912). Photo: Jacob Epstein: Sculpture and Drawings (Leeds: Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1989), fig. 48.
Epstein’s powerful and "primitive" (in the parlance of the day) work was not immediately appreciated by many other artists and architects at the time, but within a decade, after the horrors of World War I, his approach was widely adopted, and one can see something of the legacy even in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where the war memorial for Belgian soldiers who died fighting for France, was dedicated in 1922, and designed in similar squat, blocky and massive and almost chronic style.
Paris, France. Pere Lechaise Cemetery. Belgian Soldiers WWI Memorial, dedicated 1922. Henry Lacoste, architect, with a bronze bas-relief door by sculptor Charles Piot. The names of 103 soldiers are engraved on the rounded pillars. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Just at the time of Oscar Wilde's exile and death, the winged figure as guardian or messenger, became very popular in the form of cherubim (k'ruvim). The word comes form the Akkadian Karubi, which means intercessor, an the notion of cherubim entered the early Israelite religion from contemporary pagan polytheistic religions. These winged figures are widely known from Assyrian and Egyptian art, and are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 3:24, and described in some detail in Exodus 37:7–9, when Bezalel is instructed to sculpt a pair of the them for the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, and in 1 Kings 6:27, when enormous cherubim are described filling the space of the Temple's Holy of Holies.
Ivory cherub from Arslan Tash, Northern Syria,  possibly early 1st millennium BCE. Photo: Hamblin & Seely, Solomons Temple, fig. 24.
Just around 1900 we see them increasingly represented in historical and religious art, such as James Tissot's famous painting The Ark Passes Over the Jordan, painted between 1896 and 1901, when it was exhibited in Paris with his other Old Testament scenes.
James Tissot, The Ark Passes Over the Jordan, btw. 1896-1901.
Cherubim are adopted as a possible wall decoration of the ancient Temple; the reconstruction of the interior of the Temple by Charles Chipiez was widely reproduced by the turn of the 20th century.
Temple reconstruction from Chipiez, Charles and Perrot, Georges, tLe Temple de Jérusalem et la Maison du Bois-Liban restitués d’après Ezéchiel et le Livre des Rois (Paris, 1889). This illustration was reproduced in the Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 12 (New York, 1905).

Temple reconstruction by Chipiez and Perrot reproduced in the Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 12 (New York, 1905).
In part because of the cherub's mystical appeal but also because of the curving grace of the form, cherubs and other sorts of winged angels were popular - like the Sphinx - with the symbolist artists, and especially with artists working in the Art Nouveau style. A good example of this, from 1909, just as Epstein is designing the Wilde Tomb, is the silver model of the Ark of the Covenant by the Danish artist Joan Rohde.

Johan Rohde, Ark of the Covenant, silver case lined with cedar wood. Copenhagen, 1909. Danish Jewish Art, p. 57.