This Place in History: The Lost Mural Part 2

Vermont Historical Society

BURLINGTON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we’re back at Ohavi Zedek in Burlington, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

Last week, we talked about this amazing architectural painting that has great significance not only to the Burlington community, but really to this Jewish diaspora, or even all immigrants all over the world. Equally amazing is how this thing was conserved, moved and installed here at the current synagogue. Aaron Goldberg, the Co-Archivist at Ohavi Zedek has joined us and is going to talk us through the whole process,” began Perkins.

“This mural was painted by an artist named Ben Zion Black and he painted it in 1910. It was painted in an older synagogue called Chai Adam Synagogue on Hyde Street in Burlington. The Chai Adam Synagogue closed in 1939 and the Lost Mural was successfully moved here in May of 2015,” said Goldberg.

“I had seen the mural when I was in high school in the 1970s. The Chai Adam Synagogue was then being used as a commercial business. It was Harry Wheel Carpet Master. You’d go in the front side of the business and there was a counter and you’d be served at the counter. But, if you wanted to go see carpet remnants, you’d go into the actual warehouse where Harry Wheel had kept this part of the mural untouched in the warehouse,” explained Goldberg.

“In 1986, the synagogue building is sold. That began the first initiative which was how to keep the mural somewhat safe from any construction conversion project.”

“We had some idea of the technology that could be used to get it out, but we couldn’t find a place to store it. So, the decision was made to take archival slides. Actually, the descendants of Ben Zion Black and his wife, their two daughters, donated monies to get archival slides taken of the mural in place.”

“So, the mural is sealed up behind a wall and there is insulation placed between the wall and the mural itself. People are occupying that apartment from 1986 to 2013, I believe, and they have no idea there is a mural behind it,” exclaimed Goldberg.

“We actually end up leasing the apartment. We open the apartment walls from the front so that we’re able to work on stabilizing the paint from the front. And this was a huge job. Something like over 80% of the paint you now see was coming off, was flaking off,” said Goldberg.

“There’s a wonderful steel frame that is designed to lift the mural, put it down in a truck, and transport the mural. Then [we had] the crane lift it up again and put it on a landing pad. Three very capable contractors who worked with us on the project used chains and they manually pulled up the mural to its present position. And that’s after we put steel rods in the ceiling to support the mural itself.”

‘We’re now involved in a really big push to raise the funds to clean the mural. We’ve raised over two-thirds of the money. The goal is to start to do it this year in 2021,” said Goldberg.

“This literally is an international treasure. [It’s] maybe one of the only types of its kind where we not only know where it came from and what it looks like and where it’s been extensively documented and photographed, but where we know a tremendous amount about the artist. The ones in Europe were never photographed and little or no information is available on the actual artists. So, this is really a representative piece that has an international reach that happens to be located right here in Burlington, Vermont,” concluded Goldberg.

At ‘This Place in History’!

To view Part 1, click here.

To learn more about the Lost Mural, click here.

To donate to the cleaning and restoration of the Lost Mural, click here.

To view more ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

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