In June 2011, I took vacation from my job in Paris to spend three weeks working as a volunteer on a very special project in southeast Poland. The Timber Framers Guild of North America was in charge of running this all-volunteer jobsite, which lasted from mid-May to July 1, 2011. To quote the Guild’s press release about the project:
“We are commissioned to build a replica of the complex timberframe and log framing of the roof of Gwoździec synagogue, a remarkable wooden synagogue built in the Polish Lithuanian Empire in 1731. (The town of Gwoździec is now in Ukraine.) What we build will become the centerpiece of the exhibit space at the The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which will open in 2013 on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. We are assembling an international team of traditional carpenters from the Timber Framers Guild, and our allied organizations in Europe to mount the reconstruction of this unique timber framed roof structure, using period-appropriate (and contemporary) tools and techniques. We anticipate that this building project will produce, in addition to the roof itself, quality technical data on the regional timber and log traditions, and a documentary film.”
The project involved a team of over 30 professional carpenters from numerous countries, as well as over one hundred art and architecture students from Poland and the USA. Nearly everything on site was done by hand in the manner of the 18th century, from hewing beams to sawing, chopping and chiseling joinery. During world war 2, every last wooden synagogueof this type (a well-defined architectural form) was destroyed, giving the Gwoździec reconstruction poignant relevance. There is deep documentation of the project, including a blog, and award-winning documentary, and the websites to the three partner organizations: Timber Framers Guild, Handshouse Studio, and The Museum of the History of Polish Jews.