Poland trip offers hands-on experience to KSU Students

Brittany Nader

Students will have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to paint the ceiling of a replication synagogue that will appear in the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw this summer.

As part of the Synagogue Replication Travel Program, Kent State students will gain hands-on experience in Poland learning traditional painting techniques to contribute to the historic structure.

“We’d like as many students as possible to go,” Darice Polo, professor of painting and drawing, said. “There has been a lot of publicity surrounding the new museum, (and) it’s a really crucial end of a major project going on for some time. The conclusion will take a lot of work and dedication.”

“The painting workshops run from July 28 through August 15 and will take place in Warsaw’s existing masonry synagogues,” said Rick Brown, cofounder of Handshouse Studio.

Brown stated that after the painting workshops, completed pieces will be used to construct the ceiling of a replica of the Gwozdziec synagogue that will be placed inside the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

“The museum is scheduled to open (in) 2013 in Warsaw on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto,” Brown said. “The completed roof structure and ceiling painting (of the synagogue) will be installed in the new museum and become a major part of the permanent core collection.”

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The program is open to all students, but Brown said he is looking for students with an interest in: art, architecture, history, anthropology or international studies.

Polo said she will be accompanying students on the trip, and the group will fly to Poland to be part of the program’s fifth and final workshop.

“I’m looking forward to going with a group of dedicated students,” Polo said. “I think the experience will open us to traditional methods of painting, as well as the history of Poland and Polish Jews.”

Brown said students will learn how to transfer archived images of the original Gwozdzieck ceiling to the new structure, participate in lectures and learn traditional preparation of paints and pigments during the workshop.

“Students will work alongside a team of architects, artists, historians and educators,” Brown said.

Brown said more than 200 of Poland’s wooden synagogues were destroyed by the end of World War II. The Gwozdziec replica will serve as a historic educational tool for anyone who visits the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Rebecca Cross, assistant professor of fine art, will also accompany students on the trip. She said students who take part in the painting workshops will have the experience to learn about Poland’s Jewish history and become a part of the historical beginnings of the new museum.

“Poland, of course, is the site where most Jews were killed in World War II, but it’s also a part of Europe, that has some of the richest Jewish history,” Cross said. “(The project) has a very special meaning historically to anyone who is concerned with human justice; about reparations for tragedies such as the Holocaust.”

Cross said her daughter, an Oberlin College student, participated in one of the Handshouse Studio’s previous workshops where she was able to help construct the wooden frame of the synagogue replication. This partially inspired Cross to encourage Kent State students to sign up for the painting workshops.

“Learning something by building something, learning a history, a culture, a religion, even a lost technique of making paint, painting style, iconography…doing that through your hands is, I think, such a significant and embodied way to really learn,” Cross said. “It’s not about walking around and writing about art – To actually be making something is extraordinary and unique.”

The Handshouse Studio began the wooden synagogue replication workshops in 2004. Brown said he cofounded the non-profit organization with his wife, Laura, in 2002 to “create adventurous hands-on projects through community service.”

“The Handshouse principle of ‘learn by building’ demonstrates the power of architecture to build community and foster historical awareness and appreciation,” Brown said.

The cost of the trip is $2,600 with an additional $1,000 in program fees. The trip can count as three university transfer credits.

The deadline to apply is Feb. 1. Email Polo at [email protected] or Cross at [email protected] for the complete application.

“It’s an extraordinary program because it’s not really about being a tourist,” Cross said. “It’s about engaging in very hard work on a very specific path that is rewarding, collegial and fun.”

Contact Brittany Nader at [email protected].