Summary & Acknowledgements

On May 7, 2015 the mural was successfully extracted from the former Chai Adam Synagogue on 105 Hyde Street and moved to its new location at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, 188 North Prospect Street in Burlington. More than a year of planning and preparation led to this day. The conservation, architectural, engineering and construction team numbered more than 20 people: general contractors Great North Construction Inc., Engineering Ventures PC, Demag Movers & Riggers, steel experts Reliance Steel, plaster experts at MCC Materials Inc., and architect Marcel Beaudin.

Also essential to the process:

Rick Kerschner, Conservator Emeritus at the Shelburne Museum, provided technical expertise on moving the mural, coordinated mural conservation efforts, and ensured that the project director and engineers understood the conservation aspects of the project.

Constance Silver has been the lead conservator on the project. Two other conservation experts were consulted to help with the move. Professor Norman Weiss of the Columbia University Historic Preservation Program, a world-renowned conservation scientist, developed and implemented a novel treatment to strengthen and secure the mural’s weak plaster. Susan Buck, a conservation scientist with an international reputation in the laboratory, provided analysis of paint cross-sections and pigments.

Ray O’Connor is the master carpenter who expertly planned, supervised and performed all the hands-on carpentry work required to remove the mural from the Hyde Street building and install it at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue.

As a result of these individuals’ diligence and planning, the actual move was executed flawlessly and far quicker than anticipated.

Also, the project would not have been possible without the understanding and support of the Offenhartz family, owners of the Hyde Street building. Special thanks go to them for allowing the synagogue to reclaim its historic art work and for allowing access to the mural as we worked towards this day (a donation made in memory of Michael Offenhartz). Also, special gratitude is extended to the David Berg Foundation for their early support of the project and for aiding us in reaching our funding goals to make the move happen. (A full list of project donors can be found here).

Extraction

Moving the mural was Phase III of the Lost Shul Mural project and the most expensive and complicated part of the entire effort. By July 2014, project fund raising met a $150,000 interim goal, providing sufficient funds to authorize the move and to sign engineering and construction contracts. The Ohavi Zedek Synagogue Board agreed, based on the success of fund raising, to guarantee availability of additional funds as needed to carry out the move while fundraising would continue throughout the entire process. Over the next year the total raised would reach $420,000, all of which was needed to meet the costs of the move.

After the completion of the stabilization and consolidation of flaking paint and preliminary test cleaning of the mural (project Phase II) in the late spring of 2014, attention could be turned toward careful consideration of the stability of the structure of the mural and the building of which it was a part. This analysis was the first step in the preparation of a detailed technical plan for the extraction and the move. Preparation of this plan began in May and continued well into 2015 as new issues and challenges were identified.

The greatest uncertainty facing conservators and engineers was the condition of the mural’s plaster-on-lathe support and how the plaster would withstand the pressure of removal and transport. Even slight shifts in the plaster could destabilize the paint surface which had been so painstakingly stabilized and consolidate over the previous months.

Beginning in May 2014, various techniques were considered to ascertain the condition of the plaster. These including taking samples of the lath and plaster wall adjacent to the mural and viewing the back of the lath with a camera inserted through a small openong in the slate roof; but the results were inconclusive. It was decided that information on the quality and stability of the plaster and strength of its bond to the support lathe could only be ascertained after removal of the slate roof. Thus, decisions about procedures to consolidate and reinforce the plaster could only be made close to the time of the move itself, when the roof was gone, and the plaster fully examined. Conservators had to plan for a variety of situations and be ready to intervene since, once the roof was off, time would be short.

On September 24, 2014 building permits were granted to allow deconstruction/construction to begin at both the old and new synagogue sites. Because of the calendar of Jewish holidays in September and October, the onset of Vermont’s winter, and certain technical challenges, the project directors, following the advice of conservators and engineers postponed the mural move until the spring of 2015. Meanwhile, it was decided to proceed with all work that could be done prior to the move, including the preparation of both sites.

From October through December 2014, construction took place at the Hyde Street site on a substantial temporary structure to protect workers and the mural during the harsh winter weather. A heated structure was required to safely enable the removal of the slate roof, conservation of the plaster from the reverse, assembly and installation of the steel frame, facing and protecting the front of the mural, and the separation of the mural panels from the building’s wood frame.

All this activity was carried out within the structure, on site, through the winter and early spring of 2015. To limit vibration that could disturb the stability of the mural, no hammers were used in the construction of the shelter.

Painting conservator Connie Silver, and masonry and plaster experts Norman R. Weiss and Irving Slavid from MCC Materials, Inc., got their first glimpse of the back of the plaster in the November 2014 from scaffolding atop the roof. A few tiles were removed and a camera inserted. Full removal of the roof would not be possible until the scaffolding was enclosed in a temporary structure to fully protect the exposed back side of the mural from the elements. When this was done at the end of December, the careful removal of the slate roof tiles and the opening of the roof allowed the examination of the back of the mural, which fortunately, was found to be in relatively good condition.

In March, MCCM applied the first of three applications of HCT, a hydroxylating conversion treatment for the consolidation of the lime plaster keys. This was followed by application of the VoidSpan PHLc70 Injection Grout, a flowable pozzolanic hydraulic lime grout which was compatible with the existing lime plaster and enhanced attachment of the keys to the lath. When all visible plaster keys were treated, the whole wall was covered in light weight plastic to slow the drying of the grout (see MMC report April 7, 2015 for full technical details). Following a misting and drying sequence over several days, the back of the mural was carefully covered with new plywood boards and made ready for the move.

To protect paint and plaster from damage during the move, two facings were applied to the mural front. The facing immediately on top of the paint consists of silk crepeline that is adhered to the paint with a reversible varnish. It held the recently reattached and consolidate paint in place and protected it from being detached during the move. However, that facing alone was not strong enough to hold the plaster together were it to detach from the lath wall. That required a stronger facing of fiberglass mesh adhered with a wax-like material called Cyclododecane. This second facing was not only very strong, but the Cyclododecane is a unique material that gradually sublimes, changes directly from a solid to a gas, when exposed to air. Using Cyclododecane allowed for a safe and easy removal of the facing after the move. The silk crepeline facing will be removed in late August after all the last remnants of the Cyclododecane have disappeared.

After the facings were applied, the mural was completely covered with sheets of plywood that held two inches of soft foam firmly against the painted plaster surface. These foam cushions and two facings were all precautionary measures to protect the painted plaster from damage from vibration or shock during removal, transport, and installation in this new location. Such protective aspects of conservation treatment are seldom revealed or explained to the public who usually see mainly the dramatic before and after treatment photos, but little of the messy stuff in between.

While the mural was being prepared for moving from the Hyde street structure, the vestibule space of the 1951 mid-century modern Ohavi Zedek synagogue was being prepared to receive the large and heavy artwork. Steel beams were secured into the walls just below the 30-foot ceiling and seven steel rods, each three-quarter-inch in diameter, were hung from the steel beams to support the mural, suspended at a height of 11 feet, close to its original distance from the floor.

The Move

Project planners and engineers estimated that the move of the mural would take up to twelve hours. In the end, however, due to perfect weather and meticulous prior planning, the entire move took only three hours to complete.

On the day of the move the roof of the temporary shelter was detached and removed to the street by a large crane. Then, the same crane lifted the detached and supported mural panels, now encased in a specially built steel frame, and moved them gently to a large flatbed. Structural engineer Bob Neeld noted that this project required special attention to minimize any vibrations that could damage the mural. “Even a three-story building can be built to handle several inches of movement,” Neeld said. According to Neeld, the team hoped to limit movement “to a couple thousandths of an inch.”

The truck then drove slowly the .3 of a mile to the Ohavi Zedek synagogue. The crane followed, and at the synagogue lifted the mural again and placed the steel-framed mural, weighing about 6,500 pounds, on a custom-built landing pad. The front of the synagogue building had been removed, and the mural was then rolled into the building fitting through the opening by a carefully calculated few inches.

Over the following week, the steel frame was painted before the mural was lifted into its position of honor, while both buildings are put back together, the protective coverings were carefully removed and the mural was examined for any move-related damage. No damage to the paint or plaster was detected.

Installation

The mural was successfully installed at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue on May 7-8, 2015. Adjustments took place over the next two months. The mural was unveiled for the public for the first time on August 2, 2015. The donation of the mural by the Offenahrt family and transfer of ownership to the synagogue became legal and official after it was secured in its new location. Judaica curator and appraiser Elizabeth Berman of Boston provided a value assessment for both parties.

Educational Displays

Seven interpretative panels prepared for the unveiling ceremony will remain on display until additional information is prepared and presented as part of Phase IV (Educational component).