Ohavi Zedek Lost Shul Mural, Burlington, VT

The story surrounding the Lost Shul Mural begins in 1910 at the Chai Adam Synagogue in the north end of Burlington, where the population of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants had swelled to 800. The congregation at the Chai Adam Synagogue, built in the 1880’s, hired Ben Zion Black, a recent immigrant from Kovno, Lithuania to paint the synagogue in the artistic tradition of Eastern Europe, combining folk design and traditional Jewish symbols with more modern techniques. By 1939 the Chai Adam synagogue had merged with the Ohavi Zedek synagogue and the building changed hands a number of times.

By 1986, renovations to the building had destroyed all but the mural in the three sided turret of the original building when the building was sold yet again. Members of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue led by Aaron Goldberg persuaded the new owner to hide the mural behind a wall until such time as plans could be executed to relocate it.

The mural stands eleven feet high, twenty two feet long and is nine feet wide. The Lost Shul Mural is a significant piece of folk art, given that World War II and the progression of time have all but eradicated the genre.

In 2010 the false wall was reopened and Architect Marcel Beaudin began the planning process along with Engineering Ventures, PC and Great Northern Construction, Inc. for the preservation and move. The existing turret was enclosed in a temporary structure with a removable roof so that work could begin on stabilizing and preserving the fragile mural. Enclosed in the temporary structure, the slate roof and wooden roof were carefully removed from the outside of the turret revealing the back of the mural.

MCC Materials was brought in to provide extensive experience with plaster and lath, and Constance Silver, Painting Conservator, was selected to provide preservation and restoration. The front of the mural was covered in mesh silk adhered with a removable facing adhesive to prevent flaking, and a layer of fiberglass mesh was applied to prevent the plaster and lath from pulling apart. Protective panels were constructed covered in foam and sealed with tyvek to minimize vibrations and protect the face of the mural from damage during the move.

A steel frame was designed to protect and encase the mural. Brought in through the temporary roof and sides, the frame was erected around the mural before cutting the mural and integrated roof structure from the building side walls. A 50 foot crane was used to remove the temporary roof and lift the mural out of the structure, where it was guided onto a flatbed truck and transported six blocks to its permanent residence on display in the foyer of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. In preparation of the display, the ceiling of the synagogue was prepared for the weight of the mural by installing two steel beams along with four suspension rods. Windows and doors facing the synagogue were temporarily removed to allow the mural to be wheeled into the foyer and suspended from the ceiling.

The mural was officially unveiled at the synagogue on Sunday, August 2, 2015, but there is still a significant amount of work to be done on the restoration of the painting itself, and fund raising is currently underway. 

Engineering Ventures, PC was very proud to have provided the structural engineering for the momentous undertaking to stabilize, remove, relocate and install this very rare remnant of the Jewish faith in its new home at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue.