The husband-and-wife team of Rick and Laura Brown has reconstructed the synagogue of the Polish town of Gwoździec. In an interview, Rick Brown discusses the project itself and the building’s elaborate architecture, ornate wooden carvings, and paintings. In a visual idiom lost and nearly forgotten today, the artwork borrowed symbols and motifs from local Christians but blended them with uniquely Jewish features like the “centralized architectural element” of a high cupola:
Now, we believe Gwoździec was where they came up with this new idea of creating a very elaborate, multi-tiered wooden panel ceiling—we call it a cupola, and it moves upward and inward toward the top. . . . This is where the synagogue was creating its own architectural identity separate from the Christian churches. See, the Christian churches were based on the basilica: a long, straight nave, this processional. You come up the staircase, you go through the doors, you go down the aisle, and you come to the altar at the end. In this synagogue, in Gwoździec, the bimah was in the center; this is where the Torah scrolls were brought during a service, this is where the rabbi would speak, and the congregation would move around the bimah in a kind of circular fashion.