One of the things that makes the Museum’s exhibition of the Gwozdziec roof truly amazing is that it is completely suspended above the viewers’ heads. Sixteen steel rods will run through the log walls and attach the roof to the ceiling. Alicia Spence thought this might be one of the only hanging timber frame structures in the world.
And, at the end of the second week of the install, it was time to get it flying.
The plan was to make the actual lifting job as simple as possible. This meant rigging up eight chain hosts around the roof and using the attached digital scales on each one to make sure that the structure was balanced. With this lifting system in place, a crew member at each hoist could pull a set number of times and, with remarkably little effort, move the roof up inch-by-inch.
So at the end of one day the whole team assembled to lift the synagogue. Ten pulls on a hoist at a time would scarcely move the roof up, but we could all see that the roof was making headway by its gentle sway. For safety’s sake, they put cribbing under each corner of the roof. Alicia made careful records of the weight on each hoist and made sure everything was stable.
With the structure hanging, the timber frame crew could move on to getting the roof rafters into place. This often meant that Jacob Jensen had to climb all the way to the top of the ridge truss to fit the joints. Looking out at him from the top floor glass box, this didn’t seem like much of a climb, but from the exhibition floor, he was way up there.
At one point we noticed that there were five layers of crew working on the synagogue at a time: Jacob at the top, two rows of timber framers installing the interior structure of the upper roof, and the painting crew working at the lantern level and below. The space was filled with the constant sound of saws, drills, and hammers.
There was still timber frame work going on the very last day we were there, but by the middle of the last week all the major tasks had been completed. We all could step back and marvel at the immensity and complexity of the Gwozdziec roof.
In fact, when we interviewed Maria Piechotka about Gwozdziec, she said it was this complexity that made these Polish synagogues so special. Following World War II, Maria and her husband, Kazimierz, were able to recover and compile the pre-war research done about the synagogues. Rick and Laura Brown describe them as the grandparents of this project. Maria gave us a great theory about why the Jews of this time and location may have been able to circumvent 2nd Commandment laws. You’ll have to wait to hear it!
We also took this opportunity to interview members of the crew again. This has been a very long-coming moment for everyone involved. The timber framers had last seen the structure in the early summer of 2011. The Handshouse crew, on the other hand, like Krista Lima, Jason Loik, Matt Jeffs, and Jason Bashaw, had spent two long summers working on the painted ceiling. Krista told us that she thinks she may have painted an animal, a detail, or a pattern on every single panel.
And so in the last few days of the installation, the Handshouse crew turned anxiously toward getting the final panels into place. When the first dome went in with its fabulous bear, unicorns, ostrich, and camel, we were shocked at just how powerful the paintings were. The intricacy of the floral patterns were almost incandescent under the work lights. One team tackled the remaining domes and pendantives, while the other struggled with the zodiac.
The last panels were a real struggle. Very careful shimming, shaving, and adjustment was needed to get the lines to match. But slowly the ceiling closed in, enveloping the crew in bright colors and patterns. It was like being wrapped in a deep and wondrous tent.
Thursday, January 31st, was the last work day. Every panel and timber was in place. There was still plenty of detail work to clean up, but smiles and excitement clearly came through to replace the stress of the previous three weeks. As timber framer Jim Kricker said, for the first time since World War II, people were once again walking under the paintings and timbers of the Gwozdziec roof!