Torah Ark Decoration

Unknown Maker

Many of the Ashkenazic Jews of Central and Eastern Europe brought woodcarving skills to our shores. Woodcarving was one of a select number of crafts that was not restricted by the guilds and as such, Jews, who were largely excluded from the guilds, were allowed to practice it. In the wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe the art form reached its zenith as master carvers wrought intricate arks and other interior details.

This Torah Ark decoration is similar to those made by Marcus C. Illions. Illions was born in 1871 in Lithuania and came to the United States at the age of seventeen with a circus impresario who hired him to carve the sides of wagons for the menagerie. Over the years, he gained great renown for his carousel horses but still accepted various other civic and religious commissions. Two of his Torah Ark decorations, commissioned for Brooklyn synagogues in the first decade of the 20th century, survive in the collections of the Jewish Museum in New York and the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles. Additional examples of carved wooden ark decorations were preserved from Congregation Shaarei Eli, Philadelphia, PA (ca.1918) and Congregation Linas Hazedek, Kansas City, Missouri (ca.1900); both are by unknown artists. The former is now housed in the National Museum of American Jewish History and the later belongs to the Karp Family Collection.

In this ark decoration, two lions flank the two tablets with the Ten Commandments. The lions' heads are adorned with acorns. Above the tablets ate two hands in blessing. There is residue of blue paint on the tablets and on the sleeves of the arms, and residue of green paint on the lions.

Name: Torah Ark Decoration
Artist: Unknown Maker
Origin: United States, Early 20th Century
Medium: Paint, Wood
Dimensions: 19 1/2 in.x 42 13/16 in.
Credit: Gift of Georgette Spertus from the Maurice Spertus Collection
Catalog Number: 88.24