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A Portal to Gwoździec: Come Inside the New Digital Space Illuminating the History of The Gwoździec Synagogue

By Handshouse Studio

Published Apr 22, 2023



This Curation is part of A Portal to Gwoździec.

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What is A Portal to Gwoździec?

The Gwoździec Re!construction is an example of Handshouse Studio’s interdisciplinary research approach. This internationally recognized project has accumulated an extensive archive of historic records, material culture, and intangible cultural heritage over the course of a 13-year hands-on investigation. 

Bringing together college students to work side-by-side with scholars, historians, design professionals, artists, and skilled makers from around the world through project-based courses, workshops, and travel programs across the US, Poland, and Ukraine, participants contributed to collaborative fieldwork and practical model-based explorations of Jewish and Eastern European material culture including distemper painting, 18th-century pigments, Hebrew calligraphy, traditional carpentry, log building, and timber framing. By motivating research with the goal of recreating the Gwoździec Synagogue as precisely as possible using the tools and materials of its original makers, this project renewed awareness of the existence and relevance of 18th-century wooden synagogues of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The collaborative physical product of this hands-on research resulted in stunning recreations of cultural heritage that have been recognized by historians, rabbis, curators, and politicians for their value in product and process, earning the project exhibitions in museums around the world. Most notably, the reconstruction of the Gwoździec Synagogue in the POLIN Museum. 

In addition to impacting the hundreds of participants involved in these workshops, the reconstructions, their exhibitions, and Trillium Studio’s award-winning documentary film, Raise the Roof, describing the project have also brought awareness of this history to millions of people, and initiated life-times of further questions to investigate.

The world wide enthusiasm has inspired a whole new question:

How can we share intangible and tangible cultural heritage gathered in sculptural research projects like this one with a larger audience so the knowledge continues to grow through an open-source approach? 

For this, we have turned to 21st-century tools, employing cutting-edge technologies to share historic processes and cultural heritage.


A Portal to Gwoździec is a digital space where we can invite people together to listen, learn, and illuminate the history of the Gwoździec Synagogue together.

This is a platform where we can share :

  • An augmented perspective of the Gwoździec Synagogue
  • Interdisciplinary cultural heritage revealed through years of hands-on materials, research, and historic processes that culminated in the Gwoździec Re!construction
  • Global archival resources and scholarship about Gwoździec and other wooden synagogues that once existed across the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
  • Narrative Stories about the many wooden synagogues that once stood, as well as testimonials from participants of the Gwoździec Re!construction project.
  • Curriculum and Workshops that offer a generative way for participants to learn-by-doing, illuminating cultural heritage and understanding through the physical act of reconstruction

A Portal to Gwoździec is a place where we can continue to reawaken the lost cultural heritage of wooden synagogues.


Today we are opening the door to welcome you in. Join us in illuminating this history. 

This is just the beginning. Come inside.


Handshouse Studio is a non-profit, educational organization that works to illuminate history, understand science, and perpetuate the arts.


What is a replica?

Is the Handshouse Studio reconstruction of the Gwoździec synagogue a replica? What is the difference between a replica and a reconstruction?

What is the meaning of repair?

If the original is gone, and there is nothing to be restored, is a reconstruction a restoration? How can rebuilding still be an act of repair?

If it is not original, is it an authentic object?

As Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator, Core Exhibition of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, asks “What constitutes an “original” or “actual” or “authentic” object?”

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