Vilna Shul Engages Community To Help Restore Historic Mosaic

By Dan Murphy

The once-radiant flowers had faded from oxidation, moisture and other elements when Deborah Feinstein conceived a plan to give another life to the mosaic in the Vilna Shul community room while emphasizing the Phillips Street non-profit’s contemporary function as an all-inclusive community and cultural center.

“It came from the idea of the Vilna being a community, not just a Jewish one, but one that includes all of Beacon Hill and even the suburbs,” Deborah Feinstein, president of its board of directors and a visual artist.  “When people put the puzzle pieces of the mosaic together, they’ll be putting together the pieces of a new, contemporary vision of what the Vilna is.”

The Vilna hired Chestnut Hill mosaic and ceramic artist Bette Ann Libby to oversee “From Broken Pieces to a New Life” – an effort to restore the folk-art mural that dates back to the Depression-era. Under her guidance, participants fit ceramic shards and pieces into the crumbling fresco to reimagine its central image of flowers in an urn surrounded by mirrored pieces.

The project also revisits the past during the second of two open volunteer events, scheduled for Nov. 8, when descendants of the Vilna’s original congregation from a century ago will be on hand to participate.

“Their great-grandparents helped put up the original mosaic and now, they can come in and create a new one that will be there for future generations,” Feinstein said.

Rosa Kramer Franck, the Vilna’s director of development, describes the project as a historic event, since it marks the first time in decades that new art has been created in the building.

She likens the restoration of the fresco to the extensive rehabilitation that the Vilna’s headquarters recently underwent.

“The Vilna was a broken building for a long time, and we’re very slowly bringing it back to life,” Franck said. “We’re taking the broken pieces and making something new.”

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