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Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel

October 2, 2007–March 23, 2008

From gilded lions to high-stepping horses, the sacred to the secular, and the Old World to the New, “Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel” traces the journey of Jewish woodcarvers and other artisans from Eastern and Central Europe to America and the unsung role they played in establishing a distinct Jewish culture in communities throughout the United States. The exuberant artworks stand as a testament to a history of survival and transformation and provide a surprising revelation of the link that was forged between the synagogue and the carousel as immigrant Jewish artists transferred symbolic visual elements into this vernacular American idiom.

The first major study of this important aspect of the Jewish contribution to American folk art, the exhibition features approximately one hundred artworks and objects, including rare documentary photographs of Eastern European synagogue arks and carved gravestones, sacred carvings, papercuts, and carousel animals.

Coordinated by Stacy C. Hollander, senior curator and director of exhibitions


Marcus Charles Illions (1865/1874–1949)
Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
Paint on wood with glass eyes
51 x 84 x 20 in.
American Folk Art Museum, gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler from the Mary Lawrence and Walter Youree Collection, Oregon, 2008.2.1
Photo by Paul Foster, Portland, Oregon

Lions, Decalogue, and Hands of Kohen from Anshe Emeth Synagogue
Marcus Charles Illions (1865/1874–1949)
Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
c. 1920
Paint, gold paint, and gold leaf on wood with glass eyes
32 3/4 x 71 3/8 x 9 in.
The Sea Breeze Jewish Center, Brooklyn, New York
Photo by August Bandal

Decalogue, Lions, and Large Crown
Artist unidentified
Probably Ohio
Paint and gold paint on wood
36 x 48 in.
Hillel Jewish Student Center, Cincinnati, gift in memory of Jack Katz by his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, 1989.035
Photo by Mark Bealer

Lions with Decalogue
Artist unidentified
United States
Early 20th century
Paint on wood
23 x 55 x 5 in.
American Folk Art Museum, gift of Daniel M. Friedenberg, 2002.33.1
Photo by Gavin Ashworth

Artist unidentified
Ostrow-Masowiecka, Poland
Ink on cut paper
21 x 20 1/2 in.
The Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv, 036.011.010
Photo by Vladimir Naikhin, Jerusalem

Blessing from the New Moon
Abraham Kuyaski (dates unknown)
Poland or United States
Watercolor on cut paper
8 3/4 x 7 in.
The Temple Museum of Religious Art, The Temple Tifereth Israel, Cleveland, gift of Edith and Joseph Benson in memory of Dinnie Benjamin


Major support for “Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel” and the accompanying catalog was provided by Michael Steinhardt; Kekst and Company; the David Berg Foundation; the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation; the Smart Family Foundation; the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation, Allentown, Pennsylvania; the Betty and John A. Levin Fund; the Robert Lehman Foundation; the Nathan Cummings Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts; and the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Museum exhibitions are supported in part by the Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. & Erna D. Leir, the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel

By Murray Zimiles, with Vivian B. Mann; foreword by Gerard C. Wertkin. Lebanon, N.H.: University Press of New England/Brandeis University Press in association with the American Folk Art Museum, 2007. 170 pages.

New York Times

A profile of Murray Zimilies

... surprisingly secular ...
– New York Times
... a pure, sweet pleasure ...
– New York Sun
... a document of the influence of immigrant Eastern European Jews on American folk art ...
– Antiques and the Arts