The Schara Tzedeck Shoah Survivors Tribute Wall was created for the congregation by John Nutter. The sculpture, which includes the names of 230 survivors, was dedicated May 3. (photo from John Nutter)
Congregation Schara Tzedeck has a new art installation in its main sanctuary. The Schara Tzedeck Shoah Survivors Tribute Wall – a Tree of Life rendered in sandblasted glass – includes the names of 230 survivors. It was dedicated May 3.
Full of shared memories and friendship, the pre-Shabbat dedication ceremony featured several speakers: the synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt; its executive president, Howard Kallner; younger family members of the survivors; Ed Lewin, co-chair of the project with Hodie Kahn; and the man who started the entire project, Dr. Robert Krell, a child survivor.
“We wanted to honour the Holocaust survivors who found their way to Canada, before and after the war, and wound up as members of this shul,” Lewin told the Independent. “Most of them came here in 1948. Their names are all there, on the wall. My parents’ and grandparents’ names are among them.”
Explaining how the project started, Lewin said, “We had this empty space, and Krell suggested a tribute to Holocaust survivors. It was several years ago. It took us awhile to find the talented glass artist, John Nutter, who transformed our ideas into a sculpture.”
The synagogue is publishing a commemorative book about the installation, as well. While the Tribute Wall features survivors’ names only, the book also contains photographs of the survivors; there are family and group photo pages. Together, the book and the wall serve as a memorial to those who not only survived the Shoah but contributed greatly to Schara Tzedeck and to the development of Greater Vancouver and the province over the past seven decades.
One page of the book is dedicated to Nutter, who has created numerous art installations for churches and synagogues, mostly in New York. His works decorate many institutions in the United States and Canada: hotels, museums, hospitals. He collaborated with local artist Bill Reid on a glass sculpture at the Vancouver International Airport. A few years ago, Glass Magazine named Nutter one of the top three architectural glass artists in the country.
About how he came to design the Tribute Wall, Nutter said, “A few years ago, I did a small glass sculpture for the Louis Brier Home, a collaboration with a wonderful artist and friend, Diana Zoe Coop. Camille Wenner, Diana’s daughter, works for Schara Tzedeck. I’ve known Camille since she was a young child. She contacted me about this project and, of course, I said, yes.”
He explained his work process. “They knew exactly what they wanted – a Tree of Life, made like a Vancouver cherry tree in bloom. Usually, I start with a small draft, show it to my clients, make changes until they’re satisfied, before I transfer the design to glass. But the people from Schara Tzedeck were very nice. They approved my first draft of the design.”
The first step in making the sculpture was creating a life-size drawing out of the small-scale draft. “I hire a company for that,” said Nutter, “give them my small drawing, and they blow it up to the size I want.”
Once he has the full-size paper draft, he starts working on the glass. For this sculpture, he used nine separate glass panels. The three bottom panels are roots. “The words ‘Schara Tzedeck’ are carved among the roots, to symbolize the Jews who had set their roots with the congregation,” Nutter explained.
The middle panel is the trunk, and the five panels around it are carved with leaves and flowers. “I sandblasted each petal of each flower individually,” Nutter said. “It gives more depth to the sculpture.”
The work is made of 15-millimetre laminated glass; two layers joined together. The carving is on the back, and the names of the survivors are written on the front, in black, which adds to the visual depth.
Nutter has been working with architectural glass for decades. “I started as an architecture student at the University of Manitoba,” he recalled. “A couple years into my studies, I took a summer job with a stained glass company. I loved it so much, I left my schooling and stayed with the company for several years, before I founded my own company. I never finished my architectural degree, but I taught stained glass making at the same faculty years later.”
He loves architecture, and most of his works are large-scale glass. “Sometimes,” he said, “my background in architecture helps me to win the contracts. I often build small-scale models of my proposed installations when I bid for a job. I like the details and hardware used in the models. I learned that during my years of architectural studies.”
Frequently, Nutter’s sculptures and windows tell a story, like the one he created for Schara Tzedeck. “In the past, when artists made glass installations in churches and other religious institutions, it was always to tell a story, as most of the population were illiterate,” he said. “Now, people can read, so the art became more decorative, but it still tells a story.”
To learn more about the artist, visit johnnutterglassstudio.com or visit his studio on Granville Island. For those interested in purchasing the hardcover, full-colour commemorative book ($54), visit scharatzedeck.com/event/-shoah-survivors-tribute-book-order.html; the order deadline is June 30.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].