Complete with a red carpet, the Madison Art Cinemas will host the June 14 world premiere of the documentary We Built This House, a one-hour film telling the story of Chester synagogue Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek—known as a global art landmark for being the only public building that acclaimed artist and Connecticut native Sol LeWitt ever designed. Film producer-director Jon Joslow, a lifetime member of the congregation, will discuss the movie and a reception will follow the screening. Tickets are open to the public and may be obtained for a donation of $18 each through the synagogue office, 860 526 8920. The showing begins at 11:00 am, and organizers have offered that “paparazzi are welcome.” Joslow is a crisis/transition leader for private equity who spent a year researching the history of the congregation and its building.
In a 2013 profile, Town & Country’s arts editor compared the striking Chester sanctuary with a masterpiece chapel Henri Matisse created in Nice, France. But the synagogue, opened in 2001, started as a napkin sketch, organizers of the project say. LeWitt first drew a structure inspired by traditional wooden temples of Eastern Europe combined with elements of colonial New England barns.
We Built This House traces how architect Stephen Lloyd translated LeWitt’s vision into post and beam, and how the Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek community collaborated and improvised—even adapting a design discovered in a medieval English watermill—to give structure to the sanctuary’s wooden dome. LeWitt’s iconic installation on the ark drew national attention when the building opened; it prompted Town & Country to observe “modern art as [the sanctuary’s] focal point.”
LeWitt, a Chester resident who died at age 78 in 2007, is recognized as one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. His work is prominently featured in venues worldwide, including at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. A retrospective of his work is featured at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, through 2033.
The sanctuary has become known as one of the most astonishing, and spiritually welcoming, religious spaces in the world. True to its roots, the Chester synagogue has become one of the shoreline’s most vital cultural centers.
Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek—Hebrew for “House of Peace Pursuing Justice”—is marking the 100th year since the founding of one of its two predecessor temples in Moodus. We Built This House is part of yearlong centennial celebrations culminating in an October 3 gala and the inaugural presentation of the synagogue’s new annual Pursuer of Peace and Justice Award. Though it is located in Chester, temple members come from 36 towns, from West Hartford to Westbrook, Norwich to North Branford.
Given the film’s unique insights into art as architecture, and into how a community can join together in creative enterprise, organizers anticipate interest among public television stations, those engaged in architectural and design collaborations, and art museums, in airing it following the premiere. DVDs of are expected to be released later this year.