With an international collection spanning four centuries, educators at the American Folk Art Museum often teach from objects deriving from religious groups—such as Shaker furniture, Amish quilts, and Decalogues—through discussion-based explorations in the galleries. The recent exhibition “Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel” allowed us to explore sacred and secular objects created by Jewish artisans with a wide range of audiences. Tracing the woodcarving traditions that Jewish immigrants brought with them to the United States from Europe from the late nineteenth through the first half of the twentieth centuries, this groundbreaking exhibition charted the valuable contributions these artisans made to the flourishing American carousel industry. At the same time, it uncovered a trove of examples from authentic Jewish folk arts whose practitioners continue to work today.
With innovation recognized as a premium for all education, the arts need to be featured more prominently, with serious regard to pedagogy and curriculum and full integration into the classroom. The arts represent distinct disciplines with their own histories and methods. For Jewish studies, they offer a vehicle for student interpretation; a distinct entry point into Jewish text and tradition.
Photo credit: Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School, St. Louis, MO