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May 26, 1989 - Image 28

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-05-26

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The Collectors

Continued from preceding page




Aid Kushner

n the library of Temple
Beth El, within clear
glass cases, is a
neighborhood carved out of
history. Side by side stand
houses of worship in reduced
size, replicas of synagogues
and temples, past and pre-
sent, from all over the world.
They are the collected crea-
tions of Aid Kushner. A
trainer for the Detroit Lions
from 1934 to 1942, Kushner
was artist-in-residence at
Temple Beth El before his
death in 1987. His wife,
Miriam, the temple's ar-
chivist, conducts a guided
tour of her husband's work.
"Look," she says, pausing in
front of one structure. Inside
it is a woman, poised at a
bookshelf, telling children a
story. Around the corner is a
sanctuary with rows of seats
and an organ.
The architectural detail of
Kushner's buildings is strik-
ing. Each edifice has its own
distinctive lines, slopes and
angles. Intricate moldings,
sturdy pillars and arched en-
try doors are rendered with
Kushner, his wife explains,
was both inventive and re-
sourceful in his quest for con-
struction material. Scouting
throughout their house, he
transformed the most mun-
dane objects into miniature
treasures. Mrs. Kushner
never knew what would
disappear next.
"He absconded with my
jewelry," she says. "Pearls
became lights on lampposts.
Furnace filters and sponges
became shrubbery. Wrapping
paper, playing cards and pic-
tures of Persian rugs from the
Sears catalogue were chang-
ed into stained glass win-
Out of the most unlikely
elements were graceful
adornments formed. "Do you
know the apparatus in a
toilet that goes up and
down?" Mrs. Kushner asks,
pointing to a syngogue with
a rounded roof. "Well, that


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dome you see is half of that
Not only was Kushner an
imaginative craftsman, he
was a natural. His wife
describes how he assessed
proportions using only his
outstretched arms and hands.
Sitting at the kitchen table in
their former home in Oak
Park, Kushner worked from
pictures of the original struc-
tures. With one small knife,
shaping cardboard and ply-
wood, he produced about 125
replicas in all.
A walk down Replica Lane
is a journey through Jewish
life in both the new world and
the old. The homes of con-
gregations across North
America are represented,
from Richmond, Va., to St.
Johns, New Brunswick;
Shearith Israel in New York
City; Holy Blossom in Toron-
to, Ontario, and Thmple Israel
in Minneapolis, Mn., to name
a few.
The synagogues of the Dias-
pora, so scattered and remote,
become next-door neighbors.
There's the Altnieschul of
Prague, Czechoslovakia,
dedicated circa 1215. A few
steps away is the synagogue
of Lutomiersk, Poland,
destroyed by fire in 1915.
What looks like a green,
orange and yellow pagoda is
actually the synagogue at
Kaifeng, China, built in 1163,
with a basin in front for peo-
ple to wash their hands before
they prayed. Close by is the
synagogue on Fassanen-
strasse, in Berlin, Germany,
destroyed on Kristallnacht.
Having completed one more
visit to the world her husband
put together, Mrs. Kushner
says, "He loved it very much.
He was proud of every one of
Sometimes a collection
becomes a legacy.


Florence Schwartz

lorence Schwartz calls
her porcelain figurine
matchstrikers her "lit-
tle people."
She has 104 of them


residing in two lighted curio
cabinets at her Farmington
Hills home. "They're getting
claustrophobic," she concedes.
Hand-painted in pastel col-
ors, the figurines portray boys
and girls at work or play,
often with an animal pal
alongside. A match-holder,
with ridges for striking on its
back, is an integral part of
each figure. Like long-
awaited children, Schwartz's
"little people" are cherished
because getting them was not
easy. They are all antiques,
she explains, produced in
limited numbers by one fac-
tory in Germany between
1800 and 1850. Exported to
England, the figurines were
given away at county fairs,
sold as souveniers at shops
and eventually ended up
decorating many a Victorian
Schwartz does not treat
lightly the management of
her figurine family. In 22
years of collecting, she has
sought new additions in three
trips to England as well as at-
tending antique shows
wherever she is. She has also
employed the services of anti-
que dealers and researched

She has on
discovered a piece
of her own past.

her subject through reading.
She's learned a lot along the
way. "When I began collec-
ting," Schwartz says, "I did
not know there were pairs."
But then she discovered that
sometimes there is one
porcelain boy meant for one
special porcelain girl.
Schwartz's collection has
not only reunited figurines.
In finding her "little people,"
she has on occasion discov-
ered a piece of her own past.
Years ago, she was inroduc-
ed to the world of figurine
matchstrikers by her hus-
band's godmother, who
among her other antiques,
had three porcelain collec-
tibles. Schwartz was attracted
to one in particular.
"It was a little boy who has
dropped his basket of eggs.
He's got his hands up to his
eyes, crying. And his little dog
is looking at the broken eggs,
sadly, with a paw up in the
air, as if in sympathy," she
Inspired, Schwartz began
her own collection.
One day, many figurines
later, she once again en-
countered that same unhappy
little boy. "When I found the
duplicate of it, for my own col-
lection, it gave me a thrill,"
she says. "It's the one that at-
tracted me the most from the
very beginning."

_ /

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