A central feature of Glencairn Museum’s Ancient Near East Gallery is a scale model of the Tabernacle of Israel. Built over a ten-year period, beginning in 1921, this model was an ambitious educational project designed for the benefit of, and with the help of, the children at Bryn Athyn Church School, in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. The Tabernacle project was conceived of and directed by the Rev. George de Charms, whose book, The Tabernacle of Israel (1969), describes in detail the building of the model and the religious significance of the Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle model was crafted through the efforts of the entire elementary school in Bryn Athyn. The children were first prepared with a yearlong series of special worship services, during which they learned about the Tabernacle’s structure and significance. At these services the children were asked to bring one piece of precious jewelry each, as a donation from their families to help fund the project. This event was intended to reenact the donations given by the Israelite families during the construction of the original Tabernacle (Exodus 35:20-29). The children’s donations, together with an initial contribution of $15, were enough to pay for the materials, including the gold, silver and brass metalwork. (The total cost was calculated to be around $1,500.) In later years, one participant recalled with humor the frustration she felt as a little girl at having to give up her favorite silver spoon for the project.
Children in all eight grades worked on the project and, because it took a total of ten years to complete, many of the children participated over the span of their primary education. Another woman recalled making her donation of silver as a kindergartener, and then years later in seventh grade helping to sew the curtains. The labor was divided evenly between the boys and girls: the boys did the woodwork in their “manual training class,” and the girls did the sewing.
While the children worked hard at making various parts of the Tabernacle model, it is clear that teachers or hired professional craftsmen were responsible for much of the final product. The gold lampstand and other metalwork, for example, were created by an expert goldsmith under the supervision of Fred J. Cooper, an expert jeweler and member of the New Church in Philadelphia. Thorsten Sigstedt, a New Church sculptor, carved the figures of the priests and Levites. The curtains woven with cherubim had to be made by an altar-cloth company in Stockholm, as theirs was the only loom that could weave with real gold thread.
Third grade students from Bryn Athyn Church School visit Glencairn every year for a special program to discuss the Tabernacle model.
Glencairn’s Website offers a video about the model, an image gallery, and discussions of the traditional Jewish, Christian, and New Church interpretations of the Tabernacle’s meaning.
Photos: All of the photographs above come from Glencairn Museum’s Website. Diane M. Fehon, photographer.
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