A family’s reunion to celebrate a portrait’s rebirth

by | Jul 13, 2023 | Trending News

A portrait of Lewis Nusbaum (1830-1902) has been restored to its original condition thanks to the skill of the Chrysler Museum’s conservator, Mark Lewis, and the generosity of several of Nusbaum’s descendants. In June, many of those descendants gathered at Ohef Sholom Temple to view the results. Traveling from various parts of Virginia and from as far as New York, family members celebrated the painting’s restoration.

The painting had been lovingly passed down in the family; however, at some point, it had been removed from its frame, rolled, and then flattened, which had resulted in tears to the canvas. Seeking to preserve it, a member of the family donated the painting to Ohef Sholom Temple’s Archives.

In January of 2022, the Archives entered it in the Virginia Association of Museum’s annual state-wide competition for the state’s Most Endangered Artifact. Although it garnered many votes, the painting did not win the contest, coming in a strong second behind Virginia Tech. Without the prize money, it seemed the painting had little chance of being conserved. However, that did not account for the dedication of several of Lewis Nusbaum’s descendants, who provided the funds necessary for its restoration.

Lewis Nusbaum was educated in Berlin and apprenticed to a bookbinder. He and a brother emigrated to the United States in 1849, and by 1853, they were in a dry goods business in Norfolk. In 1860, Lewis married Bettie Goldsmith, whose father Aaron was one of the founding members of Tidewater’s first Jewish congregation, Chevra B’nai Jaacov. The couple had five children, four sons and a daughter.

Lewis founded the Nusbaum Book and Art Company, which was later continued by his sons, Moses and Sidney Leon. A leading member of Norfolk’s growing business community, Lewis was also active in the Jewish community. He was involved in the re-chartering of Chevra B’nai Jaacov when it assumed its new name, Ohef Sholom Temple, in 1867. He served as president of Ohef Sholom Temple in the turbulent year of 1869, and later, he was elected vice-president of the newly chartered Congregation Beth El. An early member of B’nai B’rith, he was instrumental in shaping and defining the Tidewater Jewish community.

-Alice Titus