Barr Foundation’s Torah Pointers gifted to The Fralin Museum of Art

First major gift of Judaica in the University of Virginia’s history

The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia will expand its holdings with a promised gift of more than 150 Torah pointers, or yads, from Clay H. Barr and the Barr Foundation. This marks the first major gift of Judaica in the University of Virginia’s history. Accompanying the bequest is The Clay H. Barr Endowment for Torah Pointers in Memory of Jay D. A. Barr that will enable The Fralin to preserve the collection and support related staff as well as educational programming and touring of the objects. Barr is making the contribution in honor of her late husband who earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia.

“My thanks go to Clay Barr for her generosity and thoughtfulness in honoring her late husband, the double Hoo Jay Barr,” says James E. Ryan, University of Virginia president, referencing Jay Barr’s two degrees from the University of Virginia. “I look forward to an exciting initial exhibit in 2025.”

A Torah pointer is often called a yad, the Hebrew word for hand, because a pointing finger was characteristically a prominent feature of early examples. Pointers are tools exclusively used to follow the Hebrew in the Torah’s scrolls and assist in protecting the integrity of the quilled letters and the delicate vellum.

“This extensive compilation of Torah pointers is singular for its robust catalogue of both antique and commissioned works, and The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia is fortunate to receive such a notable gift. Fralin curators will expand the narratives presented in the galleries and offer enriching experiences for both UVA students and Museum visitors,” says M. Jordan Love, The Fralin’s Carol R. Angle academic curator.

Barr’s yads range in length from a few inches to nearly two feet. While some are made from traditional materials such as wood, silver, gold, or ivory and date to the 18th century, Barr has reached beyond Jewish artisans to commission Torah pointers from artists who fashioned them from Lucite, glass, beading, concrete, and even a skateboard among other unconventional materials. Among the array of artists, jewelers, and designers featured in the collection is Hester Bateman, the most renowned female English silversmith, who may well have produced only one Torah pointer. The Bateman yad is hallmarked 1781.

Barr began acquiring Torah pointers nearly 30 years ago to honor her late husband. Because yads have no design restrictions, commissioning the ritual artworks combines her faith with her interest in art. “When a loved one has passed, it is Jewish tradition to keep them alive by speaking their name,” says Barr. “By making this donation to The Fralin, I am ensuring that my husband’s name and legacy are kept alive and spoken in perpetuity. Additionally, I hope this gift inspires others to further enhance Judaica at The Fralin.”

Select yads will soon be on view in the Museum’s Joanne B. Robinson Object Study Gallery. Several UVA professors will incorporate them into their curricula. The Fralin will produce an academic publication about the collection and mount a comprehensive exhibition in 2025 that will subsequently travel to other museums, synagogues, and venues.

The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia
Established in 1935, the University of Virginia Art Museum became The Fralin Museum of Art in 2012 in honor of a bequest of American art and service to the University by Cynthia and W. Heywood Fralin. Housed in the historic Bayly Building near the Rotunda on the landmark UVA campus, The Fralin maintains a collection of more than 13,000 works of art, including American and European painting, works on paper and sculpture from the 15th through the 20th centuries; art from the ancient Mediterranean; Asian art; and Native and ancient American art.