Everyone wins with new chess set at Sandler Campus

by | Jun 20, 2013 | Featured

Handcrafted glass chess piece from set on display at Sandler Family Campus

Handcrafted glass chess piece from set on display at Sandler Family Campus

The advantage in the chess game currently “in play” on the second floor of the Sandler Family Campus goes to the entire Tidewater Jewish community, who— no matter the game’s outcome — are already winners.

Carefully installed in the Kramer boardroom in mid-June, the chess set is a stunningly crafted, museum-qual i ty piece of art donated to the community in memory of Sylvia Rose Jason, of blessed memory.

Created by Italian master glass artist, Gianni Toso, an orthodox Jew currently living in Baltimore, the chess set was commissioned by Sylvia’s son-in-law Michael Mostofsky. Pieces on the board depict Orthodox Jews and Catholic clergy.

“I had seen the artist’s work when I visited the glass museum in Corning, N.Y. years ago, but at the time wasn’t interested, or able, to purchase any of his work,” says Mostofsky. “About 10 years later, a friend called me and mentioned that he knew a glass artist in Baltimore whose work I might like. I told him the only glass artist I liked had made this incredible chess set I’d seen in Corning. My friend said, “That’s this guy,” and so I contacted Gianni and commissioned a set.”

After receiving the completed chess set from Toso six years ago, Mostofsky realized that displaying it anywhere in his home would be nearly impossible, if he wanted to keep it intact.

“We have two daughters, and a dog— not the best conditions for a beautiful—and fragile— glass sculpture,” he says.

The thought of the artwork languishing unseen, though, nagged at Mostofsky. Together, with his wife Marcy, his father-in-law Danny Jason, Marcy’s brother Joel Jason and his wife Carol, and Marcy’s sister Paula Carl and her husband Randy, it was decided that the best way to display the set was to share it with others, and to remember Sylvia while doing so.

“Sylvia loved her family and her friends who are part of this community,” Mostofsky says. “The family thought that this was something that would be enjoyed by the entire community and would be a great way to honor Sylvia’s memory.”

Visitors to the Chrysler Museum of Art may have seen a similar Toso chess set. Donated in part by Annie and Art Sandler and their children and Robbie and Albert Selkin, that set greeted visitors at the museum’s glass collection entrance before it was closed for its current renovation.

The first time Mostofsky saw, or even held, his commissioned Toso chess set was as he was unpacking it with Glenn Saucier, facilities director of the Campus on June 14. The men unwrapped the figurines, then placed them on the accompanying chessboard, which itself was mounted into a custom-designed, weighted cabinet that Saucier ordered to protect the artwork.

In this particular chess set, the white pieces are represented by Jews, and the black pieces by Catholics. The Jewish king is a rabbi holding the 10 commandments; the queen is a Shabbos Malkah, holding candlesticks. The Catholic king is an archbishop; the queen is a prioress. An assortment of other Jewish and Catholic characters comprise the other pieces. Toso created the set using the lampworking technique of glasswork, sculpting each of the 32 figurines by softening rods of colored glass in a flame and then molding the glass into a variety of shapes.

The delicacy of the figures is apparent in the intricate details the artist uses in depicting the slender fingers of the nuns, the fringes on the end of the rabbis’ tallit and the curls framing their expressive faces.

by Laine Mednick Rutherford