The Fralin Museum of Art Announces the First Major Gift of Judaica in the University of Virginia’s History

The Promised Gift Includes More than 150 Torah Pointers

Spencer Tinkham (American, b. 1992), ”Torah Pointer” (2021). Rabbit made from skateboard.
Spencer Tinkham (American, b. 1992), ”Torah Pointer” (2021). Rabbit made from skateboard.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – 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 (UVA). 

“My thanks go to Clay Barr for her generosity and thoughtfulness in honoring her late husband, the double Hoo Jay Barr,” said University of Virginia President James E. Ryan, referencing Jay Barr’s two degrees from the University of Virginia. “This meaningful tribute includes support for the collection and provides educational programming. 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 crowded scrolls. Readers venerate the Torah by tracking its text with the ceremonial stylus. Additionally, pointers 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,” said M. Jordan Love, The Fralin's Carol R. Angle academic curator. 

Barr’s assemblage of yads ranges from a few inches to nearly two feet in length. 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. The Fralin will be endowed with yads created by an array of artists, jewelers and designers including Ghiora Aharoni, Wendell Castle, Yaakov Greenvurcel, Jennifer McCurdy, Albert Paley, Reddish Studio and 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,” said 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. 

About 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. The Museum 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. Housed in the historic Bayly Building near the Rotunda on the landmark UVA campus, The Fralin is dedicated to serving the widest possible audiences and engaging comprehensive visual education to enhance its visitors’ understanding of world cultures. Throughout the year, the Museum presents a diverse selection of exhibitions, programs, research and events that bring the University and broader community together. 

About The Barr Foundation
The Barr Foundation has assembled a remarkable selection of antique and contemporary Torah pointers, known by the Hebrew word for “hand,” yad. Created by artists from different ages and cultures and of diverse materials including wood, precious metals, jewels, ceramics and paper, these yads chronicle the timeless, universal aesthetic guide in reading the Torah. While exclusively Jewish in origin and use, this trove of yads transcends iconography and appeals to all who appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of fine art. The Barr Foundation collection will soon be exhibited for the first time in what has become its permanent home.

Media contact:
Brad Tuggle
Blue Water Communications

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