Claude Riedel is a Minneapolis artist known internationally for crafting Ner Tamids, the beautiful “eternal lights” that hang in synagogues.
So when he received a phone call this spring from an assistant producer of the AMC series “Fear the Walking Dead” — a show he’d never heard of — he was totally bewildered.
Turns out the zombie apocalypse series was scouting for a Ner Tamid to rent for synagogue scenes in an upcoming episode. The caller discovered Riedel’s work online, and asked if he’d be willing to temporarily part with one of his treasures. After getting assurances that this was legitimate, the bemused Riedel said yes.
Riedel will learn Sunday how his artwork, now safely back in his home studio, was employed. The Ner Tamid will make its television debut on an episode appropriately titled “Ner Tamid” — revealing that it won’t be just a behind-the-scenes prop.
“This is my brush with cinematic fame,” joked Riedel, who will be watching the episode with family and friends. “I’m excited and curious. I have no idea how it will be portrayed or used. But given that it’s the title of the show, it seems like it will be significant.”
“Fear the Walking Dead,” which premiered on AMC in fall 2015, has been described on IMDB.com as a “gritty drama that explores the onset of the undead apocalypse through the lens of a fractured family.”
Riedel, a psychologist by profession, admits he immediately researched the series after he hung up the phone, including checking out a few TV clips on YouTube. It looked legit, he said, and so he carefully prepared and packaged his artwork for its journey to the apocalypse.
While Riedel wasn’t an instant fan of the show, he learned with surprise that “Fear the Walking Dead” had developed traction among some of his friends.
“The wife of a rabbi I know exclaimed, ‘I love that show,’ ” said Riedel with a smile.
While the Ner Tamid’s journey has provided plenty of humor, there’s a serious side to its appearance, Riedel said.
He hopes the piece, and the episode built around it, will introduce audiences to the role of Ner Tamid in the Jewish faith as well as its broader symbolism as “an eternal flame of life and hope and goodness.”
“The meaning of Ner Tamid is, on one hand, the flame that is eternally lit,” he said. “At the same time, it’s the flame that needs to be eternally tended. Just like the flames in our heart.”
Riedel has been crafting these eternal flames for decades, typically collaborating with Minnesota glassblower Michael Boyd. His Ner Tamids now hang in more than 120 synagogues around the world, from Israel to Australia.
One of his most well-known pieces is the Holocaust Ner Tamid, constructed with bits of wire from a Nazi concentration camp in Poland. It was made in memory of his grandfather who was imprisoned at Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.
Riedel and his wife, Laurel Riedel, are preparing to host a gathering of friends and family Sunday night for the big reveal. They’ll gather in front of a big-screen TV at their Minneapolis home, eat popcorn and watch the conclusion of this unlikely tale.
The AMC website describes the episode like this: “In search of a permanent home for the convoy, Charlie is drawn to a synagogue where she encounters a Rabbi surviving on his own …”
Said Riedel: “I’ve been told it has a poignant role in the show.”