FERBER, HERBERT (Silvers ; 1906–1991), U.S. sculptor and painter. A native of New York City, Ferber was born Herbert Ferber Silvers. While studying at the City University of New York and Columbia University, where he received a B.S. (1927) and a D.D.S. (1930), Ferber also took classes at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design (1927–30) and the National Academy of Design (1930).
His early direct carvings in wood from the 1930s employed techniques similar to William *Zorach's and Jo *avidson's. These small figurative sculptures engaged social justice themes, popular with painters such as Raphael *Soyer and Ben *Shahn. The Midtown Galleries mounted Ferber's first solo exhibition in December 1937. In the late 1940s, Ferber eschewed figuration and began welding bronze, lead, copper, and brass as he developed his mature open-form abstract style of sculpture. Akin to Abstract Expressionist painters, Ferber derived inspiration from Surrealist imagery and ancient myth.
Ferber's work was commissioned by B'nai Israel Synagogue, Millburn, New Jersey (1951); Temple Anshe Chesed, Cleveland, Ohio (1956); and Temple of Aaron, St. Paul, Minnesota (1956). An eight by twelve foot abstractly rendered burning bush made of jagged lead-coated copper adorns a wedge-shaped panel projecting from the facade of the B'nai Israel congregation. Titled And the Bush Was Not Consumed, this symbolic representation evokes the impression of flames through an open biomorphic style that incorporates snaking vertical and spiral forms. Ferber's textured sculpture identifies the building and serves as a metaphor for the Jewish people. Indeed, the rabbi of the congregation felt that like the Jewish people, the bush was burned but not consumed. This commission was the impetus for several other sculptures designed specifically for walls.
During the 1960s Ferber began a series titled Homage to Piranesi in which he enclosed rhythmic forms in wire cages. In March 1961 Ferber's Sculpture as Environment was installed in a room at the Whitney Museum of American Art. One of the first sculptures designed to encompass indoor space on a large scale, the work helped to stimulate a larger movement of installation art in the early 1970s. A year later Ferber's first major retrospective was shown at the Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis. Houston's Museum of Fine Arts held a retrospective in 1981.
E.C. Goossen, R. Goldwater, and I. Sandler, Three American Sculptors: Ferber, Hare, and Lassaw (1959); A. Kampf, Contemporary Synagogue Art: Developments in the United States, 1945–1965 (1966), 75–79; E.C. Goossen, Herbert Ferber (1981); W.C. Agee, Herbert Ferber: Sculpture, Painting, Drawing: 1945–1980 (1983); L. Verderame, The Founder of Sculpture as Environment: Herbert Ferber (1906–1991) (1998).
[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]