Attention must be paid to late artist Saul Farber

This Just In...

June 03, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

The Queen of England and Michael Jordan collected his pieces, but so did a hairdresser I know. Diana Ross has a Saul Farber original in a house somewhere, but so do a lot of ordinary Baltimoreans who got them or gave them as gifts. Saul Farber created some beautiful things out of glass. He could please either a celebrity scouting a gallery for an objet d'art or a frantic guy looking for a reasonably priced anniversary gift on his way home from work. From jewelry boxes of beveled glass to large stained-glass installations, Saul Farber's legacy is scattered across continents and social classes. His work has been sold through more than 300 galleries around the world. One of his best works fills an arch over a door in the Broadway Market in Fells Point.

He packed a lot into his 43 years. Now he's gone, the victim of viral meningitis. He died in April, and there was almost no public notice of his death.

But he was such a creative, productive guy. Attention must be paid.

His brother, Ranaga, also an artist, came up from Arkansas. He was in Farber's distinctive rowhouse shop at 2427 St. Paul St. yesterday morning, doing inventory, packing some pieces for shipment to a gallery in London. Though there was an air of loss, of something unfinished - as if a busy man had just left his workplace to run down the street - the shop was still cluttered and colorful, showing off Saul Farber's handmade lamps, mirrors, boxes, frames and menorahs. They were mixed with glass ornaments created by the other artists he supported and, in some cases, trained.

"Are you the brother from Arkansas?" asked a woman who came to the shop at noon.

"Yes," Ranaga said.

"You make the wind chimes, don't you?"

"Yes," Ranaga answered, as one of the first he made chimed over his head by the front door of his younger brother's shop.

"Saul taught me how to do stained glass," said the woman, turning to leave, "and I made quite a good living at it."

She said she'd return during the weekend. The last public sale of Saul Farber's original works will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.

"Saul made things to sell, he had to," said Ranaga's wife, Michelle Farber. "He made some things, as a practical matter, to support himself. But, in looking over all the things here, he was an artist. Saul really was a profound artist."

He really knew how to put his unique style on a mundane object, such as a picture frame.

"I'm blown away by the expanse of his designs," said Ranaga, leaning on the shop's counter, examining black-and-white photographs of dozen of jewelry boxes, perfume trays, mirrors, clocks, frames, lamp shades and Judaica, all made from glass, all created by his brother.

"Look at this lotus flower," he said, holding up a bent-glass lamp evoking a just-opened lotus.

Saul Farber learned the glass craft from his father, Irving, a Holocaust survivor who left Germany after World War II, bringing his talents for electrical engineering and his experiences with neon lighting to the United States. He came with his wife, Helen, and two young sons, Chester and Ranaga. They settled in New Jersey. Saul, the third son, was born in 1954.

The boys worked with their father in his shop in Westfield, repairing and customizing lamps and fixtures. "My father loved to make his customers happy," Ranaga said. "He loved the work."

The boys saw their father happily make beauty out of junk, rerigging and restoring antique lamps. They saw him work with brass, marble, stained glass and leaded glass. They learned from him, a man who learned from no one.

Chester became a master of customized Harley-Davidsons. He runs a shop in Fairfield, N.J. Chrome is his thing.

Ranaga became a wind-chimer and lives in Eureka Springs, Ark. Some of his chimes include parts of old lamps.

Saul studied at the Maryland Institute, College of Art and developed his art here. In addition to the small pieces he created for retail and art-show sales, he created stained-glass installations for markets, schools, synagogues, churches and homes. "My father was the craftsman, Saul was the artist," Ranaga said. "Of the three of us, Saul took it more along the lines my father was working."

"When I first met him, he offered me belt buckles, with inlaid glass," said Ginny Tomlinson, of the fine Baltimore shop that xTC bears her name. "But then I saw him grow tremendously as an artist. Saul's lamps were very popular. So were his picture frames, his beautiful votive candle holders and I the jellyfish."

Originally he called them "sea flowers," then changed the name for commercial reasons. Wavy discs with strands of beaded glass that look like hanging tentacles, they became popular items, often sold in aquarium gift shops. As a way to honor his brother - and his father - Ranaga Farber plans to take the molds for Saul's jellyfish back to Arkansas so he can continue their manufacture.

"We're going to pick up the jellyfish," he said. "It's too wonderful a creation to see it die. It's a family legacy now."

This Just In appears each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dan Rodricks can be contacted at 410-332-6166, by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278, or by e-mail at TJIDAol.com

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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