Israeli artist shares his vision

Israeli artist shares his vision

Peleg sculpture finds a home along the Hudson in Edgewater

Barbara Schaier-Peleg and Ephraim Peleg stand next to his sculpture, “Sails,” in its new home in Edgewater, overlooking the Hudson River.
Barbara Schaier-Peleg and Ephraim Peleg stand next to his sculpture, “Sails,” in its new home in Edgewater, overlooking the Hudson River.

On May 16, the peace garden at Veterans Field on River Road in Edgewater became home to a new sculpture, created by Israeli artist and River Vale resident Ephraim Peleg.

The piece, commissioned and donated by the Edgewater Arts Council, now sits along the Hudson River, evoking not only thoughts of the sea but deeper reflections as well.

Mr. Peleg and wife, Barbara Schaier-Peleg — who helped translate and added some recollections of her own — spoke about the piece, personal history, and art.

Mr. Peleg was born Ferdynand Verderber in Krakow, Poland, in 1936. Both his parents died as a result of World War II. “My mother died two weeks after liberation,” he said. He knows that his father was alive in 1945 — he survived Buchenwald — but that’s all he knows for sure. There are stories about his father returning to his business in Poland, and then disappearing. The assumption is that he was killed there.

“My father worked for a famous family in Krakow, Alexandrovich,” Mr. Peleg said. “Most of them emigrated to Israel before the war.” The Alexandroviches were philanthropists, Ms. Schaier Peleg said; they owned an art supply company and sold high-quality paper across the country before the war. “They escaped Poland after buying a private plane which they flew to Palestine,” she added. “They actually came to the brit milah of Ephraim’s brother, Zvi, and then left the country.”

After the war, when his aunt Bertha” — that was Bertha Ferderber Salz, his father’s sister-in-law — “came back, she wrote to the Alexandroviches in Israel asking if they could help her.”

A cousin of Aunt Bertha’s married Efraim’s father’s brother who was in the British Jewish Brigade, a special section of the British Army. He had family in Krakow. “She asked him to look for Ephraim and his younger brother,” Ms. Schaier-Peleg said. “He found them living with their nanny, who had hidden them during the war. The nanny, Kazia Chciuk, had no home of her own, so she took them to different members of her family. Several of them, including Kazia, have been recognized by Yad Vashem. We’re close with their grandchildren.”

Ms. Chciuk’s own story is both sad and not atypical. She never married — she’d been engaged, but her fiancé was killed two weeks before their wedding date. She worked hard, at great personal risk, to save the boys. After the war, a representative of the Alexandroviches found them and brought them to Israel. “Kazia was devastated when the boys were sent to Israel,” Ms. Schaier-Peleg said. “She wanted to go with them, and actually wrote a few letters that were only received fairly recently asking to be allowed to go to Israel to raise the boys. She only wanted food and a place to sleep, but the boys never knew about this.

“Kazia died in 1981 in Krakow.”

Once in Israel, the brothers lived on a kibbutz; they grew up in Beth Hahita.

Mr. Peleg’s interest in art dates back to his childhood. His father, he said, was a manager for a well known company that sold art supplies and paper. When he went to visit his father’s office, when he was 9, “they gave me a palette of watercolors and a big pencil. I took that with me and said I had to learn to use it.”

His interest in art, he continued, was “definitely encouraged” on the kibbutz and he was fortunate to study at the Avni Institute of Art in Tel Aviv and privately with well-known artists such as Marcel Janko, Josef Zaritzky, Chaim Kive, and Ernst Fuchs. Later, while living in Jerusalem, Mr. Peleg worked as an assistant instructor of sculpture at the Bezalel Academy of Art, organized a citywide after school art program, and taught art for UNESCO.

He began as a painter, and later began to work as a sculptor as well.

“My original paintings were very dark,” he said. “They were very abstract, dark, and angry.” That changed when he got a stipend from the government to study art in London and throughout Europe. The light was different there, he said.

“In Israel, the sky is blue and the sea is beautiful to watch and paint,” he said. “In London, the weather was different,” and fog is omnipresent. “It was time to use colors. I also started working in three-dimensions,” experimenting with different media, like electric wires on canvas. “I had a show there and sold many pieces. A famous doctor — the doctor for the Beatles — liked my work.”

Mr. Peleg and his wife have been married for 38 years. They had met several times when they were younger. The first time was at the Bezalel Art Institute, where a friend of hers was studying, but “the time wasn’t right.” Finally, in 1980, they connected. “We recently found out that both our grandparents came from the same shtetl,” Ms. Schaier-Peleg said. She is a retired photographer and education administrator; she’s worked in South Africa and Puerto Rico.

Mr. Peleg said he is “much more inspired in Israel” than he is here. “I feel in Israel much more power to do art.” He came to the United States in 1978 when he was commissioned to create a large-scale interactive sculpture for Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

“A man named Philip Berman saw one of Efraim’s kinetic pieces in a Jerusalem gallery and thought it would be a nice piece to do on a large scale,” Ms. Schaier-Peleg said. The small sculpture consisted of three Cs, and Berman intended to dedicate it to Cedar Crest College, where his wife had studied. Mr. Peleg “wasn’t planning on staying,” Ms. Schaier-Peleg said — but the commissions kept coming.

Mr. Peleg has created outdoor sculptures for Lehigh University, Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and B’nai B’rith House. He also has exhibited large scale sculptures in major invitational outdoor sculpture exhibits throughout the United States, Israel, and Europe, and his work has appeared in museums and galleries.

This is Mr. Peleg’s second marriage. He has two children in Israel and one in the United States; he has five grandchildren in Israel and two here. Another son, Avihu Peleg, was killed in the war between Israel and Lebanon in 1982. Because of that loss, and the loss of his own childhood, Ms. Schaier-Peleg said, her husband often relies on powerful forms and vibrant primary colors “that appeal to children and the creative spirit in all of us. This is especially true of his kinetic wall paintings and sculptures, which allow viewers to interact with his work by encouraging them to move pieces and change compositions.”

He also finds a way to remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, using six replications of the same form in some of his pieces. Each of the six will differ somehow, whether in color or in some other way. “While there were six million,” he said, “each one was an individual.” The Edgewater sculpture, “Sails,” is part of his sextet series.

The sculpture was chosen for the site by the Edgewater Arts Council, headed now by Lynne Grasz Hall. (Neda Rose led the council when the artwork was selected.) Mr. Peleg was recommended to the council by a painter friend, also a survivor. “They wanted something related to water,” Ms. Schaier-Peleg said. “They looked at some of his pieces and said this one looked like sails.”

The project was funded by Tony Rinaldi and Chuck Berk. On the council’s website, we find the following announcement: “Finally there is the unveiling of a new art piece, a sculpture by Ephraim Peleg, in the peace garden at Veterans Field. It took a while but we are ready!” According to Mr. Peleg, the delay was occasioned by the discovery of soil contamination and the need to clean up the site. “It was quite a while before the sculpture could be installed,” he said. “But it’s a beautiful park right now, and the sculpture is beautifully situated.”

“Ephraim Peleg’s inspirational sculpture … is the sixth sculpture given to the Borough of Edgewater by the Edgewater Arts Council,” Ms. Grasz Hall said. “It is placed in a special location overlooking the majestic Hudson River with the George Washington Bridge in the distance. Nearby is a serene waterfall and memorial garden. Ephraim and his wife Barbara helped select this unique location over three years ago because we all wanted a place where the river winds would blow in a natural way, billowing the sails as if they were canvas. Ephraim has perfectly captured the spirit of adventure with ‘Sails,’ which complements the history of Hudson River exploration and travel through the centuries of American expansion.”

Mr. Peleg said he is not doing much sculpture these days. Instead, he is working on silver clay jewelry. “It’s an interesting medium,” Ms. Schaier-Peleg said; it’s like clay, but sterling. “All the chemicals that make it malleable burn off and you are left with an interesting piece.”

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