The Renaissance of Sig Silber

He picked up a paintbrush at age 50 and an artist was born

Published in 2005 New Jersey Super Lawyers — May 2005

How does one define a man like Sig Silber? As a Holocaust survivor? A top lawyer? Accomplished artist? “My law partner has accused me of trying to be a Renaissance man,” laughs Silber, seated in the Clifton, N.J., office of his firm, Silber and Fridman. The office, which overlooks Route 46, is decorated with fine paintings and line drawings, all done by Silber.

What is impressive is not so much that Silber began painting while in his 50s, but that he had the chance to lead such a full life. Silber was born in Germany in 1936 as Siegmar Köppold. When he was almost 3 years old his parents sent him, along with his 6-year-old brother, Harold, and 7-month-old sister, Zilla, to England as part of Kindertransport’s rescue effort, which removed nearly 10,000 Jewish children from Germany as the threats of World War II became increasingly imminent. The three Köppolds escaped on one of the last transports in 1939, days before the German invasion of Poland.

The trio never saw their parents again. After living with two sets of foster parents in England, Silber was adopted after the war in 1949 by a Paterson silk businessman and his wife, Meyer and Gussie Silber.

“My older brother considered himself too old for adoption,” Silber explains of his then-teenage brother. “He moved to Israel. My sister was adopted by a family in Westchester, N.Y.”

Once in Paterson, Silber attended public school, graduating from Paterson Eastside High in 1954. Though his high school alma mater would fall into disrepair decades later, eventually becoming the focus of the 1989 movie Lean on Me, Silber remained mindful of his educational roots. In 1991 he accepted an appointment to the Paterson Board of Education, where he served until 1995.

Before going into law, Silber studied biochemical engineering at MIT and he has a master’s in English from Yeshiva University. He spent 11 years working for various companies as an engineer before entering Fordham University’s School of Law (J.D. 1970). “I wanted something more challenging and creative,” he says.

While attending law school, he worked a day job as director of public relations for a technical advertising agency. He also wrote articles for trade publications.

“I made the transition from writing magazine articles to writing patents,” he notes. Before starting his own firm in 1974, Silber worked in the patent departments of RCA Sarnof Labs and Shering-Plow Pharmaceuticals. “My work today is interpreting technology for the patent and trademark office so they will understand the scope of the broadest claim of a particular [invention].

“I rely on three disciplines in equal parts to do my job: law, technology and linguistics,” he adds. “No two inventions are the same. It’s a creative job. Very right-brain.”

So maybe it is no surprise that Silber would venture into the world of painting.

“The kids were either married or in school,” Silber says of his decision to take up painting not long after his 50th birthday. “I needed something more than the practice to engage myself.”

He studied art at the Montclair Art Museum under noted artist Catherine Kinkade. It didn’t take long before he was completing his own works. In fact, he has sold several pieces.

“[When you sell one of your paintings] it tells you that you are performing at a certain level,” Silber says. “It’s a validation.”

Yet Silber says the sales potential of his pieces isn’t his motivation. “Art is like my golf game,” he jokes. “Some attorneys play golf to relax. I paint.”

Silber concentrates primarily on landscape paintings in pastels and ink drawings. His art draws from his life. For instance, while in England as a boy, he lived near King’s College in Cambridge. One of his paintings features the college’s chapel prominently in the background.

Despite all of his legal and artistic successes, Silber retains a clear focus on the important things in life. When asked about his greatest achievement, he answers without missing a beat. “It’s not a particular piece of art or legal case. It’s my marriage. My family. My children.”

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