Washington-area artist Phillip Ratner, whose bronze sculptures of immigrants and other historical figures are fixtures at exhibits at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, died November 9 at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 86.
Ahead of Lady Liberty’s centennial in the 1980s, the National Park Service commissioned Ratner to create statues representing immigrants who entered the country through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954 as well as figures central to the history of the Statue of Liberty, including the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus—whose poem "The New Collosus" was the source of its famous inscription beginning ""Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
Ratner had to raise the funds for the sculptures himself, a task he gladly took on.
“Telling the story of my grandparents coming to this country and making it their home—a story that connects many Americans—is a passion of mine,” Ratner said in 2017, when he donated models for 10 of those works to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.
Ratner co-founded the Israel Bible Museum in Safed, now in Beersheba
Ratner and his cousin Dennis Ratner were also the founders, in 1985, of the Israel Bible Museum in Safed, Israel, a collection of sculpture, painting and graphics related to the Bible. It later relocated to Beersheba.
Born in Washington, Ratner studied art at the Pratt Institute in New York and American University in Washington, and taught art—including at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland—before devoting himself full-time to his artwork.
His survivors include his wife, the former Ellen Miles, and four children from his first marriage to Miriam Levine—Hal Ratner of Chicago; Marni Ratner of Olney, Maryland; and Sari Ratner Judge and Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, both from Madison, Wisconsin—and nine grandchildren.