Community Leader and Philanthropist Sidney Silber Dies at 95

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Sidney Silber

Sidney Silber died on Tuesday, July 30 at the age of 95. In tribute to this lifelong Baltimorean, community leader and philanthropist, we re-publish today two previous Baltimore Fishbowl articles about him. The first is one in a series of profiles of vibrant Baltimoreans over 80, titled “8 over 80.” The second is from our garden blog: “How Does Your Garden Show?” Sidney Silber’s accomplishments in business and real estate were equaled by his accomplishment at home, where he and his wife Jean created one of the finest gardens in Maryland. We extend our deepest sympathy to Jean, their children Janet, Douglas and Paul and to their beloved grandchildren. – The Eds.

8 Over 80

Sidney Silber 

Originally published November 8, 2011 –
D.O.B: January 12, 1918, Baltimore, Maryland Education: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute ’35
M.I.T. ’39  (Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary Society) Service: Non-military, high-priority defense work as experimental flight test engineer for Boeing Aircraft Company, Seattle, Washington, 1939-1946 Career, Present and Past:
Sidney Silber, at 93, is still fully engaged in his art and horticulture, two of three passionate, long-running avocations. (Racing sailboats in Annapolis is the third, from which he now takes leave.) All have paralleled his three careers as engineer, bakery president and commercial real estate developer.Silber pursues drawing and painting with devotion — he drew well as a child and honed the skill in mechanical drawing courses at Poly, M.I.T., and at Boeing where he did flight analysis. There he flew on 50 test flights, including those of the B-17 and the first pressurized military airplane, the B-29, which was designed to carry the atom bomb.

After the death of his father and brother, Silber returned to Baltimore in 1946. Using engineering and increasing real estate acumen, he expanded the now-legendary family business, Silber Bakeries, to 25 shops. After leaving the business in 1962, he founded Commercial and Industrial Realty Corporation and for 27 years developed residential, commercial and industrial properties.

The proceeds from the sales of those properties created the Jean and Sidney Silber Foundation. Today cultural and educational institutions, as well as Baltimore non-profits focused on education and poverty, occupy much of his interest, philanthropy and time.

So does horticulture. “We had no garden on Monroe Street,” he says of the home where he and seven siblings grew up above the bakery.  In 1959 he and his wife Jean combined energy, intellect, artistic and engineering talent to begin a six-acre masterpiece in Lutherville. Fifty-two years later it is considered one the finest gardens in Maryland and the U.S.

While he officially retired in 1990, Silber never stopped working. In khaki pants and oxford cloth shirt, he is found early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with a folding pruning saw and clippers, tending his “living work of art” that draws visitors on private tours from all over the country to see the garden and hear its botanically expert owners lecture.

Among many sculptures in the garden are several of his own, all bronze. (His sculpture is also in the collections of M.I.T. and Goucher College.) Besides collecting art, his current passion is portrait painting. Many line the walls of his studio off the garden.

Key to longevity of engagement: “Shall I say, a young wife?” he laughs. “Jeannie keeps me going…. I think you should always be a student,” says the man, just back from a painting class, who studied law at Boeing, real estate and finance in the bakery business and art, horticulture and history for as long as he can remember. “Physical activity is important too.”

Current challenge: In the art: “Drawing it well, mixing the colors right… I draw. I paint. My eyesight is good, but I still can’t see what I’m supposed to see.” In the garden: “What to do with the garden in the future.” In philanthropy:  “How to make the decisions every year.”

 

How Does Your Garden Show: The Power of Outdoor Sculpture

Originally published June 19, 2012 – A garden makes the perfect venue for sculpture. Think of the Wurtzberger and Levi sculpture gardens at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Think of the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C.

Besides being lush settings for sculpture, gardens themselves often have sculpturesque qualities. Such is the case of the world-class garden of Jean and Sidney Silber.  Ten acres of gardens in Baltimore County flow around the Silbers’ house to create a well-integrated, gigantic piece of organic sculpture.

Sidney Silber is an engineer turned commercial real estate developer turned sculptor/artist. His keen eye for design has informed the overall design of the garden and the artistic juxtaposition of plants that create a harmonious flow of texture and color.

The plants themselves have sculpturesque qualities. Hostas do, of course. Also Japanese maples, of which the Silbers have several dozen cultivars, and outstanding varieties of mature rhododendrons, unusual hydrangeas, numerous varieties of boxwoods (globular and columnar), more than a dozen statuesque Stewardias, not to mention all the weeping forms, including a weeping Alaskan cedar that stands near an antique French garden bench painted blue.


If well placed, garden furniture adds a sculptural touch. And at the Silbers’ even discarded pots and old garden implements hung on a toolshed look like garden sculpture.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Boy what a guy, he did it all with such passion and always wanted the best for his family and society. I will think about him all the time. His ethics and love of life will always be remembered by me. Jonnie

  2. Another terrific garden article by Kathy Hudson! I had the honor and pleasure of visiting the Silber’s amazing property a few years ago, and they were as lovely as their garden, and brighter and more engaged than most people half their age. I am sure he is giving Heaven’s gardeners some great ideas!

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