Dennis H. 'Denny' Farber, artist and longtime MICA instructor, dies

Dennis H. "Denny" Farber, former director of the Maryland Institute College of Art's Mount Royal Graduate School and whose paintings and photography are included in major museum collections, died May 8 from lung cancer and diabetes at Joseph Richey Hospice in Baltimore.

The Lutherville resident was 71.

"Denny was so unbelievably devoted to his students and to their artistic and emotional development that it was palpable, said Fred Lazarus IV, who headed MICA for 36 years before retiring in 2014. "He played many roles at MICA, had strong personal views and was passionate about his convictions."

Timothy App, who recently retired as an instructor at MICA, knew Mr. Farber since 1974. At the time, Mr. Farber was working toward a master's degree in fine art at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif.

"He was someone I connected with instantly. We were both painters and both abstract painters, so we had a lot in common right off the bat," he said. "As a person, I respected him greatly because he had a keen intelligence and was always straight up with me and everyone around him.

"He was like a brother to me and we were very tight, even when we disagreed with each other," Mr. App said.

Dennis Howard Farber was the son of Norman Farber and Freda Farber, and was raised in Squirrel Hill, a largely Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He was the grandson of immigrants from Lithuania.

"He was magnetic. People loved being around Denny," said Marshall Goldberg, a Los Angeles writer and a boyhood friend who had known Mr. Farber since the seventh grade. "He was not loud and had a great sense of humor and people were just drawn to him."

He graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, then obtained a bachelor's degree in 1968 from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and a master's in 1974 from Claremont Graduate University.

He first taught at Iolani School in Hawaii in 1969, then at the University of Hawaii. He was on the faculty at Claremont from 1976 to 1983.

He first joined MICA in 1991, but left two years later to become a teacher and associate dean at the University of New Mexico's College of Fine Arts. He returned to MICA in 1996 when he joined the undergraduate and graduate faculty.

From 1998 to 2000, he was graduate director of the master's program in digital arts and, from 1999 to 2001, coordinated master's fine arts for art educators.

Mr. Farber was graduate director from 2000 to 2004 of MICA's Mount Royal Graduate School, and from 2000 to 2010 chaired the committee for remuneration and benefits, serving as negotiator for faculty salaries and benefits.

From 2010 to 2011, he co-chaired MICA's Foundation Department, which helps students with the skill sets needed to succeed in their majors. He was later associate dean of the department. He retired in 2016.

"His body of work of 50-plus years encompassed numerous forms," wrote Mr. Goldberg in a biographical profile of hsi friend. "He began in his 20s with abstract painting, producing works now in the Cocoran Gallery in Washington and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, among others."

Mr. Farber's work — photography and painting — are also in collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Jewish Museum in New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Tokyo.

Mr. Goldberg wrote that his friend's photography ran the gamut "from street photography to manipulated images to painted photographs."

He said Mr. Farber was "fascinated with pushing the boundaries of the art form, be it painting or photography, as well as using the medium to delve into deeper issues of memory and loss."

In some of his more recent pieces, Mr. Farber used photographs of Holocaust victims and placed them in family albums "tying the viewer inexorably and hauntingly to the victim," Mr. Goldberg wrote.

Mr. Farber named this body of work "The Album Project." A 2011 profile in the Baltimore Jewish Times stated the exhibit, held at MICA, "explores the dark side of intolerance." The work was accompanied by a poem, "Five Albums," written by Amy Eisner, who teaches humanities courses at MICA.

"The albums are a place of peace for those who died violently and a disturbing place for those who died peacefully," Ms. Eisner told The Jewish Times.

Mr. Farber's work was exhibited in 26 solo shows and in more than 100 group exhibits. He also did design work for the National Football League, covers for Eastern Mountain Sports catalogs, a record album cover for Flying Fish Records and a mural design for Oprah Winrey's "ABC Afterschool Special."

"He was always two or three steps ahead of me when it came to strategizing about things. I looked up to him," Mr. App said. "He also had a terrific sense of humor and for me, he brought out my sense of humor — that was a great gift."

As Mr. Farber struggled with cancer, his friends put together an online fundraiser to assist him. Those who responded dated back to his high school days, college and from the various institutions where he had worked.

"In an incredibly short time people stepped up. There were people that Denny hadn't seen in 30 or 40 years contributing," said Mr. Goldberg. "They felt a connection with Denny that they never lost."

Plans for a memorial service and an exhibition of Mr. Farber's at MICA are incomplete.

He is survived by his partner of 15 years, Catherine Behrent, who had chaired MICA's Foundation Department for 15 years and now teaches painting; a brother, Martin Farber of Palm Desert, Calif; a sister, Marlene Werman of Northbrook, Ill.; and many nieces and nephews.

frasmussen@baltsun.com

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