MARICOPA -- It’s all about the details for Maricopa artist Herman Zelig Neuberger.
An artist who does incredibly detailed pencil drawings and sculptures, Neuberger prides himself on taking the time to get every detail right in all of his art pieces.
“I never do a lazy drawing,” he said. “The key, whether it’s a drawing or a sculpture, is not rushing it. I always envisioned myself being known in the art world for my ability and capabilities, but I most want to be known for the detail in my work.”
An original drawing or sculpture by Neuberger can sell for thousands of dollars. His artwork is found in galleries and exhibits and some of his artwork has been purchased by celebrities, he said.
Most of his pencil work is signed with his middle name, “Zelig.”
When he decides to work on a project, he can take weeks or months planning the piece in his mind.
“I know where I’m going with a project before I start working on it,” he said.
One of his better-known pencil drawings, “Just 10 Cents a Call” — a still life of a 1950s-era payphone scene complete with a torn-out phone book page, a half-empty bottle of soda and other details — took more than a year to plan and several visits to antique shops to find items for the drawing.
After months of searching for the perfect phone, he found one with the help of the Telephone Pioneers Museum in Phoenix. The museum allowed him to borrow a pay phone and copy a few pages from a 1950s phone book.
With the resulting still life drawing, which resembles a photograph, Neuberger said he hoped to accurately capture the look, feel and romance of a typical 1950s era phone booth, like one that would have been found in delis, restaurants or various establishments across the country.
The page from the phone book was painstakingly copied — with creases, names and folds — onto the paper along with other details in the scene, including business cards tacked to the wall, a set of keys and an authentic pack of cigarettes in their 1950s packaging (which Neuberger found in an antique shop in Australia).
Much of Neuberger’s pencil art focuses on the 1950s.
“That’s the era that inspired me,” he said. “I was a teenager in the 1950s and have fine memories of those years.”
Neuberger is a Chicago native who spent decades working as an architect. He moved to Arizona from Illinois in 1977 for the warmer weather.
While in Chicago, he worked in the architecture department for Sears. When he moved to Arizona, he worked on various architectural projects including Fiesta Mall in Mesa, Good Samaritan Hospital and the Peoria municipal building, among others.
As a hobby, he spent years working on a model railroad-style replica of 1950s Chicago, constructing from scratch the buildings, including a miniature Wrigley Building with a working clock tower made from watches. Other landmarks in the replica include trains, baseball fields and and buildings. With his eye always on the details, Neuberger even included scenes of clean laundry hanging on clotheslines at some of the apartment buildings.
When he was finished, the Chicago replica took up an entire room at the Neuberger residence.
“A few years ago, I realized I had built a monster and I didn’t know what to do with it,” he said.
He donated the replica of Chicago to the Maricopa Historical Society. It will become an exhibit in the organization’s new building once it is constructed. The exhibit will include information about Neuberger, his life and his art.
“It feels pretty good knowing that it will be an exhibit at the museum,” he said.
At 85, Neuberger was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which prompted him to turn his attention away from detailed drawing and focus on sculptures, which he creates from copper wire, river rock and petrified wood.
His wife, Patty, whom he refers to as the “the wind beneath my wings,” suggested that he consider sculpting as an alternative to drawing.
“She held up a piece of petrified wood to show me and said, ‘you could probably do something with this,’” Neuberger said.
Each sculpture tells a story through strands of copper wire and carefully placed stone. In some of the sculptures, shards of mirrored glass are used to create delicate birds or reflective sections.
And as with any story, the details matter, he said.
“I’m compulsive about the details, no matter what I’m doing,” he said.
Neuberger’s work is sold through his company, Thru Windows of Time. The work may be seen through private showings and appointments. To reach him, send an email to email@example.com.