A driving force of the New York School, Ferber was one of the earliest artists to produce an abstract expressionist form of sculpture, achieving vigorous, almost gestural welded abstractions.
In time, his work evolved toward environmental sculpture, culminating during the 1960s in room-size installations of abstract form. Later he devoted much of his time to painting. A lifelong New Yorker, Herbert Ferber Silvers worked as an artist under his middle name to avoid being thought of as a dentist who made art as a hobby. He studied at City College of New York and Columbia University, where he graduated from dental school in 1930.
For many years, he continued to practice and teach dentistry part-time. He took drawing classes at the academic Beaux Art Institute of Design, but was mainly self-taught as a sculptor. Encouraged by William Zorach, whose work he admired, he carved stylized wood and stone figures early in his career. These also demonstrate his fondness for the work of Ernst Barlach and other German expressionists, as well as his attraction to African and pre-Columbian sculpture.
His first visit to Europe in 1938 opened his eyes particularly to Romanesque sculpture. Thematically, some of his work from the 1930s reveals the social consciousness of the period. Henry Moore's work strongly affected Ferber for a short period in the mid-1940s, just before he began to work with welded metal to achieve open, abstract compositions stressing the interaction of space with solid form.
Relating to mythic and symbolic themes, these free compositions of primarily biomorphic shapes evolved in the mid-1950s toward “roofed” and “caged” sculptures, which contain their forms within defined spaces. Combined with experience during the same years in making large-scale architectural and public sculpture, these achievements in turn led, around 1960, to sculptural ensembles that activated interior spaces.
An observer venturing into such a room in effect entered the sculpture. A long-standing interest in painting culminated during the 1970s in reliefs and painted sculptures that combine three-dimensional form with color. He died at his summer home at North Egremont, in western Massachusetts.