Walter Feldman was born in 1925 in Lynn, Massachusetts. He attended Yale University, where he studied with Willem de Kooning and Josef Albers, and served in the US Army Infantry during World War II. Beginning with a work dated 1946—a macabre image of a skeleton-faced soldier, made shortly after Feldman returned from service in World War II—the exhibition continues through his most recent artist's book, The Ballad of Rodger Young, completed in 2003. Between the two, Feldman has created works in a wide range of materials: paintings in egg tempera, gouache, oil, and acrylic; pen-and-ink drawings; mosaics and stained glass; silkscreens, woodcuts, etchings, and engravings; mixed media sculpture, collage, and hand-set letterpress books.
Perhaps closest to the artist's heart are the works from Ziggurat Press, which Feldman founded in 1990. This significant oeuvre includes handsome, small-edition handmade books created in concert with distinguished contemporary poets—many of whom have taught at Brown, such as C. D. Wright, Michael Harper, James Schevill, George Monteiro, and Denise Levertov—and beautiful, personal works, such as Summer 1989. A lovely object, this one-of-a-kind book is bound in tapa cloth and includes exquisite pen-and-ink drawings of trees near Feldman's country home interspersed with pages containing skins shed by a snake who shared the property with the family—they called him David.
Certain themes and subjects exert a sustained presence in Feldman's work: Don Quixote, Mexico, pre-Columbian art, letters as forms and means of communication, stele, Genesis. The effects of war concern Feldman still and are examined in Ziggurat Press publications. A Packet of Letters, 1989, tells the story of the artist's mother, who learned to write so that she could "succor her youngest son who was far far away, frightened and very lonely." Aleksander Kulisiewicz's Songs of the Concentration Camps, recorded after his release from Sachsenhausen concentration camp where he was held from 1939 to 1945, provides the text for Feldman's Lager Lieder, published in 1989.
Feldman's work has been included in numerous one-person and group exhibitions at major museums including the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC; the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, England; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; and the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. He has completed several public art pieces in Providence, including mosaics at Temple Beth-el, Miriam Hospital, and Temple Emanu-el, and stained-glass windows at the Sugarman Memorial Chapel.
In March 2016, just before his 91st birthday, Feldman had a show of 18 paintings at the Providence Arts Club inspired by his wartime experience.
“Even though it is too painful to talk about some of this, I think I got there in the paintings,” he said at the time. “I try to deal with it the best I can.”
Walter Feldman passed away in May of 2017.