Edward Biberman, Celebrated L.A. Artist, Dies

Times Staff Writer

Edward Biberman, whose murals of early Los Angeles proved so representative that they were painstakingly removed and stored during remodeling of the new Federal Building 20 years ago, died Monday.

He was 81, and died in his Hollywood Hills home of cancer.

His career as an artist spanned 60 years and his most recent honor came last month when it was reported that two of his life-size portraits--those of entertainer Lena Horne and author Dashiell Hammett--had been purchased by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

At his death, his stark realism was represented in more than a dozen museum and university collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Academy of Fine Arts of Philadelphia.


Two Books Published

Two books of his paintings were published--”The Best Untold” and “Time and Circumstance” with texts by the artist.

He also taught and lectured, and from 1968 to 1970 was host for “Dialogues in Art,” produced by KNBC-TV in Los Angeles and shown over that national network.

A native of Philadelphia, Biberman went to Europe after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1927, his career was launched with an exhibition at the Salon d’ Automnean in Paris.

He came to Los Angeles in 1936, and in 1939 was chosen to provide two murals for the then-new Federal Building’s post office. He first offered a trilogy of California history--with paintings of sloths and saber-tooth tigers, a re-creation of an 1849 map of Los Angeles and a conceptualization of the discovery of the pueblo that grew into the city. Next he drew a celebration of mankind that he titled “Each of Us,” a depiction of the various races of man.

Biberman was a brother of the late Herbert Biberman, one of the Hollywood 10 group of writers jailed during the McCarthy Era for their political beliefs.

Checked for Subversion

In 1953, that link resulted in an inspection of the murals by the Native Sons of the Golden West, who were seeking any subversion that might have crept onto government property.


Three representatives of the Native Sons, including a local judge, decreed the paintings free of leftist infiltration, and when the post office was removed from the building in 1964-65, the murals were taken down, preserved and stored.

In 1971, reviewing his one-man show in the city’s new Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park, Henry J. Seldis, The Times’ late art critic, found in the retrospective “a consistency of purpose . . . and a rather robust love for life that has managed to overcome personal and political adversities of considerable dimension.”

Biberman is survived by his wife, Sonja Dahl, their daughter Sonya Schall, three granddaughters, one great-grandson and a sister.