Skip To Content
We’ve Taken Down the Forward Paywall: An Open Letter to Our ReadersRead Now
Fast Forward

Phillip Ratner, sculptor whose work tells immigrants’ stories at NYC landmarks, dies at 86

The Washington-area artist’s bronzes adorn the museums at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

(JTA) — Washington-area artist Phillip Ratner, whose bronze sculptures of immigrants and other historical figures are fixtures at exhibits at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, died Nov. 9 at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 86.

Ahead of Lady Liberty’s centennial in the 1980s, the National Park Service commissioned Ratner to create statues representing immigrants who entered the country through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954 as well as figures central to the history of the Statue of Liberty, including the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus.

Ratner had to raise the funds for the sculptures himself, a task he gladly took on.

“Telling the story of my grandparents coming to this country and making it their home — a story that connects many Americans — is a passion of mine,” Ratner said in 2017, when he donated models for 10 of those works to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

Ratner and his cousin Dennis Ratner were also the founders, in 1985, of the Israel Bible Museum in Safed, Israel, a collection of sculpture, painting and graphics related to the Bible. It later relocated to Beersheva.

Born in Washington, Ratner studied art at the Pratt Institute in New York and American University in Washington, and taught art — including at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland — before devoting himself full-time to his artwork.

His survivors include his wife, the former Ellen Miles, and four children from his first marriage to Miriam Levine: Hal Ratner of Chicago, Marni Ratner of Olney, Maryland and Sari Ratner Judge and Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, both of Madison, Wisconsin, and nine grandchildren.

This article originally appeared on


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.