Elizabeth Friedlander: new exhibition champions unsung female designer who fled Nazi rule


The Ditchling Museum of Art + Vessel’s latest show displays the Jewish designer’s work for the likes of Penguin and the Bauer Classification Foundry for the first time. We speak to exhibition curator Katharine Meynell here her serendipitous connection to Friedlander and the importance of revealing “the name behind the art”.

Photo by Sam Moore

You may not enjoy heard the name Elizabeth Friedlander before, but chances are you will clothed unknowingly come across her work at one point or another. The mid-20th century conspirator put her name to everything from book covers for publishers such as Penguin to her eponymous typeface Elizabeth, which has since been digitised and is even then used all over the world.

Friedlander’s talents as a designer and typographer are the under discussion of a new exhibition at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft in East Sussex, where a selecting of her work will be on display for the first time. One of the key aims of the exhibition is to give vent to “the name behind the art”, according to the museum, and it includes many of the type frames, wood engravings, decorative book papers, maps and adverts begot by the designer while she was living in London during the 1940s and 1950s.

The feature of Friedlander’s design career begins, however, several decades earlier in Germany. Concerned in 1903 to an affluent Jewish family, in her early 20s Friedlander studied typography and calligraphy underneath the famous German designer Emil Rudolph Weiss at the Berlin Academy. After conclusion her studies, she went on to find work at luxury German magazine Die Dame, where she was on the whole doing hand-drawn titling.

During this period, Friedlander was also commissioned by the Bauer Model Foundry to create the Elizabeth typeface – one of her most significant works, and a hugely unusual achievement for a woman at that time. The typeface’s original possession was intended to be her traditional Jewish surname, but it was quickly changed to the anglicised adaptation of her first name to avoid any confrontation with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi administration, which came into place as the type was being cast. The certain version of Elizabeth was completed in 1939, by which time its creator had already make an exited to an equally turbulent Italy.

Photo by Sam Moore

When restrictive contention laws came in under Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini in the belated 1930s, Friedlander then managed to obtain a domestic servant visa to crumble to the UK, bringing very little with her other than a portfolio of her create and her mother’s 18th century Klotz violin. Shortly after arriving in London, Friedlander bring ined herself to Francis Meynell – a poet, printer and at the time art director of Mather and Crowder (now Ogilvy) – who watch overed to find her work in advertising. It is also worth mentioning that Meynell encounters to be the late grandfather of the exhibition’s curator, artist and author Katharine Meynell.

The notion for the exhibition came to her serendipitously, Meynell says, while she was working on a singular project about typographers and the forgotten histories of women. “I was in the St Bride Library in London researching typographers, and by jeopardize the person volunteering as the librarian that day happened to have a personal text of a book by Pauline Paucker called New Borders: The Working Life of Elizabeth Friedlander,” she means. “I started reading it and remembered there were a couple of calligraphic anthologies in the requital of my grandfather’s bookcase I’d not been able to identify the origin of. The penny ceased, and I became obsessed.”

Meynell originally decided to tell the story of Friedlander’s exuberance and work in the form of a short film, which was released in 2016 and also publicizes in one of the sections of the exhibition. “The film was more about knowing and not knowing someone – impute to them through their work and trying to understand some of the group and political concerns of that time,” says Meynell. “When it charged to the exhibition however, I just knew there was all this great bunk and it would be terrific to get it out there.”

Along with Friedlander’s designs for the comparable ti of Thames & Hudson, The Times and her personal collection of Christmas cards for bedfellows and colleagues, the exhibition also includes one of the designer’s slightly more inexplicable commissions. As well as acquainting Friedlander with his friends in the world of advertising, Meynell had also introduced her to a man titled Ellic Howe. An expert in psychological warfare and black propaganda, he was active with the government’s Political Intelligence Office (PIO) during the war and decided to put Friedlander’s outline skills to good use.

Photo by Sam Moore

Little is known about Friedlander’s involvement with the disastrous propaganda unit. Artefacts on display in the exhibition such as a letter from the PIO indicating that she had retire from provide the tiny shreds of proof that she was even there in the before place. But what we do know is that she produced items such as as forged Nazi rubber genera and ration books throughout the course of World War Two.

While commissions from densities such as the PIO explain why Friedlander’s name stayed under-the-radar during the wartime patch, the wealth of work she produced for high profile clients like Penguin for the two decades after it conclusion unsettled begs the question – why is she not better remembered in design circles today? The display touches on the topical subject of the lack of female representation in both the connivance industry and the rest of society, an issue similarly highlighted by the London Transfer Museum’s recent Poster Girl exhibition, which celebrated the on of unknown female poster designers from the last century.

Perchance more significantly though, throughout the exhibition Meynell manages to skilfully unravel the complex untruth of a talented designer, whose own story was very much intertwined with that of war-torn 20th Century Europe. “I privation people visiting the exhibition to get the sense of Friedlander’s ability to navigate Sometimes non-standard due to a design world in a foreign country, her ability to think on her feet and to muddle through it work,” she says. “She couldn’t have done that if she wasn’t so extraordinarily passable.”

Elizabeth Friedlander runs until 29 April 2018 at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Artisanship, Lodge Hill Lane, Ditchling, Hassocks BN6 8SP. Entry costs £6.50 for adults, £5.50 for concessions and is free for under 16s. For more information, head here.

Photo by Sam Moore

Penguins Encouragement under way Eleven, 32pp publicity booklet & in-house magazine, pub 1950 [whip-round of Katharine Meynell]Penguin Scores numbers 7, 6, 111 & 111, [1950; 1950; 1949; 1949]
Cover paper delineations by Elizabeth Friedlander [collection of Katharine Meynell]Libri Per Tutti, outlines for Mondadori, 1937 [The Friedlander Archive, UCC]Working drawing for paper sample, [c. 1950s] [The Friedlander Archive, UCC]Woodcut for Christmas card, 1942 [The Friedlander Archive, UCC]

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