Given her many accomplishments – and her remarkable life – it’s surprising that Elizabeth Friedlander’s name isn’t better known. The designer and typographer created beautiful book covers and end papers for Penguin and Mills & Boon in the 1950s and 60s. She also forged Nazi documents for the British Political Intelligence Office during World War Two and created a typeface for German foundry Bauer in the 1930s before leaving the country to escape Nazi rule.
A new exhibition at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft in Sussex aims to shine a light on Friedlander’s fascinating life and work. Elizabeth Friedlander is open until April 2018 and includes rarely seen commercial work alongside some of the late designer’s most treasured possessions.
Friedlander was born in Germany in 1903 and trained at the Berlin Academy under designer and artist Emil Rudolf Weiss. She was also tutored by Anna Simons – a German calligrapher who had studied under Edward Johnston.
She went on to work as a designer for German magazine Die Dame and was asked to create a typeface for foundry Bauer in 1933 – a rare accomplishment for female graphic designers at the time. She completed the design a year later and named it Elizabeth after she was unable to call it Friedlander (a Jewish name) for fear of persecution. The typeface was first cut in 1938 and the final version was released in 1939.
Friedlander left Germany in 1936 and arrived in England on a domestic service visa after living briefly in Italy. She picked up advertising and editorial commissions after showing her portfolio to poet and printer Francis Meynell who introduced her to some of his contacts.
She also began working alongside author Ellic Howe in the black propaganda unit of the Political Intelligence Office. The pair were responsible for forging Wehrmacht and Nazi rubber stamps as well as ration books during the war.
Friedlander went on to create colourful patterned papers and covers for some of the UK’s biggest publishers as well as ornamental borders for Linotype and Monotype.
The exhibition at Ditchling includes book covers and end papers alongside wood engravings, greeting cards, illustrated maps and type specimens – highlighting Friedlander’s varied output and her hand-drawn lettering and illustration skills.
The exhibition also includes some personal items – from a self-portrait to a violin that belonged to Friedlander’s mother (one of the few items she took with her from Germany).
The show is co-curated by Katharine Meynell (Francis Meynell’s granddaughter), who discovered Friedlander’s work when she stumbled upon letters and drawings among her grandfather’s belongings. She wrote and produced a film, Elizabeth, about Friedlander’s work in 2016 and the film is being shown in the Museum’s Reading Room throughout the exhibition’s run.
It’s a long overdue retrospective and a rare chance to see Friedlander’s work up close while finding out more about the hugely talented – but often overlooked – designer.
Elizabeth Friedlander is on at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft until April 29. See ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk for details.