Pat Schleger: The Matriarch of British Graphic Design

Pat Schleger was one of Britain’s foremost Modernist graphic practitioners. Patrick Argent recalls her life as a designer, author and highly respected central figure within the profession

On the warm spring evening of 21 May 2007, in the large entrance hall of the V&A, hundreds of people were gathering to celebrate the life and work of the late, great designer Alan Fletcher.

One such guest to arrive was the designer Pat Schleger who, recuperating from a recent hip operation, found the prospect of standing comfortably or walking any distance rather daunting.

Pat Schleger. Portrait by Adrian Gatie
Pat Schleger. Portrait by Adrian Gatie

Consequently on asking for a chair, which I duly found, she then became virtually invisible to the vast majority of the people assembled, with her ability to socialise extremely limited.

Pat with her typical, immediate problem-solving approach, wrote out a list of individuals for me to seek out in the crowd and said could I let them know she was present and would they possibly come over to speak to her.

That list, comprised of a formidable line-up of names that included Wim Crouwel, Derek Birdsall, David Gentleman, Colin Forbes, Alan Kitching, David Bernstein, Ken Garland and Dennis Bailey amongst many others.

My requests for them to join her resulted in a steady queue forming over the evening, of a roll call of eminent designers all obediently and patiently waiting for their turn for an audience with Pat.

Edinburgh International Festival publicity material (1976-78). Designed by Hans and Pat Schleger (Hans Schleger Associates)
Edinburgh International Festival publicity material (1976-78). Designed by Hans and Pat Schleger (Hans Schleger Associates)

In 2001 on a lecture visit to London no less a figure than Milton Glaser specifically requested an opportunity to meet her, another reflection of the regard she was held in amongst leading practitioners.

Many of the past giants of design such as Abram Games, Tom Eckersley and Paul Rand had known her as both a respected designer and had counted her as a good friend.

She seemed to be at the very epicentre of the graphic design profession.

Edinburgh International Festival publicity material (1976-78). Designed by Hans and Pat Schleger (Hans Schleger Associates)
Edinburgh International Festival publicity material (1976-78). Designed by Hans and Pat Schleger (Hans Schleger Associates)

As Patricia Maycock, she had trained at Chelsea School of Art and joined Hans Schleger’s studio in 1949 as his assistant, marrying him seven years later in 1956. Subsequently they formed a husband and wife creative partnership, leading several members of a studio team for over two decades as Hans Schleger Associates.

This association produced notable work for such high profile clients as ICI, Penguin Books, British Rail, John Lewis Partnership and the Edinburgh International Festival.

During this time Pat merged the roles of both design partner and mother to their two daughters Maria and Lalli.

The wonderfully atmospheric Kensington studio that she shared with her husband had acquired substantial provenance as a creative environment, having also been the former workspace of the painter John Singer Sargent in the late 19th century.

To the unerring delight of Pat’s visitors, it presented a rare, magical and tangible snapshot of a past world as one entered a traditional, pre-digital graphic design studio that had remained virtually the same since the heyday of the Schleger partnership.

After Hans died in 1976, she continued the practice at the studio. Expanding the business in taking on a number of new prestigious clients, that included the Royal Academy, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, she was one of the pioneering female graphic designers of her time operating in what was essentially, a male-dominated profession.

Letterpress typographer Alan Kitching recounts: “Pat had a wonderful eye for the detail of design and if it was not for her, I would not have met the designer and chanteuse Celia Stothard.”

She then also combined her role as a practitioner with that of a committed educator.

Teaching at Croydon School of Art & Design as a senior lecturer for fifteen years, she offered her students not only her astute and very exacting professional insight, but also a unique and palpable link to the work of one of the key historical figures of design.

In retirement, Pat’s enduring mission became to chronicle, conserve and lecture widely about, the legacy of her husband’s contribution to 20th century graphic design.

Described by the late designer and typographer Colin Banks in his review of the book in CSD magazine as “skilfully designed and detailed”, her memoir and biography ‘Zero: Hans Schleger – A Life Of Design’ was published by Lund Humphries in 2001.

Pat Schleger’s book about Hans Scheleger
Zero: Pat Schleger’s book about Hans Schleger, published by Lund Humphries, 2001

With a foreword by Paul Rand, and designed by Pat and Virginia Foden, the book was the first ever comprehensive review of Hans Schleger’s work.

Spanning the vast majority of the previous century, the scope of the work reflected the very development of graphic design from post-WW1 into the modern period.

 Assisting in the collation of a retrospective exhibition of her husband’s work which was staged at the V&A in 2007, in her later years she also devoted much of her time to organising and cataloguing the donation to the same museum, of an expansive archive of his work.

Gracious, pragmatic Pat, ever thoughtful of others was not only highly regarded as a designer, a mentor and source of inspiration to her students, but also as an esteemed close associate to a swathe of illustrious figures of her design generation.

Quoting from her book: Hans said of design, ‘It does more than catch the eye. It can touch and hold the elusive heart’* That is not only true of design, it is what happened to me after we met and Hans made my life immensely richer.

Pat Schleger 1928-2015

*Schleger, Hans, Art & Industry, London, March 1949

Lead image: Edinburgh International Festival publicity material (1976-78). Designed by Hans and Pat Schleger (Hans Schleger Associates)

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