H&C Recommends: Elizabeth Friedlander
Words Mark Hooper
First on our ‘must see’ calendar for 2018 is Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft’s retrospective of the work of designer and calligrapher Elizabeth Friedlander, best known for her work on Penguin book covers in the mid-20th century.
Born in Berlin, Friedlander was German Jew who fled from the Nazi regime in the 1930s having been refused a work permit. She moved first to Italy to work for the publisher Mondadori, but as the Italian government introduced their own anti-Semitic laws she eventually found her home in London. There, after a period as a domestic servant, her design skills were recognised by Sir Francis Meynell, the poet and printer (and co-founder of The Nonesuch Press). His support helped her to find work at the wartime British ‘black propaganda’ division set up by the author Ellic Howe – and by 1942 she was head of design there, producing everything from forged Nazi and Wehrmacht rubber stamps to ration books.
Following the war, Friedlander stayed in the UK, where she produced many of her famous patterned designs for Penguin, alongside work for The Curwen Press, Monotype and Linotype – her calligraphy can also be found on the Roll of Honour at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Her reputation as one of the pre-eminent post-war graphic designers in Britain (The Bauer Type Foundry typeface ‘Elizabeth’ is named after her) is cemented by this career retrospective, co-curated by Francis Meynell’s granddaughter, the author and video artist Katharine Meynell. Like many people – even within the design community – Katharine had never heard of Friedlander until she came across a set of correspondence and some of her artwork amongst her grandfather’s papers. She subsequently wrote and produced the recent short film Elizabeth on Friedlander’s life – a good primer for the Ditchling exhibition.