After taking a brief interval to delve into what makes the Irish Archives Resource unique, it is time to turn our attention back to the collections contributed to the IAR, looking today at some of the most magnificent art collections held in Irish repositories. Of the 728 collections uploaded to the IAR site, a total of twelve have been listed as relating to the papers of artists, art galleries, and art collectors.

The Elizabeth Friedlander Collection and Ancillary 

The most recent additions to our site, the Elizabeth Friedlander Archival Collection and its accompanying ancillary, represent a treasure trove of artistic brilliance. Uploaded in August 2023, these collections were originally acquired by UCC Library Archives Service through purchase in 2005, and their meticulous cataloguing was officially completed in 2017. The collection and ancillary were launched exactly six years ago this week during the 2017 #ExploreYourArchive week!

Although there is little in the way of records from Friedlander’s personal life, she ensured that her professional artwork was catalogued and preserved with utmost precision. The main body of the collection consists of 12 boxes, supplemented by an astonishing 671 items in its ancillary. Both have been organised where possible by material type. However, in a nod to Ms. Friedlander’s original system of arrangement, certain material types are intentionally intermixed, such as monotype designs alongside book cover designs. Each folder within the collection is accompanied by a detailed description of its contents, and the entire list is fully searchable for keywords, ensuring that the richness of Friedlander’s legacy is easily accessible to enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Test images for ‘Elizabeth’ font, Image Courtesy of UCC Library Archives Service

The Woman Behind the Art

Born into a German-Jewish family living in Berlin-Charlottenburg on 10 October 1903, Elizabeth Friedlander had a passion for art from a young age. During her early adult years in the 1920s, Friedlander flourished under the tutorship of the highly influential German typographer and graphic artist Emil Rudolf Weiss at the Academy of Berlin’s Museum of Decorative Arts. The work produced by Friedlander during her time spent studying in Berlin is heavily documented in the ancillary to her main collection. Upon completing her education, she soon landed a career as a designer and calligrapher in the first illustrated lifestyle magazine for women in Germany, Die Dame, owned by the successful Jewish publishing house, Ullstein Verlag. 

Whilst designing headings for the magazine, Friedlander was contacted by the Bauer Typfoundry and invited to design a typeface for the company, making her one of the first women in history to design a typeface. However, due to the worsening situation for Jewish communities living in Germany in the late 1930s, Friedlander’s typeface was unable to follow the same naming conventions as her contemporaries, who would usually assign their surname to their font. As ‘Friedlander’ was considered “too Jewish”, the typeface was released in October 1936 under the name ‘Elizabeth’. Germany became an increasingly hostile country for Jewish women such as Elizabeth, particularly in her field of work where she was informed that she was not fit to “participate in the creation and dissemination of German cultural values”. Friedlander attempted on multiple occasions, albeit unsuccessfully, to emigrate to the United States of America. Instead, after a brief stay in Milan that ended abruptly under the fascist laws of Mussolini, Friedlander moved to London in 1939. 

Although her visa, granted by the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, only permitted her to work in England as a maid, Friedlander’s early encounters with Francis Meynell, an esteemed British poet and printer at The Nonesuch Press, later promoted by his granddaughter Katharine Meynell, set the stage for her influential career in design. Through her friendship with Meynell, Friedlander was introduced to Ellic Howe, an author writing for Britain’s Political Warfare Executive at Bush House. Impressed by her work and passionate stance on politics, Howe employed Friedlander to lead design teams in the creation and circulation of black propaganda for covert psychological operations.

Letter from Hans [Schmoller] to Elizabeth Friedlander re: calligraphy work, 3d April 1950, Image Courtesy of UCC Library Archives Service

Following the end of the Second World War, Friedlander increased her presence as a typographer and artist in London, working with big names in the world of publishing, including Penguin, Mills & Boon, Linotype and Monotype. Her work included the design of book covers, borders, maps, and art for cosmetic brands. Friedlander relocated to Kinsale, County Cork, in the early 1960s with Alessandro (Sandro) Magri MacMahon, an Irish/Italian author and professor of classics, yet she continued to commute between Kinsale and London to continue the work she was engaged in with Royal Military Academy, inscribing the Roll of Honour at Sandhurst. She lived the remainder of her years in her new-found Irish home, and just before she died in 1984 Friedlander imparted her personal collection of working papers, artwork, cuttings, and ephemera to a close friend also living in Cork. 

Róisín Costello

With special thanks to UCC Library Archives Service for the use of images from the Elizabeth Friedlander Collection and Ancillary for this post.

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