It's National Library Week, so to honor the occasion, Modern Graphic History Library looks at the candid pencil sketches of 1960s era St. Louis libraries by artist David Friedman.
Friedman was a Austrian (later Czechoslovkian) portrait painter, etcher, and sign-painter, who after surviving the Holocaust, ended up settling with his family in St. Louis in 1956 as a sign-painter of outdoor Budweiser advertisements and later becoming an American citizen. His visits to St. Louis area libraries between 1962 - 1967 provided an escape to him as he relived his memories of ghettos and concentration camps while creating a series of Holocaust-themed paintings.
at University City Public Library, February 2, 1963
Friedman wanted to capture the enjoyment that people had while visiting the library and sketched over 100 candid sketches of library patrons. He would hide behind bookcases and hide his drawing pad in his lap, so his subjects were unaware that he was drawing them.
at St. Louis University Pius Library, January 30, 1963
Before the Holocaust, Friedman had a very successful career in as a painter who specialized in portraits. He drew notable figures such as Albert Einstein, composer Arnold Schönberg, and chess champion Emanuel Lasker. He also had a happy family life with a wife and daughter. That life changed in 1939 when the Nazis took control of Czechoslovakia. Friedman and his family were forced into the Lodz Ghetto and his artwork was looted. He was later separated from his family and sent to a work camp. He never saw his wife or daughter again.
Friedman ended up in line for the gas chamber when by fate or luck, an annoucement came over the loud speaker that there was need for a musician for the orchestra that played for the German officers. Friedman, who had studied violin, volunteered, and escaped the gas chamber by being driven to Auschwitz with other potential musicians for an orchestra audition. The officers were unimpressed with his violin playing, so they sent him to the barracks, where he was recognized as an artist. Friedman was encouraged to draw a mural in the barracks with paint that the other barracks residents stole from the camp. Once the German officers realized that Friedman could paint, he was continually painting portraits of the officers and their families. This portrait painting would allow him to survive the Holocaust.
When he was liberated by the Russian Red Army in January, 1945, he ended up in a refugee camp, where he met Hildegard Taussig, whom he later married. When Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Communists in 1949, he and Hildegard fled to Israel and had a daughter, Miriam. Work was hard to find in Israel, especially in the field of painting, so in 1954, at the age of 61, he and the family moved to New York.
Friedman ended up working for the General Outdoor Advertising company. He was concerned that the company might not want to hire a 61 year old man, but the company didn't care about age- just how fast one could paint. Friedman eventually transferred to St. Louis, where he focused on signs for Anheuser Busch.
Friedman became an American citizen in 1960. Two years later, he retired from sign-painting in 1962, but continued to paint, sketch, and etch until right before his death in 1980. Much of his pre-Holocaust artwork is believed to be lost, but his daughter Miriam, continues to search for it.
at University City Public Library, January 28, 1963
Many of his sketches of St. Louis libraries (including four from Washington University's Olin Library) are being shown in an exhibit at Olin Library until July 31, 2014. The exhibit: Enjoyment In Libraries With The Candid Pencil Of David Friedman combines 61 of his sketches with 1960s era photographs of Olin Library from the Washington University Archives' photo collection.
There is also an digital exhibition of Friedman's sketches. This digital exhibition also includes sketches from the collection that were not featured in the exhibition.
at University City Public Library, February 5, 1963
The sketches and photographs are from the David Friedman Collection.
Digital Exhibit of Enjoyment In Libraries : The Candid Pencil Of David Friedman