Celebrate National Library Week with David Friedman’s Candid Library Sketches

Please note: information previously included in this posting during April 17 – 22, 2014 was based off of a newspaper article that we have since learned contained inaccuracies. That information has been removed and replaced with correct information.

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.  These library sketches now comprise the David Friedman Collection at MGHL.

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 at St. Louis County Library, Clayton Branch, February 14, 1963

Friedman (originally Friedmann) was a Austrian painter, portraitist, and graphic artist, known for his ability to paint and sketch portraits from real life.  A Holocaust survivor, Friedman later moved to Israel with his wife. In 1954, he and his family moved to the United States, where as a commercial artist for General Outdoor Adveristing he painted 150 gigantic outdoor billboard advertisements for companies including Hunts, 7-Up, and Budweiser.

In 1960 the family became American citizens and dropped the second n from their surname.  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 charcoal drawings.

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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.

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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 enjoyed a secondary career as a freelance press artist, giving him the opportunity to draw notable figures such as Albert Einstein, composer Arnold Schönberg, and chess champion Emanuel Lasker.

That life changed in 1933 when Hitler came to power.  Friedman was banned from his profession because he was a Jew.  In 1938, Friedman, his wife, and their three-month-old daughter fled from Berlin to Prague, only a few months before the Nazis took control of Czechoslovakia. Friedman and his family were deported in 1941 on the first transport to the Lodz Ghetto.  There, Friedman painted scenes of his family and their daily life in the Ghetto.  He also drew portraits of the leaders in exchange for provisions, in order to survive. The artwork he was forced to leave behind in Berlin and Prague was looted.  He was later separated from his family and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  He never saw his wife or daughter again.

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photograph of Friedman posing in front of his artwork in his University City home, 1973

Friedman was in line at role call when by fate or luck, an annoucement came over the loud speaker calling for musicians for the orchestra that played for the German SS officers.  Friedman, who had studied violin, volunteered, and passed the first audition, thus escaping the gas chamber.  He was transported to the Auschwitz sub-camb Gleiwitz I with other potential musicians for an orchestra audition.  He was not successful in the second audition, having to compete against violin virtuosos.  Realizing his life was in danger, he painted a large mural on the barracks’ walls, which impressed the German officers so they spared his life.  The officers orderd Friedman to paint portraits of the officers and their families and their dogs. This portrait painting would allow him to survive the Holocaust, and the act of painting gave him the will to live and was a form of resistance.

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by David Friedman, for the Aviation Council of Israel, ca. 1949-1954.

Friedman was liberated by the Russian Red Army in January, 1945, returned to Prague at the end of the war, and painted the horrific scenes he had experienced in order to show the world.  In 1946, he met his future wife Hildegard Taussig, another Holocaust survivor.  She helped him hang his first exhibition of Holocaust artwork.  He also drew picturesque landscapes of western Bohemia and painted a series on the life of coal miners in Habartov, Czechoslovakia.

Friedman and Hildegard later moved 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.

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photograph of David Friedman in front of one of his billboards for GOA, 1961

Friedman ended up working for the General Outdoor Advertising company painting gigantic billboard advertisements.  The company was so impressed with Friedman’s trial painting of a huge billboard, that they hired him on the spot.  Friedman eventually transferred to St. Louis, where he was the head painter of the St. Louis branch.  His most famous billboards were for Budweiser, including the iconic Clydesdales.

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photograph of David Friedman in front of a Budweiser billboard he painted for GOA in New York, 1958

Friedman retired from commercial art in 1962, but continued to paint, sketch, and exhibit.  With his drive for self-expression and new challenges, he looked forward to the freedom to paint at liberty, similar to the artistic experience he had known in Berlin and Prague.  He resumed his Holocaust-themed artwork and also created numerous other projects, including the candid portrait sketches at the libraries.

Friedman continued to draw and paint until six months before his death in 1980.  Most of his prewar art was looted, lost, or destroyed, as were his works created in the Lodz Ghetto and the concentration camps.  His daughter, Miriam Friedman Morris, continues to search for the whereabouts of her father’s missing artwork.

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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.

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at Olin Library, Washington University in St. Louis, February 2, 1963

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.

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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

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.