Isac Friedlander: My People, Their Suffering, Their Sustaining Faith
An exhibition of fine prints from the Jesuit Collection for the opening of the fall term, 1984
Fine Prints at Georgetown
This is the third exhibition of fine prints in Lauinger Library’s Special Collections Division in the past few years and the second to utilize the very special resources of the Jesuit Collection.
But the Jesuit Collection is not by any means the totality of Georgetown’s fine print holdings. The Library’s own fine print holdings are anchored by its comprehensive collection of the work of the noted American illustrator and printmaker Lynd Ward and by its collection of the prints of Piranesi. The Library has recently acquired, however, a collection of more than 150 American prints dating roughly from 1930 to 1950, including good selections of work by Peggy Bacon, Federico Castellón, William Gropper, Joseph Hirsch, and Thomas W. Nason.
The Library is pleased to facilitate the showing of Isac Friedlander’s prints from the Jesuit Collection, from Mrs. Friedlander, and from the Hirshhorn Museum. Any print collection, but especially one held in an academic institution, must share its riches through regular public displays in order to most completely fulfill its purpose. If through such displays awareness of fine printmaking is increased, and especially if through them students are drawn to study prints and printmaking techniques, they have done their work well.
Isac Friedlander was born in 1890 in Mitau, Latvia, then as now a part of Russia. Those were difficult days for a captive people under the czarist yoke, but it was not long before young Isac’s assertive spirit emerged. At sixteen he was arrested and condemned to death, along with several of his classmates, for protesting compulsory uniforms and weekend curfews. His classmates were shot but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Fortunately, Friedlander’s skills in drawing and the portraits he did of his prison guards and their children came to the attention of a local functionary, who took an interest in him. In four years he was released.
Friedlander’s mother, fearing another confrontation between her son and the authorities, sold her jewelry and sent him to Italy. There, at the Academy of Rome, he studied painting and printmaking—the only formal art training he would ever have.
After the overthrow of the czarist regime, Friedlander, with money given him by Maxim Gorky whom he had befriended, returned to the short-lived freedom of his native Latvia, where he taught art through the 1920’s. Then, in 1929, with the encouragement of his cousin Joseph Hirshhorn, he began his long and frustrating odyssey as an immigrant bound for America.
When at last he arrived in the United States, Friedlander found, in place of a land of challenge and opportunity, a nation locked in the grip of the Great Depression. Human suffering, unemployment, and despair were everywhere he looked. For him, however, deprivation and man’s struggle to cope with it had been the only way of life he knew.
Indeed, his art was firmly rooted in the imagery of human suffering and of man’s struggle with adversity: first in those youthful drawings in a czarist prison, then in the art of his homesick student days in Rome, and more recently in his work while teaching in Latvia. It was only natural, therefore, that his art during those depression years should focus on the lives and sufferings of the downtrodden he found wandering the streets of New York.
The war years of the 1940’s found him deeply troubled in spirit by the reports of sufferings and persecution of his people throughout Nazi-dominated Europe. Having experienced first hand in his youth the depth of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, he now produced his heart-rending and powerful prints of the holocaust.
Friedlander’s woodcuts, wood engravings, and etchings are powerful expressions of the human condition. Death took him in 1968, but not before his spirit found renewed expression in his masterful prints of life among America’s urban blacks as the winds of social change were gathering to redress the wrongs of generations.
In November, 1983, his widow, Mrs. Gilda Friedlander, augmented the few examples of Friedlander’s work in Georgetown’s Jesuit Collection with a gift including some of his finest work, including many of his holocaust pieces. Georgetown’s Lauinger Library and its Special Collections Division are pleased to honor Mrs. Friedlander’s husband and celebrate her gift with this, its first exhibition of the new academic year, entitled “Isac Friedlander: My People, Their Suffering, Their Sustaining Faith.”
May Georgetown’s faculty, returning students, and friends feel along with Friedlander what he felt, and see what he saw, in history’s ongoing quest for ultimate victory over man’s inhumanity to man!
Friedlander’s work is represented in some of America’s finest public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum, the Boston Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Library of Congress. Among the strongest institutional collections of his works are those in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which has graciously lent its copy of Friedlander’s wood engraving “My People” for this exhibition.
Catalogue of the Exhibition
The catalog is arranged alphabetically by title. Dimensions are given in centimeters, height before width. They refer to the plate size for etchings and to image size for woodcuts and wood engravings.
-15th Century Spain
-Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto
-Toward the New Day
Suite of 5 wood engravings subtitled “Milestones in the History of the Jew.” Each print measures approximately 28.0 x 21.5 cm. and has a separate wood engraved text.
Preliminary drawing for My People (1944)
33.2 x 27.2 cm.
22.7 x 27.9 cm.
Edition of 50
26.8 x 22.8 cm.
Edition of 50
(Downhill appears at artist’s left)