A few weeks ago I read an article in the latest Art Fund Quarterly magazine about the beautiful calligraphy and design work of Elizabeth Friedlander. As I read I realised that the venue for the exhibition of her work was The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft in East Sussex. I remembered that friend (and regular commenter here) Fran, had recommended me to stop at this museum on my journey to Laughton Place back in 2014. In the end the traffic hold-ups in London meant that time was pressing and I would have insufficient time to do a visit justice. Upon realising that Ditchling was not a million miles from Godalming, where I’m pug-sitting this week, I suggested meeting Fran there and seeing the exhibition in good company.
A word of warning if you are thinking of visiting; there is no car park. It’s advisable to use the village car park a short walk away but Tuesday was a quiet day so we were able to park on the lane right outside the gate.
After a quick cup of tea in the cafe/shop we joined a twenty minute introductory talk about the museum, the permanent collection and the two temporary exhibitions : Twenty years of Penguin Essentials and Elizabeth Friedlander : Typographer, Calligrapher, Designer.
The dresser display and the glass cabinet display
Of course, we all know about Penguin Books and there won’t be a person reading this who doesn’t have several or, more probably, very many, of these on their bookshelves in an assortment of editions. But what surprised me, as we began the tour and stood in front of what the Museum call their “Wunderkammer” (cabinet of curiosities), was that I didn’t recognise a single one of these book covers! Yes, I knew the titles and yes, I had Penguin editions of some of them but each of the specially commissioned covers was totally unknown to me.
The books covers in the glass display cabinet were familiar to me; not least from the box set of 100 Penguin postcards.
“The Penguin Essentials series began in 1998 under the guidance of Art Director John Hamilton, and continues to celebrate this artistic heritage through a series of creative collaborations with contemporary designers, illustrators and artists such as Tomato (Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange), Banksy (Nick Cave And The Ass Saw The Angel) and Angie Lewin (Penelope Lively The Road to Lichfield). The result is an ongoing collection of innovative and diverse book designs that stand as a shining example of imagery, typography and layout.
The original artists and designers Hamilton chose often hadn’t designed book jackets before and were not locked into the norms and formulae of cover design. 20 years later he has carefully selected 100 of his own favourites showcasing the ground-breaking designs, with an additional selection from the publisher’s archives that includes several Friedlander book covers and noted designers of their day.”
Accompanying the Penguin books is a display of the work of Elizabeth Friedlander. About whom more later. There’s a small permanent collection telling the story of printing which includes the Stanhope printing press, compositors trays and other printing and book binding artefacts.
“Iron printing presses were introduced from 1800 and could print a larger area with less effort than the wooden ones they replaced. Our example is a Stanhope press originally used by St Dominic’s Press.”