an illustration to Jane Eyre



Fritz Eichenberg (1901 - 1990) Born in Cologne where he was apprenticed to a lithographic print shop and then worked in advertising> He also studied in Leipzig where he studied under the illustrator Hugo Steinerpark."He was not only interested in the illus- tration, but in the book as a whole - the design, the binding, the type - the illustrations were just a part of his work. He was the head designer for Ulstein Books, which are still beautiful. He did most of the bindings, and they were just marvelous. I began to illustrate books right away. I did Gulliver's Travels and Dostoevski, whom I always adored as an author. The first book was Crime and Punishment, and I did it while I was a student. Then came 1932 --- "

He became staff artist for the Ultstein chain and was immediately successful, dictating his own projects. He was also active as a cartoonist, against violence and right wing extremism. In 1933 alarmed at the gathering power of the Nazis he amassed contracts for a tour out of Germany.

"They did not want to let me go. In March of 1933, I had everything assembled. I had a big pack of contracts. I had one with Hopok, the shipping line which plied the ocean between Germany and the United States. There was some Ultstein paper in Cologne and some in my hometown for which I worked. I worked for about a half a dozen different newspapers and magazines. So it was comparatively easy. I had gotten myself a passport with a twelve months' visa which turned out to be my salvation. At the time, I didn't pay much attention to it. I left my family in Berlin and my daughter was two years old. I went to Mexico and Guatemala where I had always wanted to go and stayed for about three months writing articles and sending them back and getting them published. Then I went up North through San Antonio, up through Texas to Chicago where the World's Fair had just been opened."

He returned to Germany, extricating his wife and daughter to settle permanently in America. ".... So when I got here, everyone was complaining and aching with fatigue from wandering around trying to get jobs. It was just a situation for an artist to come from another country and say, "Here I am, take note." No one knew me here. I took my portfolio and made the rounds. I had piles of work, as you can imagine. I had illustrated many books. It was in all the papers. I had a staggering amount of work, but it was alien kind of work that didn't apply to the local scene. There was no such thing as a political cartoon in this country. Herb Block and Fitzpatrick are all good people, but to me it always lacked bite. It was funny stuff, but it wasn't anything that Goya or Daumier would have approved of."

He worked for the WPA."I got box wood, which is very hard to get -- the WPA had kind of a supply room and everything we needed. You had to say what you needed, and you got it. They bought the tools. They bought the gravers and they sharpened the gravers and you took your material home with you. You just picked it up there -- beautiful wood blocks, any size. I made a decided assignment of each one. I said to myself, "I will do this and in that time." I don't know what the other artists actually did. "

Oral history interview with Fritz Eichenberg, 1979 May 14-Dec. 7, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.