Friedel Stern was one of a kind. When the caricaturist died five and a half
years ago, just shy of her 90th birthday, the kudos came in thick and fast from
all quarters. Although it was a while coming, the Israeli Cartoon Museum in
Holon has put together an exhibition of Stern’s works. The exhibition “I Was a
Tourist in Israel” opened on February 16 and will run until June 23.
show offers a wonderful opportunity to get a handle on one of the most creative
visual media minds this country has produced. Her singularly crafted caricatures
added stirring and incisive illustrative epexegesis, with plenty of
Stern arrived in Palestine from Leipzig,
Germany, in 1938 when she was 21. During World War II she volunteered for the
British army and, given her creative skills, was soon assigned to map drawing.
However, she quickly became bored with producing dry scaled representations of
various parts of the country and decided to spice her work up.
the British officer in charge if she could add drawings to the maps,” says
Cartoon Museum director Galit Gaon. “That was typical of her.
is perfectly natural to see little characters and symbols on maps, but no one
did it before Friedel.”
Stern not only took an impish view of life, but
she was also a consummate professional and endeavored to work from the ground
up. She had thespian aspirations and, although she never became a professional
actress, she utilized her natural acting talent in her work, to get down to the
nuts and bolts of the subjects she wanted to portray.
On one occasion,
she disguised herself as a bus conductor, and another time she dressed up as a
Moroccan housewife – no mean feat considering her yekke origins and strong
German accent. Once she hit the streets as a man.
The protracted hiatus
between Stern’s death and the exhibition was not due to any lack of willingness
on the part of Gaon or anyone else connected to the museum. There were all sorts
of legal aspects to sort out before the museum could gain access to her
“It was very frustrating to have to wait until things ran their
course through the courts,” says Gaon. “I think Friedel believed that her works
would be on display at the museum very quickly.”
When the crates of
caricatures finally arrived at the museum, Gaon says that she and her colleagues
were surprised by what they found and says there will probably be more exciting
discoveries in the future.
“My feeling is that we haven’t really started
getting close to what is waiting for us in her work,” she notes, adding that the
current show strays from the beaten Stern path.
“Yirmi Pincus, the
exhibition curator, did not opt for the regular Friedel stuff – caricatures
about women or relationships or general humor. He chose the illustrative work
she did for large-scale and national commercial projects, and it takes a look at
her contribution to how we are today.”
Humor generally insinuated itself
into Stern’s work, regardless of the topic in question.
“The very first
El Al safety instruction booklet was illustrated by Friedel in
Instead of doing something dry and unappealing, she made it into a
sensitive and delightful piece of work. For example, she drew a husband and wife
jumping out of a plane and kissing when they landed in the sea,” says
Stern had quite a few opportunities to benefit from her work for El
Al and traveled extensively abroad. That, believes Gaon, also informed her
“She became very cosmopolitan, and I think she brought
that multicultural element to all her work.”
Considering that in the
1950s and ’60s very few Israeli traveled abroad and Israel was largely shut off
from the rest of the world, that must have been a breath of fresh air for people
here at the time.
The media and Israeli society in general were very
different half a century or so ago, and one wonders how Stern would have managed
in the postmodern, highly competitive market of today.
“I think she would
have gotten on very well,” says Gaon.
“She was tough, but I think she had
an advantage in being a woman. As a woman, she could be flexible and less gungho
than some of her male colleagues.”
Over her six-plus decade career, Stern
worked for many of the country’s leading publications, such as daily newspaper
Davar, IDF publication Bamahane and glossy women’s magazine At. She also spent
over 30 years teaching in the Visual Communications Department of the Bezalel
Academy of Art and Design and was known to be a demanding
“That’s true,” says Gaon, “but all her former students
remember her with love and admiration.
I don’t think Stern’s contribution
to this country has ever been fully appreciated.”
It is hoped that “I Was
a Tourist in Israel” will go some way toward remedying that.For more
information about the Friedel Stern exhibition: (03) 652- 1849 and