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Gustav "Gus" Friedmann was born in Vienna, Austria in 1897. He lived a bohemian lifestyle until he had to flee World War II via London, later arriving in New York City. Friedmann settled in San Francisco, where he was eventually reunited with his children. In San Francisco, Gus and his new wife, Jenna, were part of an intellectual group of Viennese friends. Music was a big part of their lives, Jenna played the flute and he the cello. In his Noe Valley home, Gus had a downstairs painting studio with a dark room for his photography. Every Sunday, Gus and Jenna would go on day trips and hike around Mount Tamalpais in Marin with Viennese friends and family. One of his favorite activities was to go mushroom hunting in the area.
Gustav Friedmann was educated at the highly-influential Bauhaus; a German school of architecture and applied arts founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius which focused on experimental principles of functionalism and truth to materials. After being closed by the Nazis in 1933, its ideas were widely disseminated by its students and staff, which included Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, Moholy-Nagy, and Mies van der Rohe. The strong influence of the Bauhaus aesthetic can be clearly seen in Friedmann's paintings.
By 1946, Friedmann was living in San Francisco and was a Professor of Art at the controversial California Labor School*. Communism and Socialism ranked much higher than any religion in Friedmann's life, and he was proud to be teaching at C.L.S. Other notable art professors at the California Labor School included Giacamo Patri, Claire Falkenstein, Pele deLappe, Edith Heath, and Ralph Stackpole. Friedmann, along with these instructors, introduced Modernism to C.L.S. and helped advance the California Labor Movement by training the next generation of skilled craftspeople. Historian Marc Dean Johnson referred to the school as “among the brightest flashes produced by the combined chemistry of labor and art in California.” Friedmann taught Photography and Interior Architecture, among other subjects.
In 1947, as a result of his work at the C.L.S., Friedmann's name was listed in a report of the Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities by the California Legislature.
After his teaching career ended, Friedmann worked for the rest of his life as an interior architect, designing home interiors in the St. Francis Wood and Sea Cliff neighborhoods of San Francisco. Gustav Friedmann died in 1982.
Gustav Friedmann was the father-in-law of fellow San Francisco artist, Jerry Opper (also in the Lost Art Collection).
*The California Labor School (CLS) was founded in 1942 in San Francisco as the Tom Mooney Labor School changing its name in 1944. David Jenkins was the initial director and Holland Roberts the first education director for this "people's school." The school was sponsored by 72 trade unions belonging to the then separate American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and offered courses on a wide variety of subjects including labor organization, journalism, music, drama, history, women's studies, economics and industrial arts. Courses were taught by union officials and professors from neighboring universities, such as Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. By 1947 the CLS boasted having taught over 30,000 students, and had opened branch schools in several different California cities including Oakland, Berkeley, and Los Angeles.
In 1945, the CLS received approval from the United States Veteran's Administration to educate veterans under the GI Bill. This status made the school unique among its contemporary progressive schools, and brought in many students with government funding who otherwise would not have been able to attend.
The school frequently hosted prominent guest speakers such as W.E.B. DuBois, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eric Sevareid and Orson Welles. The CLS also put together acclaimed choral and drama groups, comprised of students and union members, which entertained widely at different school and union events.
In the first of a series of charges, the school was targeted by the Tenney Committee of the California legislature in 1947, as being subversive and un-American. In 1948, the Attorney General of the United States placed the school on its subversive list causing the Treasury Department to revoke tax-exempt status retroactively, forcing the CLS to pay $7,000 in back taxes. The school survived in a smaller manifestation until 1957 when it finally ran out of funds to fight its many court battles.