Pat Schleger: the matriarch of British graphic design

With the recent passing of Pat Schleger, the design partner and wife of Hans Schleger, one of Britain’s foremost Modernist graphic practitioners, Patrick Argent recalls her life as a designer, author and highly respected central figure within the profession.

Portrait by Adrian Gatie
Portrait by Adrian Gatie

On the warm spring evening of 21 May 2007 in the large entrance hall of the V&A, hundreds of people were gathering to celebrate the life and work of the late, great designer Alan Fletcher.

One such guest to arrive was the designer Pat Schleger, who, recuperating from a recent hip operation, found the prospect of standing comfortably or walking any distance rather daunting.

Consequently on asking for a chair, which I duly found, she then became virtually invisible to the vast majority of the people assembled, with her ability to socialise extremely limited.

A roll-call of eminent designers

Pat, with her typical, immediate problem-solving approach, wrote out a list of individuals for me to seek out in the crowd and asked could I let them know she was present and would they possibly come over to speak to her?

That list comprised a formidable line-up of names that included Wim Crouwel, Derek Birdsall, David Gentleman, Colin Forbes, Alan Kitching, David Bernstein, Ken Garland and Dennis Bailey, among many others.

My requests for them to join her resulted in a steady queue forming over the evening – a roll-call of eminent designers all obediently and patiently waiting for their turn for an audience with Pat.

At the epicentre of graphic design

In 2001, on a lecture visit to London, no less a figure than Milton Glaser specifically requested an opportunity to meet Pat, another reflection of the regard she was held in amongst leading practitioners.

Many of the past giants of design, such as Abram Games, Tom Eckersley and Paul Rand, had known her as both a respected designer and had counted her as a good friend.

She seemed to be at the very epicentre of the graphic design profession.

Design partner, wife and mother

As Patricia Maycock, she had trained at Chelsea School of Art and joined Hans Schleger’s studio in 1949 as his assistant, marrying him seven years later in 1956. Subsequently they formed a husband and wife creative partnership, leading several members of a studio team for over two decades as Hans Schleger Associates.

This association produced notable work for such high-profile clients as ICI, Penguin Books, British Rail, John Lewis Partnership and the Edinburgh International Festival.

During this time Pat merged the roles of both design partner and mother to their two daughters Maria and Lalli.

A pre-digital graphic design studio

The wonderfully atmospheric Kensington studio that she shared with her husband had acquired substantial provenance as a creative environment, having also been the former workspace of the painter John Singer Sargent in the late 19th century.

To the unerring delight of Pat’s visitors, it presented a rare, magical and tangible snapshot of a past world as one entered a traditional, pre-digital graphic design studio that had remained virtually the same since the heyday of the Schleger partnership.

After Hans died in 1976, she continued the practice at the studio. Expanding the business in taking on a number of new prestigious clients, including the Royal Academy, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, she was one of the pioneering female graphic designers of her time operating in what was then a very male-dominated profession.

A committed educator

Letterpress typographer Alan Kitching says: “Pat had a wonderful eye for the detail of design and if it was not for her, I would not have met the designer and chanteuse Celia Stothard.”

Pat also combined her role as a practitioner with that of a committed educator. Teaching at Croydon School of Art & Design as a senior lecturer for 15 years, she offered her students not only her astute and very exacting professional insight, but also a unique and palpable link to the work of one of the key historical figures of design.

In retirement, Pat’s enduring mission became to chronicle, conserve and lecture widely about the legacy of her husband’s contribution to 20th century graphic design.

Chronicling the Schelgers’ contribution to design

Described by the late designer and typographer Colin Banks in his review of the book in CSD magazine as “skilfully designed and detailed”, her memoir and biography Zero: Hans Schleger – A Life Of Design was published by Lund Humphries in 2001.

With a foreword by Paul Rand and designed by Pat and Virginia Foden, the book was the first ever comprehensive review of Hans Schleger’s work. Spanning the vast majority of the previous century, the scope of the work reflected the very development of graphic design from post-WW1 into the modern period. 

Assisting in the collation of a retrospective exhibition of her husband’s work which was staged at the V&A in 2007, in her later years Pat also devoted much of her time to organising and cataloguing the donation to the same museum, of an expansive archive of his work.

Gracious, pragmatic Pat, ever thoughtful of others, was not only highly regarded as a designer, a mentor and source of inspiration to her students, but also as an esteemed close associate to a swathe of illustrious figures of her design generation.

Quoting from her book: “Hans said of design, ‘It does more than catch the eye. It can touch and hold the elusive heart that is not only true of design’. It is what happened to me after we met and Hans made my life immensely richer.”

Edinburgh International Festival publicity material (1976-78) Designed by Hans and Pat Schleger (Hans Schleger Associates)
Edinburgh International Festival publicity material (1976-78)
Designed by Hans and Pat Schleger (Hans Schleger Associates)
Edinburgh International Festival publicity material (1976-78) Designed by Hans and Pat Schleger (Hans Schleger Associates)
Edinburgh International Festival publicity material (1976-78)
Designed by Hans and Pat Schleger (Hans Schleger Associates)
Pat Schleger's book about Hans Scheleger
Pat Schleger’s book about Hans Scheleger
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