Fritz Eichenberg was born in 1901 in Germany to a assimilated non-religious Jewish family. He studied art and became a wood engraver. He used his art to highlight moral and social convictions, including producing many anti-Hitler cartoons. When the Nazis came to power Eichenberg emigrated to the United States. The tragic death of his wife spurred a religious quest which culminated in his conversion to Quakerism. He was attracted to the simplicity and stillness of the Quakers as well as their vision of the “Peaceable Kingdom” and as George Fox said, “That there is that of God in everyone.”
In 1949 Eichenberg met Dorothy Day and became involved with the Catholic Worker movement. Eventually his engravings became a regular feature of the Catholic Worker newspaper. Eichenberg’s powerful and evocative images connected Christ in the context of the human suffering of the poor, such as in his famous “Christ in the Breadlines,” showing a raggedly dressed Jesus in line with the hungry waiting for their handout. He saw God coming to us in the needs of our poor neighbors.
One of his most famous series of engravings is his depictions of saints. He chose to carve portraits of not only those saints recognized by the Church, such as St. Francis of Assisi, but of people who struggled to follow God in their own context and were holy witnesses to love and justice. These saints were drawn from many different struggles, different races, and different religions. Non-Christians such as Gandhi were honored among his images of saints. Fritz Eichenberg died in 1990, leaving behind a rich legacy of masterpieces, some of which are on display in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.