Fred was born in Dresden, (East) Germany in 1933. Leaving high school he apprenticed as a reproduction photographer, typesetter and graphic designer in the municipal workshop for the City of Dresden under a master lithographer for 3 years. In 1950 he was accepted at the Academy of Visual Arts in West Berlin (this was after acing the 3-day practical entrance exam for the graphic design school in Leipzig, but failing their political exam because he “wasn’t red enough”). Because he was from East Germany his tuition fees were waived and he received a stipend of 35DM a month. He spent 6 years at the Academy studying painting, lithography, lettering, typography and graphic design, with an additional year of post-graduate studies in lettering.
Every summer Fred would hitchhike around post-war Europe, where he saw how different countries came into their own culturally, artistically and creatively. Seeing this he resolved not to take a job in Germany when he graduated. In 1957 he and his new wife Christine had decided to emigrate to New Zealand until they found out about the landing requirements. The Canadian Consulate was just downstairs from the New Zealand office, and Fred recalls being enchanted by incredible posters of the Canadian Rockies. They immediately applied to come to Canada, and after being told in Halifax that they couldn’t settle in Jasper, they chose Vancouver.
Barely speaking any English, they both wandered from odd freelance job to another, until Christine was told to see Fred Amess at the Vancouver School of Art. She mentioned that her husband was also a designer and they both began teaching at VSA in 1958.
In addition to teaching, Fred did a huge variety of freelance projects including designing murals and exhibitions; typefaces (Vivaldi, Magnificat, Sanbika, Shinko); postage stamps (commemorating the National Anthem, Terry Fox, Canadian Constitution, and Multiculturalism); and coins and medals (Calgary Olympics). He has illustrated many books, designed banners, and continues to exhibit his paintings and practice his calligraphy (what he calls “letter paintings”) for his own personal expression, and for his church.
In 1974, Fred was among a group of designers from across Canada who had been befriended by Allan Fleming, Giles Talbot-Kelly and Laurie Lewis, and with funding assistance from the Federal Office of Design, attended the inaugural Regional Meeting and Founding Assembly in Ottawa on November 29, 1974. The attendees at this meeting were charged with seeking out designers in each of their regions with the hope of creating new Chapters. Bob Johnson and Fred Peter represented British Columbia at these meetings. With the help of Carl Chaplin, Bruce Dowad, Gerry Green, Jurgen Grohne, Milo Hicks, Ken McRae, John Terin and Mike Tieman, the “un-organized” group of art directors, illustrators and graphic designers they had been talking to for the previous six months formed the Visual Communications Society of BC (May 1975). By January 1976 they had changed their name to the Vancouver Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) and achieved Society status. GAG became an Associate organization to GDC in May 1976 and by November 1977 it had become a full-fledged Chapter and changed its name to GDC/BC.
The first (1976) Executive of GAG consisted of Carl Chaplin (President), Mike Tieman (Membership & Education), Grant Ball (Education), Fred Peter (GDC Rep) and Murray Tonkin (Communication). Membership in that first year consisted of 32 professionals and 18 students.
Fred has a unique story behind his love of typography. As a child he would accompany his mother when she visited wounded soldiers. She would ask Fred to write out bible verses to leave behind for some of them. When he took the admission test at the Academy in Berlin he met a war veteran in his 30s who took the entrance exam with Fred, wearing a small cross lapel pin which was quite demonstrative at this time. Fred asked why he wanted to study lettering. “To put the Word of God into the most direct graphic form.” To this day Fred shares the same view.
Fred was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1974, and is listed in Who’s Who in American Art (1975), Creative Canada (1981), and Canadian Who’s Who (since 1981).
At his retirement party from ECIAD in May 1998, Fred was presented with an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of his contributions in the early years of the GDC National, and his immeasurable influence as a design educator during his 40 years of teaching. He now resides in North Vancouver with his wife Christine, where he continues to paint and explore his visual world.