LUCERNE, Switzerland, June 25, 2015 – On the 21st of February this year, artist, illustrator, sculptor and graphic designer Hans Erni celebrated his birthday in his home town of Lucerne, Switzerland. He was 106.
Hans Erni, who was one of the most beloved artists in the tiny alpine nation, was only a youngster of 86 when I met him at his art museum in Lucerne in 1993, yet he was one of most “alive” people I ever encountered.
Until his death in March, Switzerland’s positive-thinking artistic centenarian was still active, continuing his daily endeavors with undiminished creativity.
But Hans Erni was remarkable not only for his prolific volume of work, but also for his tireless optimism and enthusiasm for life, for the spirit apparent in his creations, which combine futuristic vision with a flair for history and an understanding of mankind’s role in the world. Seeing his vibrant use of color, viewers of Erni’s work began to penetrate the soul of an artist who witnessed a world of extraordinary technological innovation.
His museum, known as the Hans Erni Haus, is on the shores of Lake Lucerne on the outskirts of town beside the Swiss Transportation Museum.
I met Erni while doing a project focusing upon Swiss art and culture. Little did I realize that the artist himself would be on hand to give me a personal tour of his museum. Though I only spent a couple of hours with him, I felt I came to understand much about the man within the man who was regarded as a living legend in his native country..
Erni was perhaps best known for his illustrative postage stamps. Among his designs were stamps for the 250th anniversary of the principality of Liechtenstein, issues for the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, and the Summer Olympics in Munich, plus a series of stamps for the Swiss postal service featuring Alberto Giacometti, Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, Le Corbusier, Albert Einstein and Arthur Honegger. He also created a series of lithographs for the Swiss Red Cross.
Be it sculpture, painting, tapestries or murals, Erni’s artistic contributions are displayed in virtually every nook and cranny of Switzerland. His themes are vast and varied but are almost always filled with optimism concerning technology, environment, science, sports, nature and the arts. Little wonder that Hans Erni discovered the secret of longevity.
During my tour, Erni recalled that he had met Albert Einstein on several occasions. Einstein lived in the nearby Swiss capital of Bern until 1909, the year Hans Erni was born. The artist felt a kinship with Einstein’s intellectual prowess, resulting in several depictions of the great physicist in his work.
As we strolled through his artistic domain, I asked Erni how he maintained his youthful outlook on the world and what motivated him to be so productive. With an infectious smile and a twinkle in his eyes that radiated optimism beneath his locks of curly gray hair, Erni’s answer was not surprising, yet it was profound in its simplicity.
“I am a dreamer,” he replied. “Dreams are necessary because a man who only stays within his reality and is not able to step forward from that reality is, in a way, already dead. Dreams involve stepping into a new world, into what you could achieve.”
When the visit concluded, we paused at a display case and chatted a while longer before I requested some brochures about the museum and his collection. Erni signaled to a docent to gather some research materials, and then he asked me for a card.
As I fumbled through the myriad of documents I had accumulated over several days of site inspections, the docent returned with a small stack of publications. Oblivious to what was happening, I continued my search as Erni grabbed one of the larger booklets and opened it.
Finally I located my card and handed it to the artist, who was still engrossed with the brochure. Seconds later he closed the cover, took the card and presented me the periodical in which he had been working.
Then unexpectedly he asked, “You like naked women don’t you?”
Normally I would have replied with a resounding, “Yes,” but admittedly I was somewhat taken aback. Though my ultimate response was still in the affirmative, it was definitely restrained as I regained my composure.
Opening the brochure, I discovered a simple but elegant pencil line-drawing of a naked woman with her hair flowing in the breeze. The sketch was in no way elaborate or polished, but it was undoubtedly the work of a master craftsman that had been created in mere seconds.
Throughout the remainder of my journey in Switzerland I was greeted with expressions of awe and envy by everyone I encountered whenever I proudly displayed the spontaneous sketch given to me by the master artist.
It was then that I realized the greatest gift a creative person can give to someone else is a personalized work. Whatever the representation might be, regardless of the form or format, that work represents something unique, something one of a kind that belongs only to you from someone else who belongs to the world.
Today, the little drawing by Hans Erni is conspicuously displayed on a wall in my home for everyone to see. I like to call it “State-of-the-Art,” for it is my link to an inspirational man who continued to thrive more than a century after he was born.
Hans Erni was a man who truly lived out his dreams until his dying day on March 21, 2015.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
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