LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND, February 1, 2014 – When Switzerland says, “Happy Birthday” to its most beloved living artist, Hans Erni, on the 21st of February, his sister. Maria Strebi-Erni, will be celebrating with him. Nothing unusual in that until you consider that Hans Erni will be 105 years old and sMaria is two years older than her brother.
Hans Erni was only a youngster of 84 when I met him at his art museum in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1993, though he appeared to be in his mid-60s. Even today, Switzerland’s positive thinking artistic centenarian is still active, continuing his daily endeavors with undiminished creativity.
Erni is remarkable not only for his prolific volume of work, but also for his tireless optimism and enthusiasm for life. That spirit does not go unrecognized in his creations which combine futuristic vision with a flair for history and an understanding of mankind’s role in the world. Add in a vibrant use of color and you begin to penetrate the soul of an artist who has witnessed a world of extraordinary technological innovation during his lifetime.
Erni’s museum (http://www.verkehrshaus.ch/en/hans_erni_museum/) (www.myswitzerland.com), the Hans Erni Haus, is located on the shores of LakeLucerne on the outskirts of town beside the SwissTransportationMuseum.
The purpose of my visit was a project focusing upon Swiss art and culture, but 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 Mr. Erni, when the tour was over, I felt I had come to understand much about the man within the man who is regarded as a living legend throughout his native country..
Erni is a painter, sculptor and designer who is, perhaps, best known for his illustrative postage stamps. Among his designs are stamps for the 250th anniversary of the principality of Liechtenstein, issues for the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan and the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany 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 ranging from technology, environment, science, sports, nature and the arts. Little wonder that Hans Erni has discovered the secret of longevity.
During the tour, Erni recalled that he had met Albert Einstein on several occasions. Einstein had lived in the nearby Swiss capital of Bern until 1909, the same year that Hans Erni was born. The artist felt a kinship with Einstein’s intellectual prowess, which resulted in several depictions of the great physicist in Erni’s 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 while Erni grabbed one of the larger booklets and opened it.
Finally I located a 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 with the periodical in which he had been working.
Then unexpectedly he asked, “You like naked women don’t you?”
Under normal circumstances 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 momentarily 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. To be sure the sketch was in no way elaborate or polished, but it was undoubtedly the work of a master craftsman that had been created and executed 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 of their own. Whatever the representation might be, regardless of the form or format, that work represents something unique that is one of a kind; something 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 continues to thrive more than a century after he was born. A man who is truly living his dreams.
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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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