State-of-the-Art: A profile of Hans Erni's century of creative artistry

Hans Erni will celebrate his 103rd birthday on February 21. The beloved Swiss artist still works every day creating poignant art as he has done for nearly a century. Photo: artist

CHARLOTTE, NC. February 20, 2012 - Erni was remarkable even then, 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, the Hans Erni Haus, is located on the shores of Lake Lucerne on the outskirts of town beside the Swiss Transportation Museum. The purpose for my visit was a project I was doing about the art and culture of Switzerland. At the time Mr. Erni was unknown to me, but I quickly learned that he is a beloved cultural icon throughout his tiny alpine homeland. 

Little did I realize that the popular 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, when it was over, I felt I had come to understand much about the man within the man who regarded as a living legend throughout Switzerland.

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 SapporoJapan and the Summer Olympics in MunichGermany plus a series of stamps for the Swiss postal service featuring Alberto Giacometti, Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, Le Corbusier, Albert Einstein and Arthur Honegger. The tireless centenarian 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 through his insatiable curiosity and never-ending inventiveness.

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. Though not in the same field, the artist felt a kinship with Einstein’s intellectual curiosity, which resulted in several depictions of the great physicist in Erni’s work.

As we strolled through his domain representing decades of his voluminous work, I asked the artist how he maintained his youthful outlook on the world and what motivated him to be so productive. With an infectious smile and twinkling 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’m 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 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 for me, and then he asked 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 a business 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 he had been working on containing a sampling of his work.

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.

Then, 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 wasn’t 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 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 genuine work of their own. Whatever the representation may be, regardless of the form or the format, his works represents something unique in the entire world; something that is one of a kind; something that belongs only to you from someone who belongs to the world.

Today, most of the collection of brochures from my 8-day tour of Swiss museums hides sequestered in a box in my office. But the line drawing by Hans Erni is conspicuously exhibited 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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Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC, founder of The Magellan Travel Club which creates and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Taylored media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. 

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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