The years roll along, and Hans Erni continues to roll right along with them.
Less than two weeks away from his 106th birthday, the Swiss artist remains a fixture both in person and in spirit – the latter of which even the laws of science and physics likely won’t be able to test. His imprint from painting, sculpting and designing is that deep – especially in the world of sports.
Erni’s passion for life, movement and his interpretation of athletes and the games they play has been displayed throughout the world, via his connection with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and his collection of work at the American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA), which has many pieces of his art adorning its Daphne, Ala., premises on the campus of the United States Sports Academy.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t note the main lobby of the International Olympic Committee’s Headquarters held some 42 pieces of his art, each depicting a different Olympic sport,” said Academy President and CEO Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich. “We, of course, have some of that art here (in the ASAMA), including a very unique original where he did a painting of American football working from football videos and photographs from sport magazines. He noted that when it was finished, he had it detailed down to the bandages on their wrists, which, of course, were wristbands.
“This piece is currently hanging in our museum.”
In 1988, the Academy honored Erni with its “Sport Artist of the Year Award. Four years later, the IOC bestowed its first Olympic Medal for the Arts on him.
Revered in his native Switzerland and labeled as a “Renaissance Man,” Erni was credited with celebrating life through his artwork. Ultimately, that led to him joining forces with the IOC, a union that yielded some of his more recognizable material, including a mural, “Olympia – Myth and Reality,” for the session hall of the IOC in Laussane. He later designed a gold medal for the 1992 Olympics and had exhibitions at several Olympic events.
Erni actually is viewed as an Olympian due to his participation in art competitions at the 1948 Olympics, and holds the distinction of being the oldest living Olympian.
“He is not only a great artist but a great human being,” said Rosandich.
Born in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1909, Erni’s remarkable career began with him attending the School of Arts and Crafts in his hometown. From there, he moved on to Paris, where he studied at Ecole des Arts et Metiers and then the Academie Julian. Within two months of his arrival in Paris, he won first prize in an art competition.
Both Paris and Lucerne have served as his home ever since – fortified with a canvas to paint on or any some kind of outlet for him to release his artistic genius on an appreciative audience.
Indeed, he has designed more than 90 stamps for Switzerland and the United Nations, and had issues for the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, and the Summer Games in Munich, Germany. He also designed the stamp for the 250 anniversary of the principality of Leichtenstein.
Lucerne became host to the Hans Erni Foundation in 1976, leading to the establishment of the museum, Hans Erni Haus, in 1979. Approximately 300 pieces of Erni’s work are displayed there, and he is known to frequent the facility and tour visitors.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise with him still rolling right along, expanding an already indelible impression.
“The Academy has been selecting Sport Artists of the Year for more than three decades, all of whom are excellent artists, but Hans Erni is head and shoulders above most,” said Rosandich. “I was with him some years ago in his hometown of Lucerne, Switzerland, watching him work on two dozen paintings at the same time. He walked through the house, picking up a brush at each easel, paint for a few minutes or longer, depending on his mood, and move on to the next.
“He was always very creative.”
The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission Sports University created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy visit www.ussa.edu.