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Creative centenarian Artist and sculptor Hans Erni turns 106

Old master: Hans Erni in his Lucerne studio on February 4, 2015


Swiss artist and sculptor Hans Erni has notched up yet another birthday. The 106-year-old from Lucerne is still active, working in his studio every day, and puts his long life down to “avoiding excess”. 

Erni was born on February 21, 1909 – the day after the death of Swiss chocolate pioneer Rodolphe Lindt. He has been married to his second wife Doris Kessler, who turns 90 this year, since 1949. 

He is known for his figurative motifs, such as horses and doves, and has created works of art for organisations including the UN, the Swiss government, the Red Cross – and the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. Last year he created the colour scheme for a new aeroplane for nearby Pilatus.

In an interview published in Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger on Saturday, when asked how he viewed the concept and development of age when he was 20, he said he had “always instinctively avoided excess – smoking and boozing were far from my thoughts when I was young. I was much more focused on competition with other young people – artistically but also concerning sport,” he said. 

“In those days movement was my passion. It still is – as a painter and observer. One of my most important realisations is that personality is expressed through movement, that every movement hides a variety of stories.” 

Hans Erni Artist's century

A look back on the work of Swiss artist Hans Erni. Erni celebrates his 100th birthday on February 21. He still works daily at his studio and ...

He pointed to footprints in the snow in his garden. “They bear witness to the movement of a person. Looking at them closely, you can learn a lot about the person who made them,” he said. 

“In addition they tell stories: why are the footprints there today? Why are they there and not further over? What is their relationship with the neighbouring houses?” 

When asked about humans’ failure to deal with climate change and the exhaustion of fossil fuels, Erni said he was optimistic. 

“People are creative and always capable of using new means for new ends. Humans will never stop adapting themselves or their environment.” 

This includes immigration, in his opinion. “Every form of immigration is a renewal, it brings movement into the country. Trying to stop this I think is wrong.” 


If genes count for anything, Erni could still have several years left: his elder sister died last year aged 107. However, he’s going to have to be patient to become the oldest person alive: Japanese lady Misao Okawa will be 117 on March 5. 

Coincidentally, Erni shares a birthday with Jeanne Calment, who had the longest lifespan ever recorded. She died in 1997 aged 122. 

When asked whether time still had a meaning for him, Erni replied that he didn’t divide his time into days or weeks “but rather into drawings, which I start and finish”.

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