Santa Fe Living Treasures ‚Äď Elder Stories

<<Back to Treasures Index
Richard & Jean Erdoes

Richard &
Jean Erdoes


Honored May, 1987

Richard & Jean Erdoes

When the political ferment of the 1960s and 1970s brought embattled leaders of the American Indian Movement to Richard Erdoes' door, he took them right in.

A refugee from Hitler Europe, he remembered the anti-Nazi movement. "We didn't run out on each other then and we won't run out on you," he told Lakota leaders he had met on photo assignment for Life magazine in South Dakota. He and his wife Jean turned their New York apartment into "a free restaurant, hotel and communications center," for the native American activists.

Refugees learn to improvise. Richard had that knack. Born in Frankfurt in 1912 in a family of opera singers, pianists and composers, he studied at the Berlin Academy, contributing cartoons to anti-Nazi publications. When Hitler seized Austria in 1938, Richard escaped by skiing across the border into Switzerland.

He arrived in New York with only five dollars. In time he won assignments with Life magazine. He met his wife Jean at Life in 1945. She was an art director at Life, also a typographer and calligrapher who had given her name to a typeface, Jean Morton. They married in 1950. Jean took Richard traveling out west, and to New Mexico in 1952. She lured him with a promise, "I must show you Acoma." In 1972, they moved to Santa Fe.

In his fifties Richard improvised again. He and Jean were living in the hubbub created by their Lakota friends. "Cooking was a big part of it," Jean recalled. "Whole families would show up with kids. We got to know some of the old folks." Richard found jobs at ad agencies for many of these friends and a new career for himself.

The instigator was Lame Deer, a Lakota medicine man who arrived with his possession in a shoebox and stayed two months. "His medicine told him," he insisted, that Richard would write his story. "Impossible," Richard said. "Not only am I not a writer, but English is my second language." The medicine man persisted and in the end Richard wrote a sample chapter and an outline "just to get rid of him." Within forty-eight hours, they had a book contract. Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, became a classic, translated into many languages. And Richard, the photographer and illustrator, became a much published author as well, with twenty-five titles to his credit.

Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes