Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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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.