Albert Einstein Sports a Native American Headdress and a Peace Pipe at the Grand Canyon, 1931

einstein with the hopi
Click here to view the image in a larg­er for­mat.

In 1931, Cal­tech invit­ed Albert Ein­stein to spend some time on their cam­pus, with the hopes that he might even­tu­al­ly join their fac­ul­ty. While in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, he met Char­lie Chap­lin, took a pho­to with an Ein­stein pup­pet, enjoyed the mild win­ter, ruf­fled a few con­ser­v­a­tive feath­ers, then even­tu­al­ly left town. On the train ride back across the coun­try, he vis­it­ed the Hopi House, near the Grand Canyon, where he posed for a pic­ture with mem­bers of the Hopi tribe. The web­site revis­its the clas­sic pho­to­graph (appar­ent­ly tak­en by Eugene O. Gold­beck) that doc­u­ment­ed his short vis­it:

There are sev­er­al strik­ing things about this pho­to­graph that deserve men­tion. It is clear that the head­dress that has been placed on Pro­fes­sor Ein­stein’s head and the pipe he has been giv­en to hold have no rela­tion­ship to the Indi­ans in this pho­to­graph. These Indi­ans are Hopis from the rel­a­tive­ly near­by Hopi pueb­los while the head­dress and pipe belong to the Plains Indi­an cul­ture.… The Hopis in this pic­ture were employ­ees of the Fred Har­vey Com­pa­ny who demon­strat­ed their arts there and, no doubt, posed for many oth­er pic­tures with tourists.

Besides Albert Ein­stein and his wife, there are 3 adult Hopis and one Hopi child in the pho­to­graph. Ein­stein is hold­ing the hand of a young Hopi girl in a very nat­ur­al man­ner; she is clutch­ing some­thing tight­ly in her oth­er hand and is quite intent upon some­thing out­side the frame. Prof. Ein­stein’s attrac­tion to chil­dren is seen in sev­er­al oth­er unof­fi­cial pho­tographs. He loved chil­dren and felt quite com­fort­able with them. The two men on the left side of the pho­to­graph were there to facil­i­tate the Ein­steins’ trip. The man on the left is J. B. Duffy, Gen­er­al Pas­sen­ger Agent of the ATSF (the famous Atich­son, Tokepa and San­ta Fe Rail­road); the oth­er man is Her­man Schweiz­er, Head of Fred Har­vey Curio, nor­mal­ly sta­tioned in Albu­querque. He may have spo­ken Ger­man and was there­fore present because Prof. Ein­stein was not com­plete­ly com­fort­able yet with Eng­lish.

Accord­ing to the Ein­stein Almanac, the Hopi “gave Ein­stein a peace pipe, rec­og­niz­ing his paci­fism, and dubbed him the ‘Great Rel­a­tive.’ ” You can see the pipe on dis­play in the pho­to.

As one web­site observed, what’s per­haps most notable about the his­toric image is this: It cap­tures lay­ers of commodification/fetishization. Here stands the most fetishized intel­lec­tu­al of the 20th cen­tu­ry pos­ing with one of the most fetishized peo­ples. Or maybe that’s just over­think­ing things.

Note: Some sources date the clas­sic pho­to back to 1922, but that seems less plau­si­ble. The Har­ry Ran­som Cen­ter pro­vides an image avail­able for down­load here.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten as Albert Ein­stein Calls for Peace and Social Jus­tice in 1945

Albert Ein­stein Hold­ing an Albert Ein­stein Pup­pet (Cir­ca 1931)

“Do Sci­en­tists Pray?”: A Young Girl Asks Albert Ein­stein in 1936. Ein­stein Then Responds.

Ein­stein for the Mass­es: Yale Presents a Primer on the Great Physicist’s Think­ing

The Musi­cal Mind of Albert Ein­stein: Great Physi­cist, Ama­teur Vio­lin­ist and Devo­tee of Mozart

Free Physics Cours­es in our Col­lec­tion of 1100 Free Online Cours­es

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Comments (5)
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  • Elaine Meade says:

    Where can I buy a copy of this print framed or not

  • Elaine Meade says:

    I would like to pur­chase a copy of this print for my daugh­ter for Christ­mas . Where can I buy a copy

  • Inge says:

    I would like to know if you have the image of Albert Ein­stein and the hopis for sale. Thank you all the best

  • steven oleson says:

    I bought this pho­to from Gold­beck when my wife Jill Robert­son and I vis­it­ed him at his house and dark­room in San Anto­nio, in 1983. Jill had col­lect­ed bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion from him and oth­er Texas artists for the Archives of Amer­i­can Art. He showed us many, many of his pho­tos, but when I saw this one, I had to have it. He told me that he had been pho­tograph­ing the Grand Canyon with his cirkut cam­era, when he noticed Ein­stein stand­ing behind him. He intro­duced him­self and asked if he could take a pho­to of them.

    There were only two copies of the pho­to, my sepia toned one and anoth­er not toned. The non-toned one was reversed, as this one is here. The fact that he both­ered to sepia tone the print tells me that he pre­ferred this ver­sion of the pho­to. The print is 7.25“x 9.5″. Signed, toned and print­ed by the artist.

  • steven oleson says:

    I might be will­ing to sell my pho­to. See my mes­sage below.

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