My parents came from Yucatan in Mexico and met in New York. They married and then I arrived. I grew up in Coney Island, New York, absorbing the unlimited expanse of the sea and the fantasies of the amusement parks.
My father’s hobby was photography and I would help him in the bathroom darkroom. My mother was a seamstress and she would also cook fabulous Mexican meals. When I was twelve I began to work after school, first for an auto mechanic, then for a carpenter, and then at the Spook House.
In Mark Twain Junior High school I discovered the beauty of type in my sign painting class. That’s how I learned to paint signs for the amusement rides.
In Lincoln High School I was lucky to have Mr. Friend as my graphic arts teacher. He organized an Art Squad who met after school to design, paint and draw for competitions. Through the alumni we got to know professional designers and got jobs.
While in high school I attended Saturday classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School where I met the Mexican painter, Rufino Tamayo. When I told him that some day I would go to Mexico, he invited me to visit him. Immediately after graduation I boarded a bus for the five day trip to Mexico City. Maestro Tamayo arranged for me to study free at the Academia de San Carlos. After a few months I went to Yucatan to meet my huge family for the first time.
When I returned to New York I got a job at the New York Times and studied at night at the Art Students League and Cooper Union. Slowly I entered the world of publishing as a designer and then as an art director for Esquire, Seventeen Magazine and then for advertising agencies.
During these ten years I married, had children and began to photograph. I learned a lot from the photographers I worked with. It was then that I decided to quit my job to become a free-lance photographer.
My photographs began to be published and I also started to make films. As a cameraman I shot documentaries and did several films for Sesame Street. Barbara Brenner, a friend who wrote children’s books, suggested we try doing a book together. She felt that photographs would be better for the book she had in mind called Faces.
I found the experience very gratifying. Our editor suggested I try writing. I did and she published my first children’s book, Monsters On Wheels. By now I have published over one hundred books, two thirds of which I have also written.
In my way I try to do what my father did when he would take me by the hand and walk the docks of Brooklyn looking up at the huge black hulls of freighters that came from all over the world. It made me aware that there are places far away that some day I would go to and get to know the people there. It opened up the world to me. I try to do this with my books.
George Ancona, 91, died at home in Santa Fe on January 1, 2021