Jorge Ancona, 91, ditched Madison Avenue to write for children

Son of immigrants from Yucatán wrote numerous books for young readers

The son of immigrants from Yucatán, Jorge Ancona left a high-flying career in New York City for a more expressive vocation in children's literature. Photo: Courtesy
The son of immigrants from Yucatán, Jorge Ancona left a high-flying career in New York City for a more expressive vocation in children’s literature. Photo: Courtesy

A son of immigrants from Yucatán, who grew up to be an A-list art director in the United States, has died at age 91 after a brief illness.

Jorge Ancona, an award-winning photographer, documentary cinematographer, and later, author of over 100 children’s books, succumbed after a brief illness on New Year’s Day, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Ancona was born on Dec. 4, 1929, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Efrain José Ancona, an accountant and amateur photographer, and Emma Ancona, a seamstress, two Yucatecans who met in New York.

He got his start as an artist when he was hired to be an amusement park sign painter on Coney Island. During high school, he attended Saturday classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. After graduation he studied drawing, sculpture and fresco mural painting at the Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City.

Later, he worked in layout at the New York Times from 1950-51 while taking classes at the Art Students League and The Cooper Union School of Art. In that decade, he worked as a designer and eventually an art director for Esquire, Seventeen, Life and Newsweek.

Ancona rose to become an art director at top Madison Avenue ad agencies such as Grey and Daniel & Charles. But he gave it all up in 1961 to become a freelance photographer.

As a filmmaker, Ancona shot documentaries around the world and did several films for “Sesame Street.”

By the 1970s, Ancona began writing children’s books, eventually publishing more than 113 about science, nature, history and culture, among other topics. His titles include “Come and Eat!” and “It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden.”

Ancona and his wife, Helga Von Sydow, left New York in 1989 for Santa Fe. There, he gained recognition from the New Mexico Book Association in 2008, and in 2014, received the city of Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

His daughter, Marina Ancona, said he changed careers because he wanted to do something more meaningful with his life.

“Advertising was a well-paid gig, but it was a gig without heart, and he had a lot of heart,” she said. “Leaving that paycheck behind was a risk. He had three children by then.”

Source: Santa Fe New Mexican

Staff Writer

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