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Tobias Schneebaum Edit Profile

anthropologist , artist , writer

Tobias Schneebaum, American artist, anthropologist. Fellow Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio, Lake Como, 1984, grantee, Ingram-Merrill, 1981, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, 1985. Member of Pen American Center, Explorers Club.


Schneebaum, Tobias was born on March 25, 1922 in New York City. Son of Jacob and Rebecca (Ehrenfreund) S. Student City University of New York, 1939-1942.


In 1939 he graduated from the Stuyvesant High School, moving on to the City College of New York, graduating in 1943 after majoring in mathematics and art.


He is best known for his experiences living, and traveling among the Harakmbut people of Peru, and the Asmat people of Papua, Western New Guinea, Indonesia then known as Irian Jaya. During World War II he served as a radar repairman in the U.S. Army. In 1947, after briefly studying painting with Rufino Tamayo at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Schneebaum went to live and paint in Mexico for three years, living among the Lacandon tribe.

After hitch-hiking from New York to Peru, he lived with the Harakmbut people for seven months, and said he had joined the tribe in cannibalism on one occasion. He recounted his journey into the jungles of Peru in the 1969 memoir Keep the River on Your Right. Until 1970 he was the designer at Tiber Press, then in 1973 he embarked on his third overseas trip, to Irian Jaya in South East Asia, where he lived with the Asmat people on the south-western coast.

He helped establish the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress. In 1999, he revisited both Irian Jaya and Peru for a documentary film, titled Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale. Schneebaum spent the final years of his life in Westbeth Artists Community, an artists' commune in Greenwich Village, New York City, also home to Merce Cunningham and Diane Arbus, and died in 2005 in Great Neck, New York.

He bequeathed his renowned Asmat shield collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and his personal papers are preserved within the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.


  • Schneebaum received a Master of Arts in anthropology at The New School in New York City, and another from Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont.



Fellow Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio, Lake Como, 1984. Member Pen American Center, Explorers.


Jacob City University of New York

Rebecca (Ehrenfreund) S. Student City University of New York