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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Aliens and Nature

John Schoenherr

John Schoenherr

My thanks to Katherine House, who sent word that illustrator John Schoenherr passed away on April 8th at the age of 74. I have admired his work in two fields for many years—I am saddened by the loss of this prodigious and pioneering talent.

Born in 1935, Mr. Schoenherr (he was known as Jack) grew up in Queens, graduated from Stuyvesant High School, took lessons at the Art Students League of New York, and obtained his BFA from Pratt Institute. Although he learned many different art techniques throughout his years of scholarship, it is fascinating to read that Mr. Schoenherr failed nature drawing, one of the two concentrations with which he is most closely associated. He was concerned with drawing accurately, but his instructor wanted the drawings to show self-expression.

Analog, Prophets of Dune Cover

Prophets of Dune cover for Analog Magazine

I first knew Mr. Schoenherr’s work from his science fiction book covers, primarily for paperbacks, and for Analog magazine. He received a Hugo Award in 1965 for his illustrations and cover art for Frank Herbert’s Dune series. His covers for books by John Brunner, Harry Harrison, Philip K. Dick, and Anne McCaffrey placed Schoenherr squarely in the forefront of science fiction and fantasy illustrators. “I’ll always be proud of the ‘genuine aliens’ I designed. Never were they humans with insect antennae,” (Artists of the Rockies and the Golden West, 1983).

Of course, most of us in the children’s literature world think of John Schoenherr as the Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator of Owl Moon by Jane Yolen (Philomel). His own knowledge of owls and nature’s night creatures enhance Ms. Yolen’s words in that magical way that creates a Caldecott-worthy book.

Owl Moon

Owl Moon, Caldecott Medal

Owl Moon wasn’t published until 1987. By that time, Mr. Schoenherr had been illustrating children’s books for 24 years. It was happenstance that drew him into this field. An illustrator was asked to work on Sterling North’s Rascal, but he didn’t have time in his schedule. He had seen Schoenherr’s artwork for the Bronx Zoo and recommended Schoenherr to his publisher. The publisher was a fan of Schoenherr’s science fiction work … and that began a long career working on nature-themed books for children. Among those titles you’ll find Walt Morey’s Gentle Ben, Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves, and many of Miska Miles’ books. Mr. Schoenherr illustrated his last book for children in 1997.

In his Caldecott acceptance speech, Mr. Schoenherr revealed, “I gradually learned, however, that my most satisfactory work was based on intuitive discovery, usually while painting and usually at the last minute. This approach is not accepted gracefully by most publishers. They require sketches, done on schedule, and finished work which relates to the sketches—also done on schedule. I was discovering that my best ideas usually happen in hindsight and on their own schedule. . . . I found the compromises of illustration too limiting and devoted myself fully to creating my own images, painted in my own manner and done on my own schedule.” (“John Schoenherr,” Kirk Snavely)

Fine artist, inventive mind, observant of nature, hard-working … thank you, John Schoenherr, for all you did to enrich our lives.

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