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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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