Friday, April 30, 2010

A Loafing Mouse

My mom, a mouse person, let me steal this picture back so I could un-frame and scan it for show-and-tell. I made it for Christmas a dozen years ago. At that time I'd realized that I couldn't expect to get illustration work featuring anthropomorphized animals if I didn't have any examples in my portfolio, so I began to make studies like this one, which is acrylic on paper, 1.5 x 3.25 inches. Of course, this out-of-proportion and ratty loafer never got me any work, but what he lacks in looks and ambition, I hope he makes up in character.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dad and the MAD Man

I really appreciate all the public and private tributes to my father that have appeared over the last two weeks. They fortify my opinion of him as an artist and as a person, and sometimes they shed light on parts of his life that I knew little about.

Today I got a note from Nick Meglin, editor of MAD magazine for 20 years (and on its staff for decades more) and author of Drawing From Within: Unleashing Your Creative Potential- among many other books and articles. He also went to Stuyvesant High School with my father, but they had fallen out of touch after 1952. In recent years my father had begun to re-forge old friendships, and I feel like it would only have been a matter of time before he found his former classmate. Here is the message Nick sent to his family (reprinted with his permission):

My family...

Joel Haas sent me an obit from the NY Times and I'm feeling very, very bad to learn that this John Schoenherr was someone I knew in Stuyvesant H.S. He was a year ahead of me, a terrific artist. Like me, we were rare talents in a school known for science and math.

We weren’t close friends; he was modest and rather shy. Our only time together was our involvement with the school literary magazine. Despite his fine talent, I had no idea that he was that dedicated to art as a future direction as it was for me. He thought I was better at it than he was, but I truly wasn't, just more driven at that time. I had to validate going to School of Visual Arts rather than a state college where art departments had little to offer a would-be commercial artist. There was no money available that would allow me to attend a university like Syracuse or Pratt with highly regarded commercial art departments.

John and I collaborated on the title page art of the magazine in his senior year and I had to insist that he initial his half of the stylized cartoon illustration we designed together. I believe I have a copy of it somewhere in one of those boxes I still haven’t gotten to since I moved to Durham seven years ago.

Spotting a similar name as his on a magazine illustration some years after our high school days, I tried to learn if this was the same person I knew. But those were the days that if someone lived out of NYC and/or had an unlisted number, it was impossible to communicate with them, so I guess I just forgot about it.
I could have written articles about him and his work as I did other friends for American Artist Magazine when they published just about anything I offered them.

When I read the obituary and some other biographical data about John I learned he was a fine person and indeed that bright fellow I knew back then. I was taken by our similar passions and priorities -- he, too was more dedicated to his family than his own artistic aspirations. The more I read, the more I felt saddened that I had lost a personal, lifelong friend that should have been but never came to be.


Saturday, April 10, 2010


My father, John Schoenherr, died on Thursday night in a Pennsylvania hospital. As was usual in his company, we were telling sad and funny (mostly funny) stories when it happened. He was only 74, but he'd been in poor health for a long time.

Dad was a born artist and - in my prejudiced eyes - a rare genius. He was never bored, never boring, and the most intellectually curious person I've ever known. When something piqued his interest, he quickly morphed from an enthusiast to an authority. He lived for his work, yet our family never wanted for his affection, attention, and love.

Although Dad devoted his recent years to painting wildlife, he'd spent decades making thousands of illustrations, primarily for science fiction magazines and paperbacks and for children's books. He also wrote a few books of his own.

I often think that Dad's science fiction pictures brought out the best in him: they brim with bold and dynamic compositions, technical dexterity and inventiveness, imagination, and humor. His passion for natural history - and for zoology and geology in particular - informed his work in such a way that his alien creatures and landscapes looked real. This quality spurred Frank Herbert to say that Dad was "the only man who has ever visited Dune." Then again, he visited countless other places - and invited countless viewers to come along with him.

Children's books revealed Dad's softer side. But this "softer side" was like a Grizzly's underfur: the warm and fuzzy still had a sturdy, powerful core. His empathy for animals - from lowly mole, to raccoon, to owl, to moose - was always apparent. He was part bear, after all.

It was an education and a gift to see and talk about his paintings as they took form in his studio - and it was never easy to see them crated up and shipped off to their new homes. Even at the end, when Dad's physical limitations had the upper hand, nothing could curb his drive to communicate in words or in pictures. I know he had a lot more to say and I'm grateful for the things he did.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

John Schoenherr (1935-2010)

My father, John Schoenherr, passed away tonight. He was a man of many talents and I can't say what he was best at, but he was, among countless other things, a great artist, a great husband to my mother for almost 50 years, and a great dad to my sister and me.