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.


soobeedoo said...

Great memorial, Ian. He was an influential man and I'll always have a special place in my heart for him.

You and your family are in my thoughts, as your Dad is.

---sue h

Marfy said...

Thank you Ian for this beautiful tribute.

kev ferrara said...

I'm very sorry for your loss, Ian. I really enjoyed your Dad's work. He had an amazing imagination. His aliens really looked alien, and believable. And his compositions for his wildlife subjects continually defied many shopworn conventions and still stand out from the crowd. From all accounts he was a unique and kind man. My condolences.

As a side note, it is a strong possibility that your Dad and my Dad were at Stuyvesant at the same time. Also, my Mom began at Pratt in the illustration program in 1957 and had Bové as one of her intructors.

Best wishes,

Ed Spicer said...


True story. Our school has been on spring break for the past week. Thursday I was thinking about what I would do with my first graders on Monday. As is typical I begin with which books to read during our story time. I remember thinking, "I haven't read OWL MOON yet!" Normally I read this one during the winter because we compare your father's artwork with what we see in our rural Michigan neighborhood. I love the art in this book and I share it every single year (this will be year 13). Didn't your father do the art in Incident at Hawk's Hill? I love the quote about your father's visit to Dune! I am so very sorry to read of your father's passing. Story on Monday will be my commemoration of your father; this sort of commemoration activity will repeat year after year after year and not just with Owl Moon. So sorry to read of your loss. Ed Spicer, First Grade teacher and fan of your father's artwork. PS I also ADORED Cat & Mouse by another very talented Schoenherr)!

Vincent Di Fate said...

Dear Ian,

I'm devastated to hear of your dad's passing. Though we'd not been in touch in recent years I always thought of your dad as my artistic mentor. He was brilliant, wonderful, and I will miss him deeply.

Please give my love and my condolences to your family.

Roseanne and Vincent Di Fate

Jeff A. Menges said...


I'm really sorry to see the news. It's a great piece you put together, it's obvious he is a big part of your life.
Thoughts are with you in this tough time.

Jeff A. Menges

Liza Davis said...

My husband, Tim Davis, is a friend of your father. Your dad, I know, loved to root around in my husband's antique shop, when he was well and could manage the trip (and the dust!). We are sad to know he is no longer with us on Earth. Your tribute to him is lovely. You and your sister are very, very fortunate to have such a man as a father. We are thinking of you and your family.

T Howell said...

You were blessed to have such a man as your father. I was blessed to have his acquaintance.

Joyce said...

Ian, I'm sorry for you and your family's loss. Thanks for sharing your memories of your Dad and for reminding us all about his contributions to American illustration art.

Ian Schoenherr said...

There will be a memorial service this Saturday, May 15th, at 1 pm at Calvary Episcopal Church in Flemington, NJ. Please contact me if you need any more information.

Calvary Episcopal Church
44 Broad Street
Flemington, NJ 08822-1458