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.