Wednesday, April 14, 2010

John Schoenherr (1935-2010)

John Schoenherr, one of the finest SF magazine cover artists of the 1960s and a writer and illustrator of children's books for many decades, died in New Jersey on 8 April, aged 74. Below is what I wrote about Schoenherr for Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History with a couple of minor additions:

The artist who dominated Analog (as Astounding SF became in 1960) was John Schoenherr, of whom Vincent Di Fate has said, "Once in a while an artist comes along with so much innate ability that he instantly gains the respect of his peers and becomes known as an 'artist's artist' ... Schoenherr possesses just such a talent and, to put a finer point on the matter, he is one of the best compositionalists who ever worked in the field of commercial art."

John Carl Schoenherr was born in New York on 5 July 1935 and studied under Will Barnett and Frank Reilly at the Arts Students League, and under Richard Bove and Stanley Meltzoff at the Pratt Institute, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1956. His first SF illustration appeared in Amazing in 1957 and he was a regular cover artist for Pyramid and Ace Books in the early 1960s. But it was his work for Analog that really brought him to the attention of fans.

Schoenherr's first Analog cover was for the June 1960 issue and he was to produce 50 more covers over the next nine years. Although capable of providing realistic space scenes and planetscapes—which featured in a number of early paintings—Schoenherr showed far more imagination withthe creation of alien creatures, These were not the bug-eyed monsters of yesteryear but often beasts of burden and intelligent alien races. That he could create credible aliens is perhaps no surprise; Schoenherr was known to the wider world as the illustrator of dozens of children's books, often featuring animals, and a popular wildlife artist, exhibiting at the New York Zoological Society in 1968 and publishing The Art of Painting Wild Animals (1974).

The mixture of alien creatures and planetscapes were brought together in Schoenherr's illustrations for Frank Herbert's Dune, serialized in Analog in 1963 and 1965 as Dune World and The Prophet of Dune. Schoenherr won the Hugo Award in 1965. He would later return to Dune when he produced a series of new illustrations for The Illustrated Dune (1978), which showed how Schoenherr's style had changed: his early drawings were often produced very precisely in scratchboard; the later dry brush illustrations are looser and more diffuse but have lost none of their command of composition.

After a brief departure, Schoenherr returned to Analog in the 1970s for a further two-dozen covers, after which he left illustration behind to concentrate on painting wildlife.

He won the 1988 Caldecott Medal for his illustrations for Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.

A comprehensive biography of Schoenherr's career can be found here.

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