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John Schoenherr

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Biography

A painter who views his depictions of wildlife as a means of communicating his personal response to the natural world, John Schoenherr approaches his subject matter with awe, wonder, and respect. His portrayals of mammals and birds underscore his gifts as a draftsman, his keen sense of compositional design, and his masterful handling of light. Schoenherr's images of wildlife are powerful, beautiful, and highly dramatic. As he has stated: "What I try to get in my paintings is a presence, so that something inside the frame comes to exist by itself."'

Schoenherr grew up in Queens, New York. As a child, he used drawing as a means of communicating with his Chinese, Italian, and Mohawk friends. He went on to depict animals encountered on trips to the Adirondack Mountains, the American Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo. He eventually became involved with rock climbing and caving, activities that gave him an understanding of rock formations and the tactility of stone-aspects of landscape that he would utilize in his future paintings.

At the age of thirteen, Schoenherr attended Saturday classes at the Art Students League in New York, producing etchings, drypoints, and lithographs under the guidance of the painter Will Barnet.

Schoenherr considered becoming a biologist; however, his urge to draw was stronger. He subsequently attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, working under a coterie of noted painters and illustrators that included John Groth, Stanley Meltzoff, Frederico Castellon, and Fritz Eichenberg. After graduating in 1956, he established a career as an illustrator.

Throughout the 1960s and much of the 1970s, he illustrated over forty books, including Sterling North's Rascal (1963), Walt Morey’s Gentle Ben (1963), Jean Craighead George's Julie of the Wolves (1971) and Frank Herbert's Dune (1963 and 1977), in addition to producing covers for various magazines and winning many awards.

Schoenherr turned his attention to easel painting in the late seventies. Working in a realist manner, he frequently depicts solitary animals or birds in stark settings ranging from desolate mountainsides to quiet waterways and dusky marshes. His compositions often feature strong diagonals, richly textured paint surfaces, and a broad, Impressionistic handling of the landscape elements; indeed, his emphasis on pictorial concerns stems from a desire to put art before subject matter.

He has traveled extensively, making research trips throughout the United States and Canada, as far apart as Puerto Rico and Alaska, as well as Iran, to study wild sheep.

A member of the American Society of Mammalogists and the Society of Animal Artists (Award of Excellence Medal 1979, 1985, 2003), Schoenherr has exhibited his paintings throughout the United States (Silver medal, Phila. Acad. Natural Sci.,1984). He has continued his activity as an illustrator as well, winning the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1988 for his work in Owl Moon. A major retrospective of his work, John Schoenherr: Beyond the Edge and Deep Within, was held at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum in 1997. In 2003 a special exhibition of the original illustrations for Owl Moon was held at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of its publication, which has traveled to many other museums.