Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sci-Fi Illustrator John Schoenherr R.I.P.

John Schoenherr, who illustrated art for science fiction authors from Frank Herbert to Philip K. Dick, passed on April 8 at the age of 74. The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

John Schoenherr was born in Manhattan on July 5, 1935, but raised in Queens. His future as an artist developed in part from growing up in a neighbourhood where multiple languages were spoken. Growing up in a German speaking household, Mr. Schoenherr used pictures to communicate with his English, Italian, and Chinese speaking neighbours. He studied at the Art Students League of New York. He earned a bachelor of fine arts at the Pratt Institute.

John Schoenherr had wanted to be a painter, but eventually found himself as a illustrator often published in the science fiction magazine Astounding (later renamed Analog). He was the first man to illustrate the classic novel Dune by Frank Herbert, which was first published as a serial in Analog from 1963 to 1965. He was also the first artist to depict the world of Pern created by Anne McCaffrey "Dragonriders of Pern" series. By 1961 Mr. Schoenherr was regularly illustrating the covers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror paperbacks. Among the works Mr. Schoenherr illustrated were Bright New Universe by Jack Williamson, We Can Build You by Philip K. Dick, Children of Tomorrow  by A. E. Van Vogt, and many many more. From 1962 to 1967 John Schoenherr was nominated for the Hugo for Best Professional Artist every year, winning the award in 1965.

Beginning in 1963 with Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era by Sterling North, John Schoenherr also illustrated children's books. He also illustrated Gentle Ben by Walt Morey, The Wolfling by M. Miles, and Julie of the Wolves by Jean C. George. He won a Caldecott Medal for Owl Moon by Jane Yolen in 1988. He also wrote and illustrated several of his own children's books, including The Barn, Bear, and Rebel.

There can be no doubt that John Schoenherr was one of the greatest science fiction illustrators of all time. No one could depict alien landscapes as well as he could. And with a background in nature illustration, he could make even the strangest creatures seem real. Indeed, it would be Mr. Schoenherr's depiction of Dune that would shape our image of the alien world ever since. Charged with depicting the gigantic sandworms, Mr. Schoenherr accomplished what seemed impossible---making a worm seem terrifying. Schoenherr's sandworms had gaping maws into which one could only inky, perpetual darkness. No one has ever improved on Mr. Schoenherrr's depiction of Dune, and it is doubtful anyone ever will.

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