In Memory of the Great Bear of Locktown

By Carl Zimmer | April 8, 2010 10:05 pm

jackToday, I’m very sad to say, the artist John Schoenherr passed away. Among his honors, Schoenherr earned a Caldecott Award for his paintings for the book Owl Moon. His dark, textured artwork did justice to all manner of life, from a Canada goose to a giant sandworm.

I met Jack when I was just ten years old, through his son Ian. He was not the typical father of your fifth-grade friends. He got up not long before noon, sat for a while at the kitchen table with some coffee, making a few  jokes, and then headed to his barn, where he would paint till midnight or later. His barn was filled with dismantled MG’s, Japanese swords, a complete collection of National Geographics, snapping tortoise shells, camera equipment, years’ worth of paintings, and an atmosphere suffused with good cheer. We kids were always welcome, whether we wanted to ask questions about the latest painting on his easel, or if we just wanted to wander along his rough bookshelves and be alone in his company. I learned some of my most important early lessons about nature from Jack, and I also learned from him what it’s like to love the act of creation, day in and day out.

jackbearThe kids in the studio eventually grew up, but kept coming back. His son Ian became a fine artist and children’s book illustrator in his own right. I’m sure that much of my interest in natural history stems from my time in that barn, too. When I got older, I was proud to come back there, where Jack was still painting, his beard gray now, his shoulders stooped, and tell him about my own encounters with walking whales and enchanting flatworms. Everyone always joked that Jack was a great bear. It wasn’t just his ursine cast that earned him that name; it was also his  combination of grouchiness and loyalty. Bears are also strong, and over the past few years Jack showed amazing strength as well, as he struggled with his failing health. Now the Great Bear of Locktown has left us, but we will not forget him.

[Update: Here’s a biography of Schoenherr]

[Update: The New York Times has a lovely tribute, with pictures.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: General

Comments (16)

  1. I remember Jack’s Dune series on display at the Hunterdon County Library in the early 1980s, when i was just starting out as an illustration student. I was, and am still in awe of his work.

    z

  2. Bruce

    I loved “Owl Moon” more than my toddler did. Great evocative book.

  3. Bruce Townley

    I have fond memories of John’s work from ANALOG. Believe he did some illustrations for a story about time travel back to the Permian. One of the characters was eating a meal of a trilobite. John’s drawing of the thing was very evocative. What *did* that taste like. Thanks for posting this piece, Carl.

  4. He did some wonderful work for SF magazines, and Owl Moon was an instant classic.

  5. Dan Steffan

    A tragic loss. His compassionately realistic children’s books hold a treasured spot on my shelves, but it was his brilliant science fiction illustrations that first caught my eye and for which he will always be in my memory.

    He was one of the first to bring sophisticated ilustrative stylings to the wasteland of pulp art. His paintings and b&w artwork were both stunningly real and surprisingly impressionistic at the same time. Without the likes of John Schoenherr and his colleagues — like Paul Lehr, Jack Gaughan, Richard Powers, and John Berkey — nobody beyond the age of 12 would ever have taken science fiction seriously and it would have remained in the realm of childish daydreams and foolish nightmares. Now they are all gone and we are poorer for their absence.

  6. This is very sad. Such a loss. From what I can see here the Great Bear of Locktown is a lovely painting and am sure his work will live on. I love National Geographic mag as i own a load of them (paper), the photography in them is super.

  7. Amid the flood of contemporary artists who explore the spirit of nature with painted impressions only a few have been as authentic as John Schoenherr. His talent with imaginative design and color combined with a profound passion and respect for the subject. What John gave us was true art — an inspired expression describing and commemorating a place, a time and a subject in a manner that rendered a simple literal interpretation or photograph modest by comparison. His work set a standard for all artists who pursue Naturalism and it has been an honor to know him and call him a good friend.

    Tony Angell
    Seattle, Washington

  8. John Schoenherr’s authenticity as an artist of nature is unchallenged. He combined imagination with remarkable design skills and color to produce the truest form of art — an inspired personal expression that commemorates a place, time and subject that renders a literal interpretation or photograph modest by comparison. He set a standard for all of us who explore Naturalism in our work.

    Tony Angell

  9. Stu Shiffman

    Thanks for posting this! I was a great fan of his science fiction work — amazing scratch-board technique — in Analog.

  10. Sandra Miesel

    I loved Fuzzy Jack. He really was a bear “passing” as human. Who knew that an usinoid could be such a great artist? It’s a sad shock to hear that he’s gone.

  11. The Great Bear gone over the mountain indeed. I was honored to know him. Honored to have done a book with him. His work will live, even though he is gone.

    I salute you Urso Major.

    Jane

  12. John Schoenherr was an incredible artist.

    He truly shaped the world of science fiction art with his imagination, his illustrations.

    He contributed so much to the children’s book world – I am a huge fan (as are many many other people I know).

    John Schonherr should always be remembered and credited for his work, his influence – his huge contributions to science fiction and children’s books.

    My best wishes and thoughts go to his remaining family – especially to Ian Schoenherr, his son. Ian is also an incredibly talented and accomplished illustrator in his own right. And Ian is a most wonderful person.

    I am sorry for the Schoenherr’s family’s loss. For our loss.

    Andrea U’Ren

  13. John Schoenherr was an incredible artist.

    He truly shaped the world of science fiction art with his imagination, his illustrations.

    He contributed so much to the children’s book world – I am a huge fan (as are many many other people I know).

    John Schoenherr should always be remembered and credited for his work, his influence – his huge contributions to science fiction and children’s books.

    My best wishes and thoughts go to his remaining family – especially to Ian Schoenherr, his son. Ian is also an incredibly talented and accomplished illustrator in his own right. And Ian is a most wonderful person.

    I am sorry for the Schoenherr family’s loss. For our loss.

    Andrea U’Ren

  14. Carl – I thanked you personally for what you wrote – weeks ago – but I wanted to “officially” thank you here. Dad always thought the best of you, even when we were hungry teenagers and he’d cry out “Marabunta! Marabunta!” as we headed for the refrigerator.

    And Sandra – I think you were the first person to classify Dad as a bear (as opposed to a chattering, city-dwelling monkey) – and you can see that many others saw him the same way. He liked his solitude, but he greatly valued his friends.

    To everyone else here who knew him or his work or both – many, many thanks for your comments.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »