John was raised in Queens where he used drawings to communicate with speakers of other languages within his polyglot neighborhood. Later he went to Pratt University.
Schoenherr may be known best as the original illustrator of the dust jacket art of Dune, a 1965 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert that inaugurated a book series and media franchise. He had previously illustrated the serializations of the novel in Analog, an endeavor which secured him a 1965 Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. He later did the art for the Analog serialization of Herbert’s Children of Dune. In 1978 Berkley Books published The Illustrated Dune, an edition of Dune with 33 black-and-white sketch drawings and 8 full-color paintings by Schoenherr. Herbert wrote in 1980 that though he had not spoken to Schoenherr prior to the artist creating the paintings, the author was surprised to find that the artwork appeared exactly as he had imagined its fictional subjects, including sandworms, Baron Harkonnen and the Sardaukar.
Also he gained fame for Dragonriders of Pern stories by Anne McCaffrey, the 1967/1968 novellas “Weyr Search” and “Dragonrider” (each featured on one Analog cover as well) that were subsequently developed as the novel Dragonflight. Schoenherr’s July 1975 cover for Analog has been cited as influential in the designs for the Star Wars character Chewbacca.
Analog was a magazine in which Dune and the Dragon Riders of Pern first appeared in. Among other stories in the magazine he illustrated was Randall Garrett’s The Eye’s Have It which is rereleased in Arkham: Tales from the Flipside Winter Edition.