50 Features of Special Collections: Charles Schneeman

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Charles Schneeman (1912-1972) was a science fiction illustrator for stories and covers of such works as Astounding Stories and Astounding Science Fiction from 1935 to 1952.

The collection contains the artwork and correspondence of illustrator Charles E. Schneeman, Jr. The bulk of the collection is comprised of sketches, compositional studies, final artwork, a presentation portfolio, printer’s proofs, and magazine clippings from 1935-1963 that document Schneeman’s working process as an illustrator for Astounding Stories and Astounding Science Fiction as well as other publications. The science fiction illustrations include roughly 500 drawings, sketches, and photochemical reproductions (including photographs used as reference for sketches). In addition to the science fiction genre, Schneeman illustrated romance magazines, drew humorous cartoons, and created historical and scientific illustrations. Although he used a variety of media, Mr. Schneeman expressed a preference for brush and ink, using simple line or dry brush shading. The collection also includes a small collection of correspondence from such renowned science fiction authors as Isaac Asimov.

Schneeman’s works provide a fascinating anthology of science fiction imagery at mid-century.  The quality of illustration for stories during the golden age of science fiction writing helped to make the stories come alive. Schneeman recalled that “John Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, ‘wanted more drama, design and human element, and less stress on gadgetry’ and that he was ‘never satisfied with any artist, because he seems to fear that he will become static.’” (Correspondence, Charles Schneeman Papers).

“Legion of Time, Part I.” Before May 1938. Compositional drawing (cover illustration).  Graphite on tracing paper.
“Legion of Time, Part I.” Before May 1938. Final artwork (cover illustration). Watercolor and pastel on card stock.

Charles Schneeman was born in Staten Island, New York on November 24, 1912. In 1922 his family moved to Brooklyn, where he attended Erasmus Hall High School from 1924 to 1928. He received a diploma from New York City’s Pratt Institute in 1933. Schneeman recounted, “a friend showed me an early copy of Amazing Stories in 1927 and it was my undoing.  The world lost a chemist as I went down the science fiction drain.” (Correspondence, Charles Schneeman Papers). Further art training followed at Grand Central School of Art with Harvey Dunn and George Bridgeman’s figure drawing classes.

In 1935, at the age of 23, Schneeman began to execute illustrations for Astounding Stories and in 1938 he created his first cover illustration for the magazine just after it had changed its title to Astounding Science Fiction.  Schneeman just happened to meet the art director and was assigned a story, “Menace from Saturn” over the next two decades Schneeman would provide the artwork for covers and over 150 short stories and novelettes.

Like many artists, Schneeman received limited recognition in the early part of this century.  Ron Miller (Space Art, 1978) groups him with Howard Russell Butler, Frank R. Paul, Rockwell Kent and others.  Alva Rogers (A Requiem for Astounding, Chicago, 1965) names Schneeman as “an artist who would one day be considered one of the greatest black and white illustrators of science fiction, particularly for the Golden Age.”

“The Red Death of Mars.” Before July 1940. Graphite on paper. Compositional drawing.

“The Red Death of Mars.” Before July 1940. Film positive. Compositional drawing, final artwork and film negative of same image.

“The Red Death of Mars.” Before July 1940. Film positive. Compositional drawing, final artwork and film negative of same image.

Space scene, man carries alien to spacecraft, art deco buildings in background.

More information on the collection can be found on the Finding Aid at the Online Archive of California.

http://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf3n39n729/

See: exhibition catalog for “Charles Schneeman Astounding Science Fiction, Richard L. Nelson Gallery & The Fine Arts Collection, February 22 through March 27, 1998.