Surrounded by horses at an early age, John Schnurrenberger dreamed of becoming a cowboy in his small town in Switzerland.
John watched his Grandfather use his horses to haul supplies, feed & seed to the local farmers. John's Grandfather drove tourists in horse drawn coaches with 4- and 6 horse teams over Swiss mountain passes. John loved to listen to his Grandfather's stories and knew even then, that when he grew up, he was going to do something that involved horses!
Europeans always had a fascination with the North American Cowboy. As a teen, John got involved in leather craft, making chaps, belts, model western saddles amongst other things. At first, he made them for himself & then for his friends who had similar interests in the American West.
He was determined to experience the "West" first hand and follow his dream. In the spring of 1965 he got married to his sweetheart Antje and shortly after he left for Western Canada alone, with Antje to follow after he was established. Working first as a ranch hand near Kamloops BC, he later got a draftsman job. When Antje joined him, they moved to Vancouver due to better work opportunities. Working as a draftsman at first, by 1967 he got a job working in the Art Department of the Vancouver Sun Newspaper - where he remained until 1974.
The dream of horses, cowboying and wide open spaces was only temporarily put on hold. John spent his spare time perfecting his leather craft skills as well as getting more and more into painting and drawing. They also bought a five acre property 40 miles east of Vancouver and by 1969 moved there, first living in a tent while building a small house, commuting 5 days a week to and from work.
By 1974 John had had enough of the damp coast climate and quit his job, sold their property and settled in the small ranching/logging community of Westwold BC, halfway between Kamloops and Vernon. Antje, believing in him and his talent, was behind him one hundred percent. Although it wasn't easy at first to be a self employed "Western Artist" with absolutely no connections or gallery outlets.
The first big break came in 1975 when John got invited to show at the 1st George Phippen Memorial Art Show in Prescott, Arizona. To show alongside well known and established Western Artists, some of whom he had long admired was a highlight, and winning second place in the drawing category for a pencil portrait of an old cowboy was a boost to his career.
The second big break came in the fall of 1976 when he got the ride along with the cowboys at the famous half million acre Douglas Lake Cattle Co., then owned by C.N.Woodwards. All his earlier dreams of cowboys, hundreds of horses, thousands of cattle and great wide open spaces had finally come true and it changed his life forever.
He had found his true calling as a real working cowboy, as opposed to the Hollywood or Nashville version, but the quiet proud man on horseback, who would spend six months wages on a custom made saddle taking pride in his horsemanship and ability to hand cattle.
John was soon accepted by the cowboys and became friends with many of them, following some of them as they went to work on other ranches in BC including;- Nicola Ranch, Quilchena Cattle Co., Stump Lake Ranch, Pooley Ranch, Gang Ranch as well as others in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He soon became a familiar face at spring brandings, fall gathers & drives and weanings etc, working and blending in with the crew, only to snap some quick shots with his camera without interrupting the task at hand.
The paintings created from these experiences began to sell. One-man shows in Kamloops & Calgary sold out in record time. By the early 1980's limited edition prints, art cards and posters were published to satisfy the demand for his work. Several US & Canadian horse & cattle publications featured his painting on covers & in articles.
John aspired to become a better painter as well as cowboy & horseman. After all, there are many great artists both in Canada and the US, but only a handful are also cowboys, or at least have the knowledge to accurately portray that lifestyle and not just copy a photograph!
Learning from horsemen like Ray Hunt at "Colt starting and horsemanship" clinics, first at Douglas Lake Ranch in 1984 and 1985 and later at Gang Ranch was a great experience.
John still starts his own colts, riding for neighboring family ranches as well as some of the big outfits. Doing mostly commissioned paintings now, no longer doing any gallery shows & rarely participating in group shows.
Contrary to some persistent rumors making the rounds, he STILL PAINTS and welcomes enquiries about his work!