Bonestell, “the father of modern space art,” had an inspirational influence on the U.S. Space Program. His work influenced a generation of young people’s curiosity about what exists beyond Earth’s atmosphere. John explains, “Bonestell inspired quite a few of us with his pictures in the 50’s and 60’s. Carl Sagan is one of them. Arthur Clarke and Wernher von Braun collaborated with him to illustrate their books. My inspiration goes back to that time.”
John owned his first telescope at nine years of age, built a backyard observatory in Detroit, and received an astronomy degree from the University of Michigan. He worked professionally for 35 years in planetariums.
When he was in his 20’s, John came across an exhibit of Bonestell’s artwork and paintings, some of which were for sale. “I was so impressed that I took out a mortgage on my home and bought a bunch of them,” he said. “The paintings hung on the walls of my office when I worked in the Hansen Planetarium in Salt Lake City. People who knew of him were astounded.”
Later in his career, John oversaw the educational programs for Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles where he wrote, produced, and presented more than 50 planetarium shows. He has also written five books related to stargazing. In his retirement, John and his wife, Barbara, travel the country in a motorhome to offer private astronomy instruction through his company: Stargazing Adventures.
John has been an active supporter of IDA since the 1990’s. “At Griffith Observatory,” he said, “we were completely aware that the sky above Los Angeles was horrible. Thousands of people attended our planetarium shows, and we apologized continuously for what the LA sky looked like. We were always telling people they should travel away from the city to get a glimpse of the real sky.”
At Griffith Observatory, John was responsible for inviting guest speakers to present evening talks. “One of these speakers, back in the 90’s, was the fellow in charge of street lighting for The City of Los Angeles. He had just recently attended a conference on lighting and came away from that as a complete believer in the value of good lighting. He showed picture after picture of good lights versus bad lights. He really got me enthused about the dark sky mission,” John said.
Enthusiasm for dark skies lead John to become involved with IDA, and for the last decade he and his wife, Barbara have spent their winters in Borrego Springs International Dark Sky Community, which received its accreditation from IDA in 2009.
“Earth’s population is growing. As the planet becomes more populous, there are more lights and we are losing the dark sky. The situation is getting worse except where the sky is being protected,” John said. “If not for IDA, many people wouldn’t know as much about the problem as they do.”
Wanting to contribute in support of IDA’s work, John conceived of the idea to donate one of his Bonestell paintings for auction. John recognized that such an auction might draw a higher price than if he sold the painting on his own and simply contributed the money to IDA. The painting, entitled “Space Vehicle over Aristarchus and Herodotus Craters” (shown above with John) was auctioned in 2017, providing IDA with an important source of revenues to support its programs to preserve and protect the nighttime environment. “It seemed like a win-win solution,” John says.