SIOUX CITY -- Artist Brenda Schoenherr-Thelen admits that in the days following her cancer diagnosis in June 2021 she thought her work could continue unabated. Primary peritoneal cancer wouldn't stop her from filling up canvasses, carving pumpkins or practicing calligraphy.
That notion lasted right up until chemotherapy became part of the picture.
Going through something as draining as chemo, which she receives at the University of Nebraska's cancer center, requires steroids to help recover. But that presents problems when Schoenherr-Thelen has to paint something like the annual Little Yellow Dog portrait.
"I’ve done this for 16 years and what’s interesting about this one is I’m on chemotherapy. Being on chemo I had to wait until the steroids wore off because my hands shake from the steroids," Schoenherr-Thelen said.
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In total, it took Schoenherr-Thelen about 18 hours to bring Yukon, the Goldendoodle named the 2021 Little Yellow Dog, to life on her 11-by-14 canvas. Eighteen hours at her kitchen table, she painted a 10-week-old pup in a forested setting with about 30 different colors of acrylic. Typically she would meet the Little Yellow Dog but, this time out, she could only paint Yukon from what she saw of him in a picture.
"With cancer I’ve been staying in my house because my defenses are down so I had people mail me photos," Schoenherr-Thelen said.
That hasn't been the only change for the woman who turned 60 in October. She said that she also has had to give up the daycare business she ran for 30 years and had to stop teaching calligraphy and painting classes at the Sioux City Art Center.
"That makes me sick but I can’t just be around people. I miss the Art Center so much. It breaks my heart so much. It’s like a second home to me," she said.
Debra Marqusee, the education coordinator at the Sioux City Art Center, said Schoenherr-Thelen's absence has been felt.
"We certainly miss her good energy and I haven’t found a teacher who could replace her. I’m just waiting for the day she calls me and says: Debra I’m ready to come back," Marqusee said.
According to Marqusee, the kind of energy that Schoenherr-Thelen put into her teaching was so powerful that classes would often be full and the same folks would keep coming back. "She has a following," Marqusee said.
Though the two haven't been together at the Art Center in quite some time, Marqusee said they still keep in touch via Facebook.
Bruce Brock, an auctioneer who Schoenherr-Thelen met through the Little Yellow Dog event, said that he keeps in contact through texts.
"She’s a very caring person, obviously, to do all that for the people who win the Little Yellow Dog prize. And I don’t think she does it for the recognition," Brock said.
Given the circumstances, Brock said, this year's painting for the auction is even more meaningful than ones Schoenherr-Thelen did of Samantha the Maltese or Finnegan the Scottish Terrier.
"It speaks volumes to her caring nature that she was able to draw within herself that courage. She was up to the task," Brock said. Because of that kind of courage and strength, he said he expects her return soon enough.
And whenever Schoenherr-Thelen does make it back to the Sioux City Art Center, Marqusee said that, based on experience, she knows the longtime artist can handle whatever task she's given.
"Every time I would give her a challenge she would be nervous but she would accomplish it," Marqusee said.
For Schoenherr-Thelen, when her work schedule is dictated by what her body is telling her, art is therapy as much as anything else.
"I start painting and get lost in the painting and I can paint for hours and not realize it’s three in the morning," she said.
Little Yellow Dogs: 1936 to present
|1937||Midget "Mike"||Mongrel||Wax Nelson & John Kampmeyer||$200.00|
|1938||Bruce||Oscar Hoberg for S.C. Scottish Rite Consistory||$250.00|
|1939||Zero||Oscar Hoberg for S.C. Scottish Rite Consistory||$300.00|
|1940||Happy||Abu Bekr Shrine Temple||$275.00|
|1949||Meme||Wally Wilson & Harold Jacobsen||$525.00|
|1950||Sir Tippet||Schaff's Hardware, Remsen, Iowa||$565.00|
|1951||Soo Wing Wu||E.S. Gaynor||$575.00|
|1953||Blue Boy||Fred K. Harbeck||$615.00|
|1954||Siouxland Coquette||Sealyham Terrier||Miles Patton||$650.00|
|1957||Little Joe||R.P. Boulay||$725.00|
|1961||Little Bill||Jerry Kozney||$950.00|
|1962||Missy||Mrs. L.J. Kaplan||$1,000.00|
|1963||Little Ike||J.J. Arkin||$1,075.00|
|1965||Maxie||Miniature Poodle||Board of Directors LYD for Mrs. Winifred Perasso||$800.00|
|1967||Wacuwa St. Nick||Brown and white English Springer||Sioux City Grain Exchange||$830.00|
|1968||Paddy||Vizsla Pointer||United Order Buyers Dixon Co. Feedlots||$850.00|
|1969||Little Maxie||Wire haired Dachsund||Mr. & Mrs. Irving Levich||$640.00|
|1970||Little Yeller||Fawn Colored Chihuahua||Julian Torgeson||$2,310.00|
|1971||Scottie||Black Scottish Terrier||James Gribble||$1,650.00|
|1972||Kandy||Cairn Terrier||Northwestern National Bank, Stan Evans||$1,410.00|
|1973||Polly||Shetland Sheepdog||David, Norman & Peter Waitt||$1,530.00|
|1974||Goldie||Yellow Labrador||Ray E. Friedman||$2,520.00|
|1975||Georgy||Boston Terrier||Vernon Boyers||$3,000.00|
|1976||Buckwheat||Boston Terrier||Jim Yanney||$3,550.00|
|1977||Sandy||Cocker Spaniel||Ray Grandle (Bill Grabau)||$3,500.00|
|1978||Sir Nick||English Springer Spaniel||Jim Yanney||$5,000.00|
|1979||Jingles||Miniature Schnauzer||Alan Booge & Jim Cuthbert||$7,500.00|
|1980||Sir Tannenbaum||Wire haired Dachsund||Alan Booge, Jim Cuthbert & David Sitzmann||$8,000.00|
|1981||Kringles||Sheltie||Ray & Todi Switzer||$5,200.00|
|1982||Jingles||Black & White Cocker||Alan Booge||$4,400.00|
|1983||Sir Nicholas||Samoyed||Larry Doeschot||$5,000.00|
|1984||Sir Lord Stone||English Bulldog||Ken Opstein||$5,100.00|
|1985||Golden Girl||Golden Retriever||Bob Hoefer||$7,500.00|
|1986||Golden Boy||Golden Retriever||Walt E. Beggs||$6,700.00|
|1987||Sir Vern||Buff colored Cocker||Chuck Avery||$6,000.00|
|1988||Sir Frank||Golden Retriever||Fred Wells||$5,300.00|
|1989||Elmer's Girl||Black and white Cocker||Paul Meloy||$8,100.00|
|1990||Mink's Magic||Tri-colored Cocker||Ted & Norm, Jr. Waitt||$8,500.00|
|1991||Miss Kringels||Yellow Chinese Shar-pei||Jerry and Kathy Weiner||$6,700.00|
|1992||Noel||Bichon Frise||harold A. Bomgaars||$7,100.00|
|1993||Lady Gracie||Bull Terrier||Norm and Andria Waitt||$8,600.00|
|1994||Princess Vi||Miniature Schnauzer||Fred Wells||$6,500.00|
|1995||Miss Amber||Golden Retriever||Tom Kurdy||$8,700.00|
|1996||Doc Holiday||Golden Retriever||Kevin Vaughn of Fimco||$12,750.00|
|1997||Yukon Cornelius||Golden Retriever||Ted Waitt||$15,500.00|
|1998||Mr. Golden||Golden Retriever||Roger Miller||$15,600.00|
|1999||Fargo||Golden Retriever||Hirsch/Wooldridge family||$9,000.00|
|2000||Chad||Yellow Labrador||Brad Gunderson||$10,200.00|
|2001||Miss Noel||Maltese||Mike Wells||$18,300.00|
|2002||T-Bone||Maltese||Jim and Jameley Levich||$18,500.00|
|2003||Seaman||Great Newfoundland||Todd and Cathy Ellison||$11,500.00|
|2004||Colonel Harold||Boston Terrier||Bob Scott and Duane Davis||$20,000.00|
|2005||Little Nicholas||Poodle||Tim Brown and D.A. Davis||$21,100.00|
|2006||Belle||Westie||Dr. Ralph and Julie Reeder||$30,000.00|
|2007||Brubeck||Golden Retriever||D.A. Davis, Roger Miller, Leonard Gill, Paul Braunger and Bill Barkley||$20,000.00|
|2008||Boji||Cairn Terrier||Dave Marx and John Goldsmith||$20,000.00|
|2009||Holly Berry||Yorkshire terrier||Dan Wells||$20,000.00|
|2010||Hope||Miniature Schnauzer||Charese Yanney||$10,000.00|
|2011||Stoney||Yellow labrador retriever||Sioux City Explorers||$45,000.00|
|2012||Truffles||American water spaniel||Rhonda Capron||$14,500.00|
|2013||Snickers||Liver and white springer spaniel||Patty and Eric Lohry||$15,000.00|
|2014||Finnegan||Scottish terrier||Brad Smith||$15,000.00|
|2015||Dasher||Beagle||Don and Linda Boyer||$10,200.00|
|2018||Polar||Golden Retriever||Shane Keizer and family||$15,750|
|2019||Paige||German Shorthaired Pointer||Brad Smith||$15,500|
|2020||Charli||Australian Shepherd||Donors w. match from Wells famil||$17,000|
Jared McNett is an online editor and reporter for the Sioux City Journal. You can reach him at 712-293-4234 and follow him on Twitter at TwoHeadedBoy98.