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Little Yellow Dog portrait

Sioux City artist Brenda Schoenherr-Thelen keeps up her painting through cancer diagnosis

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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.

2021 Little Yellow Dog painting

A painting of Yukon, the 2021 Goodfellows Charities' Little Yellow Dog, is the latest from Sioux City artist Brenda Schoenherr-Thelen, who has painted portraits of the past 16 Little Yellows Dogs.

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.

Art painting pumpkins

Artist Brenda Schoenherr-Thelen was featured in Siouxland Life magazine in 2015 with a collection of politician-themed pumpkins she has painted.

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

A look back at the Little Yellow Dogs from 1936 including breed information, who purchased and the price paid at the annual auction.

Year Name Breed Buyer Price
1936 Skippy Mongrel Herman Miller $25.00
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
1941 Kit K.A. Murray $250.00
1942 Victory Hugh Twohig $310.00
1943 Palermo Frank Pilley $337.00
1944 Peter G.F. Peceny $375.00
1945 Cinderella Charles McKenna $390.00
1946 Dancer Tetonia Club $450.00
1947 Mistletoe H.R. Scroggs $500.00
1948 Blondie Elks Club $510.00
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
1952 V-Eight Jess Getz $577.50
1953 Blue Boy Fred K. Harbeck $615.00
1954 Siouxland Coquette Sealyham Terrier Miles Patton $650.00
1955 Donnabelle C.H. Brechlin $700.00
1956 Lorrie Dachsund Russell Deever $710.00
1957 Little Joe R.P. Boulay $725.00
1958 Peggy Bob Johnson $765.00
1959 Nick Sodrac Park $800.00
1960 Happy Carter Dennis $900.00
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
1964 Georgie Dave Levitt $1,130.00
1965 Maxie Miniature Poodle Board of Directors LYD for Mrs. Winifred Perasso $800.00
1966 Joey Poodle Vernon Boyers $810.00
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
2016 Aspen Maltese Anonymous $16,000.00
2017 Samantha Maltese Darlene Erickson $15,000
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
2021 Yukon Goldendoodle Andy Galinsky $18,500

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.


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