Charles W. Schwartz was born in St. Louis in June of 1914. His father was an amateur naturalist and “Carl”, as young Charles was then called, became interested in studying animals and all other kinds of wildlife at a very young age. He spent much of his free time at Forest Park Zoo, in St. Louis, where he met and enjoyed a close friendship with Marlin Perkins. Perkins helped cultivate Charle’s love of the outdoors and wild animals.
After graduating high school, Charles entered the University of Missouri on a football scholarship. He was soon injured, and this led him to focus on biology and zoology classes – as well as developing his skill as both an artist and a photographer.
While at the university he met and subsequently married Elizabeth Reeder, a young Zoology Professor with whom he shared many of the same interests. This would mark the start of an inseparable team that would soon become a rising force in the conservation and environmental movements of the 20th century.
In July of 1940, Charles was hired as a full-time biologist by the new Missouri Conservation Commission. Elizabeth retired from teaching to become (for a time) Charles’ unpaid assistant – a position that would eventually allow her to develop into a role model (as a female scientist) for young women across the country.
Their first assignment was with prairie chickens and their work resulted in the Conservation Commission’s first publication (1944) and first feature film (1948). It also led them to meet another young couple who was working on prairie chickens in Wisconsin, Fred and Fran Hamerstrom, who introduced the Schwartzes to their mentor, Aldo Leopold.
Leopold was impressed with the Schwartzes and recommended them for a temporary position with the Board of Agriculture and Forestry in the Territory of Hawaii. This led the Schwartzes to become part of a team effort (along with kindred spirit and life-long friend Sir peter Scott) to save the Hawaiian Nene Goose from extinction.
Upon leaving Hawaii, Charles agreed to illustrate two books for the Leopold family, including the classic A Sand County Almanac (1949) and Wildlife of Mexico (1959). They returned to work for the Missouri Conservation Commission (Libby was hired full time starting in 1950) and began to focus on conservation-themed feature films; ultimately producing 24 – including many critically acclaimed and award-winning productions.
This began a three-decade stretch where Charles and Libby were continuously multi-tasking, starting with writing and illustrating for the Missouri Conservationist, a series of conservation-themed children’s books and, in 1959, one of their best-remembered works, The Wild Animals of Missouri.
In the 1960s, Charles created the first four (of eight total) large multicolor murals for the Missouri Department of Conservation Headquarters in Jefferson. He was also assigned to create the artwork for Missouri’s first 14 trout stamps, starting in 1969. These eye-catching (multicolor) stamps not only raised money to fund increased fishing opportunities in Missouri – they captured the attention of stamp collectors and helped establish the field of fish and game stamps as a viable philatelic niche.
In the 1960s, Charles and Libby were two of the authors of Missouri’s New Design for Conservation. This program greatly expanded outdoor recreational opportunities for all Missourians. In addition, Charles contributed a painting of Canada geese that raised funds at a critical juncture and helped ensure passage of a vital (and unique) state amendment, whereby Missourians voted to dedicate a portion of their sales tax to fund the state’s newly expanded conservation program.
In 1970 Charles designed the logo for the Department and in, 1979, he was selected to create the artwork for Missouri’s “first-of-state” waterfowl stamp and print. The next year saw the publication of Wildlife Drawings, a compendium of Charles’ wildlife art accompanied by illuminating commentary.
Charles and Libby retired in 1981 and moved to Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho to be close to their children and grandchildren. In retirement, they stayed active, finishing some projects for the MDOC (such as the murals in 1987), began work on a new book, About Mammals and How They Live and spent more time duck hunting and enjoying various outdoor activities with their family and friends.
In 1991 Charles died, unexpectedly, of pancreatic cancer. Libby completed About Mammals on her own and it was released in 1993. In 2010, The Conservation Federation of Missouri, The State Historical Society of Missouri and Bass Pro Shops all joined together to create a grand exhibition of Charles’s work – paying tribute to one of the Show-me State’s most influential native sons.
Libby passed away quietly on her birthday in The Dalles, Oregon on September 13, 2013. She was 101 years old.
The following is a complete list of the feature films produced by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz. The bold font indicates the award winners:
1949 – The Prairie Chicken in Missouri
1950 – Snakes, Friends and Foes
1950 – Sunrise Serenade
1953 – Bobwhite Through the Year
1955 – Cottontail
1957 – A way of Life
1959 – The Story of the Mourning Dove
1961 – Community Lake
1962 – University of Missouri
1963 – This is the Mallard
1963 – The Rhesus Monkeys of Santiago Island
1964 – The Family Life of Birds
1964 – A Place to Live
1966 – Headwaters
1968 – Downstream
1968 – A Prairie Should Be Forever
1969 – The Return of the Wild Turkey
1971 – The Show-me Hunter
1972 – The Design for Conservation
1973 – Wild Chorus
1976 – More Than Trees
1977 – Ozark Rainbows
1978 – Our Wild Inheritance
This was a big project, one which I could not have begun to accomplish without a lot of help. First, I would like to thank Charlie, for believing in me and the future of our hobby and, especially, for his many acts of kindness – the memories of which inspired me to work long into many winter nights; Libby for persevering in an age of overt gender bias and allowing young girls across the country to see themselves as female biologists and scientists. Her unique combination of grit and grace encouraged me to weave her into the story wherever possible, believing her days as a positive role model are far from over.
Bruce for providing many intimate details about Charles, Libby and their family life, loaning me several books (including Libby’s unpublished memoir), for newspaper clippings, photos and book recommendations and, especially, for gently steering me in the right direction when I may have appeared momentarily lost; Barbara and John, for sharing insights into their family life and steady encouragement; Craig for generously allowing me access to their family google drive, providing many great family photos and images of Charlie’s original art.
Elizabeth Engel, Senior Archivist for the State Historical Society of Missouri, for scanning articles from many books, magazines and newspapers, providing scans of Charlie’s art and many great photos; Kris Hilgedick, News Service Coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation for acting as liaison between myself and the Department and for loaning me several books which proved invaluable in my research; Cliff White, Art Director for the Missouri Department of Conservation for discussing the project with me and directing me toward the appropriate resources, providing photos of the murals and attempting to locate the originals for Charles’ trout stamps; Rena Watts, Administrative Services Division / Permit Section for the Missouri Department of Conservation for helping direct me to people in the Department with possible information and photos; Andrew Branson, Fisheries Programs Specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation for supplying photos and also trying to locate the originals (Unfortunately, we never were able to).
David Curtis and Barry Porter for helping me to realize, back in the 1980s, just how popular Charlie’s trout stamps were becoming with collectors and, in David’s case, for allowing me to acquire the set of stamps used to illustrate his catalog; Russell Fink, for helping me connect some of the dots in the Saving The Nene Goose chapter; Richard Houk, for providing insightful information about his own dealings and interactions with Charlie, answering many of my questions about the Missouri trout and waterfowl stamp prints, providing scans of informative letters, recommending books, providing stamps and prints to illustrate the blogs and never wavering in his encouragement; Michael Jaffe for providing the complete pane of 1979 waterfowl stamps and helping me work through and list the different varieties on the 1979 waterfowl stamps and Larry Richardson, for providing details about the Missouri trout stamp prints.
My research for Missouri’s Audubon included 32 books and over 150 magazine, newspaper and internet articles. However, there was a smaller number that I relied upon more heavily than the rest – in order, as they are referenced in the story: A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold (1949); Wildlife Drawings by Charles Schwartz (1980); The First 50 Years by James F. Keefe (1987); The Game Birds of Hawaii by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz (1949); As I look Back by Elizabeth R. Schwartz (unpublished memoir – 1995); The Wild Mammals of Missouri by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz (1959) and Waterfowl Hunting and Wetland Conservation in Missouri edited by Kenneth Babcock and Alan Wentz (2014).
David Torre – May 31, 2021