Celebration of Life


Reverend Donald R. Schwartz


1931 - 2010




Donald R. Schwartz, internationally recognized equine artist, local resident and Co-Founder of the Chapel of Awareness Spiritual Church of Encinitas, California passed way on September 7, 2010.  At the time of his death he was in the care of San Diego Hospice & Palliative Care as well as many loving friends.


Donald was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA in 1931.  From an early age he had a love for animals that began to express itself through art.  Though it was not clear then that he would become an artist, he won a lifetime membership in the Humane Society of America for a picture he composed when in the Fourth grade.  Don said of that experience, “My heart was moved by a picture of a dog which had been injured by a car.  I painted a picture of the dog and entered it in a contest with the title ‘Please Care’ and I won.” He went on to share, “I was always full of love for animals.  They are so vulnerable to the whims of their owners, and yet are so loyal and forgiving.  I wanted to speak for the little animals that need someone to care for them.  I still do.”


After high school he spent time pursuing a career in other vocations, eventually becoming competent in flight theory and aircraft mechanics, qualifying for a pilot’s license, and joining the U.S. Air Force to work on rocket design.  While in the Air Force he was stationed at Edwards Air Force base and worked on the X-1 experimental jet plane.  Following his discharge Donald attended the prestigious Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles where he initially studied automotive design under the tutelage of the man who designed the first Corvette.  He later switched to product design because “Detroit does not have a Pacific ocean to swim in!”


While visiting Pasadena one day he saw a ‘Help Wanted’ ad in the office window of an optical firm and stepped inside saying, “I’m here for the position.”  Dr. Eugene C. Larr, owner of Larr Optics, hired him on the spot and their professional relationship became a fast and enduring friendship that lasted until Dr. Larr’s death in 2006.


In the meantime, Larr Optics relocated to Denver, Colorado and Donald began working with fiberglass, designing domes for aircraft radio telemetry, telescope housings, and even children’s toys.  His unique skills, combined with those of Dr. Larr, led the firm to be chosen to design and manufacture the optics for the first Voyager spacecraft.  Its encounter with the rings of Saturn in 1969 resulted in the first close-up images of Saturn’s rings and eventually images of the outer planets as well. 


While living in Denver, he began to focus more and more on his artistic interests.  It crystallized when he saw a book in the public library on “sporting up” and a painting of a dappled grey horse by the late Sir Alfred J. Munning (1878-1959).  It made such a lasting impression that Donald traveled twice to Munning’s home in Dedham, England.  One of the distinguishing characteristics of Donald’s work was his ability to capture the individuality of each animal with its unique structure and musculature.  Of himself, he said, “ I am still learning, of course.  I still look to Munning for my chief inspiration.  My oil paintings are usually quite realistic and tightly detailed and I always strive to paint every horse as a living, vibrant animal and to capture the individual characteristics of each one.  Yet I admire Sir Alfred’s ability to capture a horse, a sky, or a group with just a few strokes.  I want to move in that direction from being able to paint a ‘tight’ realistic portrait to a looser, more impressionistic work. There is always more to learn and it is good to offer a choice of styles to an owner who wants a famous horse painted.”

In the mid 1960’s Larr Optics closed and the two friends  re-locates back to Southern California.   In 1968 a spacious house in Encinitas was found that would accommodate their diverse interests and needs. For Donald, who was focusing on horse portraiture, it provided proximity to Los Angeles and the race tracks at Del Mar and Santa Anita.  For Dr. Larr, an astronomer, it provided proximity to the California Institute of Technology, the Palomar telescope, and the clear night skies of rural North County which are well suited for viewing.

In 1971, Walter T. Foster asked Donald to compose equine art for a new how-to-do book for which Foster is famous.  Still available today, Donald’s book, "Horse Heads in Oil and Pastels" and #135 in the series, has sold over half a million copies world wide.  It continues to be a classic and standard used throughout the world as a teaching tool. 

In addition to being an inspiration to many evolving artists – from 8 yr olds to a 70 yr old paraplegic – Donald touched and greatly influenced many around the world.  Most of Donald’s paintings were commissioned and included works for Desi Arnez, Dick Van Dyke, Mrs. Paul Getty and William Shatner among others. His works hang in galleries at the Del Mar and Santa Anita race tracks and others among his numerous commissioned works include: “Juniperus” - a head sculpture in bronze commissioned by the Del Mar National Horse Show for the Hap Hansen Perpetual trophy; “Tinner’s Way” and “General Challenge” - $1,000,000 winners of the Del Mar Pacific Classic and commissioned by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club; and “John Henry” – retirement portrait commissioned by Mr. & Mrs. Sam Rubin.

To the end of his life Donald was always at work on 2-3 projects with others in the concept and planning stages.  For example, a life-long love of Egypt led to 4 trips to study and enjoy its antiquities, eventually combining his fiberglass and mould-making skills with his attention to detail to create large Egyptian plaques. He also developed instructional videos and DVDs on painting both horse head portraits and the entire horse.  He successfully published an updated version of Painting Horse Heads and was in the development stages on a book about painting wild animals.  His last great passion was painting the beautiful mare, Zenyatta.  The beauty, artistry and diversity of his work can be viewed on his website at: www.drs-studio.com.


While Donald is most well known for his beautiful paintings, he was just as passionate about his dog, Suzy; about model airplanes and gliders; politics and the treatment of animals; and a continuous variety of home projects.  No picture of this remarkable man would be complete without acknowledging that he was the co-founder with Dr. Larr of the Chapel of Awareness Spiritual Church and School in Encinitas, California (www.chapelofawareness.org) Begun in 1972, it is the oldest, continuously operating California school teaching psychic and spiritual development.  As one of its teachers, he focused on healing – helping others to contribute to their own healing and to healing others.   Many a person and wounded critter came his way and he always had time for each.


He will be dearly missed and our lives were much richer for his presence in it.  He is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Albert F. and  Barbara Schwartz of Batesville, Indiana and several nieces and nephews.  A Celebration of Life service will be held at 1:00 p.m. on October 23rd  at the Chapel of Awareness Spiritual Church, 560 Third Street, Encinitas, CA 92024.  Questions may be directed to Rev. Nell Smith at the Chapel by calling 760-436-4104 or her cell at 619-672-6600.  In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in Donald’s name to your local Humane Society, San Diego Hospice & Palliative Care, or a non-profit organization of your choosing.