A Chilean-Canadian Renaissance Man

So you think we go to the gym for a workout? Only partially. An ongoing draw at the West End (College Street) YMCA is the social scene, particularly the very interesting people one meets. The gregarious and endlessly fascinating Jorge Schönherr, from Santiago, Chile, is one example.

Jorge is a consulting mining engineer who got his early experience in Antofagasta, in the far north of Chile. He came to Canada as a landed immigrant in 1974, after the Pinochet regime lasted longer than he had expected. He chose Toronto because the many mining companies based on Bay and King Streets made it “the mining capital of the world.” In what were very good times for the mining industry in Canada, Jorge thrived. Over the course of his career, he worked for a variety of companies in British Columbia (Copper Mountain), Panama, Peru, Ecuador, and mainland China. As a consultant, he did exploration, mine evaluation, project management, pit design, and mine operations. Like other engineers who have developed new mines, his work has required that he become expert in environmental issues, community relationships, and how to negotiate permits with governments and local authorities.

But mining is only one side of Jorge’s life. As a young person, he had an artistic inclination which has never left him. In 1959, he did a three-year program in sculpture at the School of Fine Arts, University of Chile in Santiago. Inspired by the rocks, the sand, and the stark geology of the Atacama desert and the north of Chile where he worked, his materials of choice were concrete, cement and clay. He later took up other art programs in 1966-67 and again in 1986-88. By this time, his interest had turned to painting in pastels, again inspired by the strong impressions derived from his “day job.”

Jorge first exhibited his paintings in Santiago in 1987, when he won second prize for painting in the Eighth National Painting Competition. The next year, he mounted his first solo show in Santiago and in Valparaíso. Four years later, he had two exhibitions in Toronto, at York University’s INDIGO Art Exhibit, and at the Gallery 306 then at 80 Spadina Avenue. He last exhibited in 2005, at the Second Annual National Art Exhibition LATINOAMERICA in Toronto, and a Solo Exhibition at the Pablo Neruda Museum, Isla Negra in Chile. You can see some of his paintings on YouTube and others in the slide show below:

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As well as his painting, Jorge has written a memoir of his life in Chile until 1974. Among other things, he discusses the artistic community in Chile during the Allende period. It was a vibrant, fervent time when the first Marxist ever elected president of a democracy attracted sympathizers from around the world. He writes of Chilean national poet Pablo Neruda and writer Graham Greene, and many others. He spent two years writing the book in Canada. It was then launched in December 2014 in Santiago. Already, there are demands for another printing, and for a second volume describing his life since. Now all we need in Canada is an English translation.

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  1. Beth

    What an informative article on Jorge, Marion. Thank you! And yes, we go to the Y for some fitness but also for the people!


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