Judith Schonbak revitalized the Reporter’s arts coverage in recent years as part of a long career in writing and the arts for which family, friends and colleagues are fondly remembering her.
“She was an artist, a writer and a naturalist to the core,” said a family obituary for Schonbak, who died Aug. 2 at 79. “She loved her family with a fierce passion and she was deeply connected to the natural world, tending to birds, trees and flowers of all kinds with a keen eye and protective heart. She had a way of bringing beauty to the world and was known for her ability to bring order out of chaos — pillows jumped to attention and tea towels folded themselves when she gusted by.”
Judith Rose Schonbak was born Aug. 31, 1940 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, she began her early career as an English teacher in Virginia before moving to Atlanta in 1974. She became a well-known business writer for such publications as Atlanta Magazine and Georgia Trend. “She was a keen interviewer and loved the process of interviewing and pulling together the story,” her family recalled.
As an artist, Schonbak worked in many media, including sewing, Japanese calligraphy, charcoal and painting in oil, watercolors and acrylics. “Her themes were almost always drawn from her deep love and appreciation of the natural world,” the obituary said.
At Buckhead’s Atlanta Artists Center, Schonbak served on the board four times, including two terms as president, in 2005-2005 and 2013-2014.
“She provided vision and leadership during two critical periods in AAC history as the organization faced both financial and leadership crises,” recalled the organization in a written statement. “She was a dynamic, charming and strong leader who gave of herself tirelessly and inspired all those who knew her. Her red hair and artsy dress made her instantly recognizable. She worked hard to know everyone’s name and naturally instilled enthusiasm for everything AAC.”
The AAC’s membership grew to over 500 under her leadership, and she oversaw the first national show, the 50th anniversary celebration, and the first interior renovation. She also chaired the AAC scholarship award given to a college senior art student.
Schonbak also befriended many artists and arts community figures, including Amy Spanier, owner of the IDEA Gallery in Chamblee and Sandy Springs.
“She was everything wonderful!” Spanier said in a Facebook memorial post. “… I only knew her for a year but it felt like we’d been friends forever.”
Schonbak combined her interest in writing and the arts in work for many local arts publications. She wrote program guides at the Cobb Energy Center and volunteered as editor of the Georgia Watercolor Society for a number of years. She interviewed Renzo Piano, architect of the High Museum addition and other major arts institutions, and such celebrities as William Shatner and Carol Burnett.
Schonbak joined the Reporter as a freelance writer in 2018, where she anchored a newly expanded arts section. Her coverage showed the breadth of her love for and knowledge about the arts, from the debut of the City Springs Theatre Company to an interview with bestselling novelist Mary Kay Andrews about a real-life Buckhead mystery, from the illusions of a magician visiting Dunwoody to the unveiling of hidden treasures at Brookhaven’s Oglethorpe University. A guide to all of her Reporter writing can be found here.
Schonbak is survived by her daughter, McKenzie Wren and son, Chris Wren; son-in-law Reuben Haller; grandsons, Elijah and Devon Haller, to whom she was known as GranRose; and daughter-in-law Cindy Wren. She also leaves behind four siblings — Diane Flanigan, Marc Schonbak, Michael Schonbak and Luann Hain — as well as seven nieces and nephews and numerous great-nieces and -nephews.
The AAC said there are plans to establish an arts foundation in Schonbak’s name. A private memorial service was planned.