The son of Sam & Eleanor, John grew up surrounded by their art and the countryside that inspired them. In the early 1940s, his father had designed a modernist, Usonian-style home and studio, which was built in a wooded area of Winfield, Illinois. John credits this environment, and the structure’s exposed building materials, simple geometry, and horizontal lines, as influences on his work.
After completing undergrad and masters degrees at Harvard, he returned to Chicago and worked out of his parents’ studio for a time. In the early 1970s, John & Molly bought a house in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, which they remodeled into their first home and studio. They have two children, Forest who is in business, and Serena, who is also an artist.
“The wooded area where John Himmelfarb grew up in Winfield, Ill., had a profound effect on the artist’s work. In that tangle of branches and leaves—and critters moving about within it—Himmelfarb found a primal source for imagery that would turn up again and again as a leitmotif in his compositions. Whether abstract, figurative or some mysteriously ambiguous place in between, his subject matter continuously threatens to revert back to nature, as if the artist were merely a gardener tending a temporary landscape that might turn wild and savage the minute he turns his back.“
— Michael Bonesteel, “Tracking the Backtracker: John Himmelfarb in the Garden”
Meetings in the Garden
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (1989)