Born in 1937, Robert Schnepf was educated at New York City’s High School of Industrial Art, graduating in 1954. After a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy as photographer from 1954 to 1958, he entered the three-year program at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, completing the program in 1961. He worked in advertising art studios part-time during the school year and during the summer vacations.
He then traveled to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, from which he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1963. By 1965 Schnepf was providing illustrations for underground publications like the “Berkeley Barb,” the “East Village Other” and the “San Francisco Oracle,” psychedelic postcards for shops and posters for music clubs. Ron Thelin (the co-owner of the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street) invited Schnepf to design a poster advertising the 1967 Summer of Love. Thelin provided the concept of depicting St. Anthony as a celestial constellation on the poster, which was widely admired.
Schnepf had designed postcards for rock concert promoter Chet Helms of the Family Dog. The “Summer of Love” poster led to a commission from Helms for a poster for a concert in Denver, followed by six posters for concerts at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in 1967 and 1968. Later in 1968 Helms printed his posters only in black and white, which Schnepf declined to do, preferring to work in color. Schnepf continued to design posters for other events, album covers, T-shirts and book jackets and created a comic book for the band Canned Heat.
After spending a year on spiritual hiatus as the art director of the Krishna Yoga Community and Back to Godhead magazine, by the '70s, Schnepf returned to commercial art, rediscovering the airbrush and honing a photo-real style which he applied to t-shirts, book jackets, murals, album covers, and even musical instruments. As always, he continued creating new posters as well.
During the 1970s he developed a photo-realist style using an airbrush and created more book and record jackets, posters, murals and packaging. He became involved with a spiritual group, which gave him the name “Raphael,” a name he has since adopted. Schnepf then moved to Eureka, Calif. His friend and fellow poster artist Alton Kelley suggested that he get acquainted with Savoy Studios, a glass studio that had been founded in Eureka by Dan Legree and Susanne Grauten in 1972.
Legree helped Schnepf to learn to paint glass, leading to work for Savoy on a regular basis, a relationship that has continued today. Legree and Grauten moved Savoy Studios to Portland in 1986 and Schnepf followed. In addition to art glass work for Savoy, his design and illustration clients have included Intel, Nike, Tektronix and the Grateful Dead.
His most recent work has focused on fine art and glass painting. In addition to commercial art, Schnepf teaches workshops in airbrush and glass painting, illustration and lettering. He continues to live in the Portland area.