First things first!
This exhibit is open next weekend only, February 16, 17, and 18, from 12-5pm at the AOY Art Center at Yardley, PA. So if you want to go, next weekend is it. For more information, visit AOYARTS.org.
I drove up to see the Ennis exhibit Covering Romance, as it is majorly relevant to my interests but also a really interesting juxtaposition of art, specifically oil painting, popular culture, and romance history. Since I’ve been looking at a lot of romance history through the Romantic Times Rewind podcasts, seeing the original artwork that created some iconic and memorable old skool romances seemed logical. I wasn’t even the farthest traveler, either: I met a lovely person who’d flown in from Duluth just for the show! (Hi!!)
The Covering Romance exhibit is in an historic stone house, but there is a lot of art to see. I learned from talking to John Ennis and to the AOY Director, Bette Souvinee, that Mr. Ennis had taken measurements and photographs of the rooms, then used Photoshop to arrange the paintings. This seems like a Very Obvious compliment, but the way the colors of the art flowed from one to the other showed how much thought went into displaying them as a group, as sets of four or in pairs, and individually.
And speaking of colors. Y’all. My goodness.
I spent a lot of time in front of that wall.
Lush and luminous.
Swans absolutely freaking out? HECK YEAH. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s Fabio in both images.
I overheard John Ennis talking to other guests and one gentleman asked him about how much it cost to have Fabio pose for him. Fabio, it turns out, was first painted by Mr. Ennis when Fabio was just starting out in modeling in New York, and was about $65 per hour.
The way the process worked was also interesting, though I knew parts of it: the models would be hired and dressed, and Mr. Ennis would do art direction for poses and positions while a photographer took pictures. The photographs would then be used to do the oil painting. Then came Photoshop, and Mr. Ennis mentioned that he’d done several hundred oil paintings, but more than a thousand digital paintings for cover art.
There was also a lot of John DeSalvo.
This is Starlight Child by Nancy Cane. All of the paintings were for sale, and other guests I spoke with had already made their shopping list of which ones they wanted to buy. Most were in the $300-400 range, though there were some smaller ones for $150 and $75.
This is Ascent to the Stars by Christine Michels. Y’all need to see the description:
A talented young actress, Coventry Pearce had played more roles than she could remember. But none had prepared her for the part of a real-life heroine wrapped up in a daring rescue mission – and caught in the delicious embrace of a tempting stranger.
For Trace, the assignment should have been simple. Any Thadonian warrior could take a helpless female to safety in exchange for valuable information against his diabolical enemies. But as fiery as a supernova, as radiant as a sun, Coventry was no mere woman. Even as he raced across the galaxy to save his doomed world, Trace battled to deny a burning desire that would take him to the heavens and beyond.
Oh, yeah. Space romances.
There was a mantle of dudes .
There were a number of what were called Futuristic romances. This is Star Crossed by Saranne Dawson:
Rowena, a weaver of enchanted tapestries, is sent to assassinate Zachary MacTavesh, an enemy leader who prefers to conquer damsels rather than cities, and finds a stunningly seductive rival in the new target of his passions.
Not even magic can help Rowena foresee that she will be sent to assassinate an enemy leader. Her duty is clear–until the seductive beauty falls under the spell of the man she is supposed to kill. Soon she learns that Zachary’s reputation as a war-mongering barbarian is undeserved.
Heroine’s CV: assassinations, weaving magic tapestries. Amazing.
This is Promise Me Forever by Cara Miles, in which a debutante doesn’t want to marry any of the dudes, and especially not that one, a privateer named Hawke.
Here’s a big bowl of yikes:
There were also a lot of gladiolus flowers, jewels that sparkled, and in one case, a charm bracelet:
This is Silver Angel, but not the one with Chantelle by Johanna Lindsey. This Silver Angel is by Phoebe Fitzjames and the heroine’s name is Bridey. Bridey, you might want to warn that dude the charm bracelet’s about to clock him.
These were some of my favorites:
That’s The Poor Relation by Marion Chesney, aka M.C. Beaton.
I also love how some images have large single color areas for the cover copy and title, and some have a lot of space above or behind the couple. These two got a really nice parlor!
I took this from an angle to avoid the glare of the light:
That’s Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton, and the book is peeking out on the far side of the painting on the mantel.
Alongside, or nearby, or on a window sill were copies of the books or cover flats -remember those? Publishers used to have cardstock cover flats, which were the cover before it was folded around the paperback book. I had one for my first book in 2009, but by 2011 I don’t think they were as common.
This one tickled me:
This is The Scarlet Thread by Becky Lee Weyrich.
I had originally thought this was one of the riverboat gambler romances that were popular for a time, but I was wrong. The summary mentions “Sisters of Sin,” and the cover copy I found reads,
Desiree La Fleur was full of hope as she journeyed to New Orleans to improve conditions in the red light district. But she is mistaken for a shady lady, thrown in jail and is now at the mercy of Roman St. Vincent–who is not so sure Desiree is innocent.
So: Sisters of Sin, huh? Let’s have a closer look:
The Sisters of Sin have COOL HOSIERY!! Look at the stripes!
One last cover:
This is Passion’s Sweet Revenge by Jo Goodman, and I love how exasperated the figure in the upper left is. However, I don’t think you should go to bone town in the snow by a creek bed in winter, but I’m always cold, so what do I know?
I love romance novel oil paintings, and love to see which ones are on eBay every now and again. I also have the original oil painting for The Lion and the Lark on my office wall:
So seeing an entire exhibit of them was delightful for me, even though some of the imagery made my eyebrows climb right into my hairline. So many of the hallmarks of old romance covers on so many individual paintings: fuchia! Coral! Impossibly long, voluminous hair! Erect things in the background! Swans and horses freaking tf out! Shirts tucked in but wide open! Mullets all the way down! And plenty of DeSalvo.
If you can make the trip to see the exhibit next weekend, I recommend it. It’s a small space, but there’s a lot to see with paintings everywhere, and I went through each room at least twice. It’s a unique collection, especially because it captures a style of cover art and a style of romance fiction that are very much of the past, but the images are so detailed and painted so that they seem to glow.