Eye on love: Arts Council presents ‘Paper Romance’

The Milford Arts Council is embracing the spirit of love across all aspects of the arts in February, highlighted by the council’s latest exploration of the visual arts, a pop-up art exhibit titled “Paper Romance,” a collection of original romance novel cover illustrations.

The exhibit, which runs Feb. 15 to 18 at the Firehouse Gallery on Naugatuck Avenue, is a celebration of a time in the late 20th century where imagery was not generated from a computer nor consumed on a phone, but rather constructed by the creative process between author, art director and illustrator, published in the print medium and consumed by a diverse age group. Each illustration is the pre-press original, is signed by the artist and is representative of collections from authors that include; Janet Dailey, Kathleen Korbel, Zeke Masters & Nora Roberts, to name just a few.

George H. Jones, a Wilton resident who died in 1993, was a Chicago-based commercial illustrator, a student at the American Academy of Art, a beneficiary of the G.I. Bill of Rights, and a Korean War veteran who moved his family east in the 1970s to break into the New York market. Among his many clients were Reader's Digest and Reader's Digest Condensed Books, Reuben H. Donnelly Corporation, Parker Pen, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Magazine. As his style matured, he worked primarily with publishing companies, including Dell, Simon & Schuster, Harlequin Romance, Pocket Books, and Silhouette Intimate Moments, defining the quintessential couple’s embrace.

The show is a sampling of Jones’ work, and has been arranged by his son, Doug Jones of Milford. “I grew up in a household of art and held onto his collection,” Doug Jones said, “uncertain of what to do with the several hundred pieces, as many had personal connections — often my siblings and I were models for background figures — so we have stored them for years.”

When Doug joined the Milford Arts Council as treasurer, he was brainstorming with the board about ways to raise money for the center and Doug brought up the concept of Paper Romance. Doug owns the collection with his older sister, Leslie, and his younger brother, Steve. Both will be participating in the show, Leslie traveling from Chapel Hill, N.C., and Steve coming in from Stamford.

“To understand the significance of the illustrations requires a bit of background on the history of the romance novel genre,” Doug explained. “Romance novels have been around for centuries, from Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice, 1813) to Janet Dailey (Calder Pride, 1999), so it is a familiar genre.”

From a statistical perspective, at the turn of the century, more than half of all mass-market and trade paperbacks sold in North America were romance novels, accounting for annual revenues of approximately $1 billion in sales of 182 million books. More than 2,000 titles were released that year alone, which amounts to 5.5 books per day, according to Romance Writers of America, website at rwa.org.

The pop-up exhibit is a playful exploration of the genre. Many of the illustrations are represented in a series, with the original sketches presented in addition to the final cover to demonstrate the thought process of the artist and the role of the art director.

The opening reception on Thursday, Feb. 15, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., will feature a showing of the 2015 documentary Love Between the Covers, billed as “an entertaining and inspiring look into the billion-dollar romance fiction industry and its powerhouse of female writers and readers.”

There also will be wines of the era, and an informal Q & A with the artist’s family.

The exhibit will continue Friday, Feb. 16, from 5 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 17, from noon to 4 p.m. On Saturday afternoon, the city’s Poet Laureate, Mick Theebs and members of The Written Word, a local writers’ group, will hold an informal critique of the award winning Best Long Contemporary Series Romance, 1992, titled A Rose for Maggie.

The show will culminate on Sunday, Feb. 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Center for the Arts on Railroad Avenue, with a silent auction for four sets of artworks. A set is composed of the original illustration, the artist’s sketch, the book jacket press proof, and a copy of the book.

All proceeds from the auction will support the Milford Arts Council. Admission into the exhibit is free.

For further information, contact the Milford Arts Council, 40 Railroad Avenue South, 203-878-6647 or go to milfordarts.org.