Harlequin: The Heart of a Woman - Cover Art 1949-2009

ETA 31 May 2009 10EST: Harlequin’s blog has been sending folks over to see the review and the swag contest, so to give those folks a chance, I’m re-opening the contest for another 24 hours. This time, there will be TWO bags, so two winners will take home a big bucket o’swag. Ready set go!

This afternoon I went to the press premiere of the Harlequin cover art gallery display, better known as “The Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1949 – 2009. The show opens tonight and runs through 12 June, and is open for folks to see at the Openhouse Gallery, 201 Mulberry Street in SoHo.

The Curator of the exhibit, Elizabeth Semmelhack, was kind enough to take me on a brief tour of some of her favorite parts of the exhibit. Bullet points ahoy!

- Elizabeth’s favorite part of the exhibit is “The Lure of the Exotic”  – but to understand why that’s her favorite section, you have to see the section leading up to it.


- Women during WWII were empowered – jobs! workforce! your country needs you! Rosie! There’s rivets! Get to it! – then, after WWII, they were all laid off, pushed back into the domestic sphere, and removed from that professional life with stunning speed.

- If you look at the doctor/nurse covers from the 50’s, there’s a lot of professional interest. The women are almost always shown in their work role.

- There are some powerful images, like the Byzantine Christ-like image of a doctor complete with 90-degree angled jaw floating in a halo of light above a hospital.

- And alongside that image are women and men in professional spheres, interacting in the workplace. The romance, says Elizabeth, was the every day interaction of women and men in professional settings. It wasn’t about the rescue or the sweeping her off her feet. The imagery was professional and collegial.

- Then, in “The Lure of the Exotic,” the images show the progress from nurse in a local hospital to doctor in a remote, uncivilized location. The women were the doctors—they were already adventurous and in these covers achieve the most powerful position. They’re outside of the house and home, they’re in control and in some position of authority—“…and only that far away from civilization can women be doctors?” I asked. “Yup,” Elizabeth confirmed. Women doctors were in the wild.

- The passionate clinch didn’t start showing up until the 70’s – a response to the sexual ambivalence of the time.

So, does Elizabeth read romance? Turns out: no. She hardly has any time for pleasure reading of any kind, but she’s a huge non fiction history buff, and she loves reading history books. She did read a few Harlequins as she prepared for the exhibit – and from idea and concept to finished product was the fast-paced work of a few months – and really enjoyed them, she said. She read a Blaze and said, and I quote, “Oh, my gosh.”

So, want to see more? I put up a photo album of the exhibit with additional captions. Enjoy – and thank you to Harlequin for inviting me.

I was given an extra goodybag of swag – pictured here. There’s books, bookmarks, a calendar, and some really cool notepads. Want one? Leave a comment, and you’re entered to win. I’ll pick one comment at random.


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    kittyfischer says:

    That swag looks seriously awesome.  I’m pretty sure my mom had this book when I was little, but the way the lighthouse is pressing into the *cough* softness of the sky escaped me… thank god. :D

  2. 2

    Let me preface my comment in all honesty: I’ve been the lucky recipient of two gifts from you guys in recent months. So please count me out as a contender for the swag.

    Having said that, the swag is simply eye-popping WOW!! Hope they either do a sale of the items as a whole or have an item or two at RWA as giveaways.

    I have the 100-year cover book by Mills & Boon, so I had an idea that Harlequin would be putting on a tasteful show, but this exceeds my expectations. Very well done, indeed!

    Sarah, is this going to be a traveling art show, covering major cities in the U.S. and Toronto?

  3. 3
    SonomaLass says:

    I loved the lighthouse cover too!  Thanks so much, SB Sarah, for tweeting and posting these.  The gallery looks gorgeous, and the displays awesome.

    It’s nice to be able to celebrate covers with both praise and snark.  So many all at once = extra awesome goodness.

  4. 4
    Rechelle says:

    I found the slide show very intriguing- I am amazes at how much work, thought and   study study Elizabeth put into this exhibit- it must have been fascinating – I love that kind of background and history about evolving ideas, perceptions, social, economic and
    gender roles – even just the fashion, the uniforms, the business suits of women –  all that is so interesting- you were so lucky to be there-  and I probably wouldn’t give up the swag bag as easily as you’re offering to-  thanks so much for thinking of your readers and taking pictures for our enjoyment!

  5. 5
    Rechelle says:

    my apologies for all the mis-spellings and odd sentences- when I was posting I could only read half of what I was writing-

  6. 6
    Phyllis says:

    Swag? Schwing! sign me up!

  7. 7
    Lisa J says:

    As someone who still owns a lot of old Harlequins, I love the covers on these books.  Sometimes they are so bad they are good.

    Great pictures!

  8. 8
    Tessa K. says:

    The swag looks awesome, but I am really jealous of the exhibit – I am finishing up my thesis on the return to the domestic sphere after WWII, and I would love to look at the covers from that era!

  9. 9
    alia says:

    swag swag delicious swag

    present97: no, really, i don’t need *97*… one would do…

  10. 10

    Oh mygoodness I love vintage romance covers soooooo much.

    The doctor/nurse romance covers (especially the “lure of the exotic” ones) remind me of old school Cherry Ames.

    Is that a romance cover calendar? Because if it is…. I need to find myself one.

  11. 11
    Kate says:

    What a fascinating exhibit! Any idea if it’s travelling? I’d love to take a look at it in person – it looks like an engrossing exhibition, not to mention well-researched and presented. I’d never thought about cover art reflecting society – must put on my analytical hat more often.

  12. 12
    Courtney says:

    Coolest blog swag I’ve ever seen! I’d love to win.

    Thanks for the tour of the exhibit too.

  13. 13
    Lori says:

    Swag? Sign me up.

    I’m actually going to be in NYC, twice, in the next week but I’ll only be passing through and I won’t have time to go see the exhibit. It’s totally killing me because it looks awesome.

  14. 14
    Lorraine says:

    Wow, awesome swag!  Please pick me!

    SB Sarah, thanks for posting the photos. I love the giant Fabio cover.

  15. 15
    Jamie says:

    Oooo.  Swag!  I’m in.

  16. 16
    Karlie says:

    Two give aways ago I was the comment before the winner, the last give away I was the comment after the winner.  This time I should be just right.

  17. 17
    Kerry D. says:

    The exhibition looks totally cool. I wish I could go and see it. Thanks so much for sharing it with the rest of it.

    I’d love to be in for the swag, but understand if you don’t want to post overseas.

  18. 18
    Erin says:

    This sounds so cool!  I’ll definitely be seeing the show this weekend.  I bet this was a really fun exhibit to work on as a curator.

    my verification words are youre26—not true, but how flattering!

  19. 19
    Ahlison says:

    I’ll never win swag when I post to make a correction.  Sarah – it is not a Mountie being attacked by gas-mask man… Red Serge, but wearing a bearskin hat – not the Dudley Do-Right Mountie Hat.  Looks like it’s a Royal Guard of some sort in England – judging by the sketch below.

  20. 20
    Deb Kinnard says:

    Swag aye, an it please ye, my pretties.


    Going back from pirate mode into medieval now. Not sure what hit me.

  21. 21
    Keira says:

    It’s swag of course I’m in! lol :D So jealous, I want to go see this… any Floridians wanting a road trip?

  22. 22
    MamaNice says:

    The clip of the cover photo shoot in process was interesting it looked like the models/couple were getting it on at a local high school av room…maybe they were…

  23. 23
    ruth skerjanec says:

    Such cool old covers, I would love the SWAG!!  Thanks for the chance.

  24. 24
    Angie G says:

    So cool!  I wish I was in NYC so I could see the exhibit in person.  Thanks so much for sharing the pictures.

  25. 25
    Sarah W says:

    I followed this showing on Twitter—man I would have liked to have been there! For some odd reason I always thought tomance covers would be really BIG, I don’t know why, but it seemed to me they would be. Got to be big to contain all that WIN. So seeing the little squares was sort of a let-down, but the swag is pretty awesome!

  26. 26
    PK says:

    The covers are fab O with a capital O.  Thanks for sharing the pics and the info on the exhibit.

  27. 27
  28. 28
    Obskuretris says:

    women are doctors in the wild!

  29. 29
    Ella says:

    That was a seriously awesome picture tour.  I really enjoyed it!

  30. 30
    Wendy says:

    I would give my eye-teeth to see this exhibit.  Harlequin should make it a traveling exhibit!  Hey, there are galleries in Los Angeles.  Just sayin’.

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top