Renowned fantasy and sf artist Rowena Morrill, who just last year received the Lifetime Achievement World Fantasy Award, died February 11 at the age of 76. Popular with fans, she also won the British Fantasy Award for Best Artist in 1984, and was a four-time Hugo finalist for Best Professional Artist. Her professional peers made her a 1999 Chesley Award nominee for the cover of The Garden of the Stone.
She received her first professional commission in the mid-Seventies from Charles Volpe at Ace Books to illustrate a romance cover. Morrill’s first design for a horror novel was Jane Parkhurst’s Isobel (1977). During her career she produced dozens of covers and many interior illustrations. Her paintings appeared in magazines such as Playboy, Heavy Metal, Omni, Art Scene International, and Print Magazine.
Her monographs included The Fantastic Art of Rowena (a 1984 Best Non Fiction Book Hugo nominee), Imagine (in France), Imagination (in Germany), and The Art of Rowena. Her work has also been included in several anthologies, including Tomorrow and Beyond and Infinite Worlds.
Rowena Morrill’s entry in Jane Frank’s Science Fiction And Fantasy Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary compared the artist to Frazetta for her “strong, bold, and frequently sensual artwork” and for producing work “featuring heroic and usually erotic renderings of barely-clad, well-muscled warriors and maidens.”
Frank also credits Morrill for opening the door for other women to break into the fantasy art market, however, at the same time her subject matter led her into conflict with fandom’s growing feminist awareness. When her cover painting for andrew j. offutt’s King Dragon, featuring a chained woman being attacked by a dragon, was entered in the 1981 Norwescon art show, one of the organizers wanted it withdrawn because it was degrading to women. It remained on display, partly because the committee would have had to enforce the same standard against other works as well.
Nor was that the last time King Dragon made news. After Iraq’s Saddam Hussein fell from power in 2003, televised reports about Saddam’s palaces and residences revealed two of Rowena’s paintings hanging on the wall of a secluded Baghdad townhouse. (The other was Shadows Out of Hell.) Rowena told a reporter for the New York Daily News, “I would give anything to get them back. I am so upset that they are there.” She had sold the two paintings years before — one went for $20,000 to a Japanese collector — and hadn’t heard about them since.
Rowena was named Chicon 7’s Artist Guest of Honor; unfortunately, health problems prevented her from attending the 2012 Worldcon. She also was the 2017 World Fantasy Convention Guest of Honor.
[Thanks to James Davis Nicoll and Andrew Porter for the story.]