Rowena Morrill (1944-2021)

Rowena Morrill. Photo by and copyright © Andrew Porter

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 PlayboyHeavy MetalOmniArt 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.

Photo by and copyright © Andrew Porter

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a chained woman being attacked by a dragon, was entered in the 1981 Norwescon art show, one of the organizers wanted it withdrawn because it was degrading to women.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.]

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5 thoughts on “Rowena Morrill (1944-2021)

  1. A truly goddess of Art, she now returned to her home, the golden stars that shine in the magnificent sky…

  2. I went out on a date once with Rowena in Philadelphia in 1977 and she showed me her portrait of Isaac Asimov sitting in a chair with various symbols related to his writings emblazoned on the armrests. I was impressed! When I asked her if she wanted to go out again, she said she was moving to New York. This seemed unfortunate, as she was quite appealing and obviously talented.

    It wasn’t until after the news about Saddam Hussein having a couple of her paintings, that I found out about her success as an illustrator of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I found out her email address and contacted her: At the time she was living somewhere along the Hudson north of New York City. There was no need to mention Hussein. I just congratulated her on her success, which had seemed to be a forgone conclusion considering her talent. Unfortunately, didn’t have the wherewithal to buy a painting by her, nor the sense to even buy the laser prints she was selling at the time. 🙁

    I am shocked and saddened to just learn of her passing. In looking at some of her works, a found one of Charon, with Kerberos in the background, taking a boatload of people across the river Styx. A beautiful girl has her hand outstretched towards Rowena’s signature. It might well be Rowena herself…

  3. This is well written obituary/bio! Thank you for this! I had been living with Rowena for the last 18 years or so, and I’m still getting used to the fact that she’s no longer with us.
    I’m currently in the process of putting a new book of her artwork together. I would like permission to use this in this new book.

    Thank you,
    Kim DeMulder

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