The LOOK OF LOVE exhibit has opened in Birmingham, Alabama, at the Birmingham Museum of Art. I was fortunate enough to be there for the opening and the first couple of days of the show, which runs until the end of June. For museum information, click here.
At one of the latter, the Bass Museum of Art’s gift shop in Miami Beach, Florida, it was seen by Dr David Skier, an eye surgeon from Birmingham, who thought his wife would enjoy it. One of the things he noticed in the book was a sidebar on Lover’s Eyes -- eye miniatures – with a photo of a ring in the “collection of the author”.
I have to confess that the stories came very easily, which does not always happen to a writer. But the eyes drew me in, and I chose the most eloquent, in my opinion, and wrote away. My goal was to illuminate how these objects of love and affection came about, what they meant in a society with mores quite unlike our own, who the artists might be and why they painted them, what the symbolism involved meant to people in that era, and, yes, the aura they held of clandestine love tokens was very appealing to me, as a writer of historical romance.
Pippa and William are star-crossed lovers (not to be confused with Pippa Middleton and Prince William J) who meet as children, fall in love, but cannot marry because of dynastic “rules” governing marriage; Ursula Engleheart is the story of a prolific painter of miniatures (an estimated 5,000 of them in his lifetime) who paints eyes for clandestine lovers but doesn’t sign them to avoid trouble with his patrons, their parents; I Mourn Your Loss tells a sad tale of two of the many young men who perished in the Napoleonic Wars and how all that remains of one of them is the lover’s eye he gave to his fiancée; My Mother, Mariah Norcross is another bereavement story that also illustrates the perils of epidemics in that Georgian era and its horrific costs to families; and, finally, the last story, of what was found in Great-Aunt Lavinia’s Jewelry Box by careless heirs, speculates on the possible unfortunate fate of many an eye miniature.
Nan Skier talks about the collection here. Scroll down half a page for the presentation.
There are special events surrounding the Look of Love which can be found on the museum’s web site here.
Tom Sully paints portrait miniatures, amongst other painting genres and has lately begun to do eye miniatures. I asked him, “How do you do this? Isn’t elephant ivory [which was used for most Georgian eye miniatures] endangered?” He replied that the Russians are selling woolly mammoth – yes! woolly mammoth! – ivory and that is what he is using. Not endangered. Extinct. But not endangered. I saw some samples of his work and it is very fine, indeed. Check him out here.