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Morrill, Rowena

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist.

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(1944-2021) American artist who often signed herself simply Rowena (works signed ­Rowina Morrill seem to represent typographical errors); she and Victoria Poyser were among the earliest women who had a major impact on sf and Fantasy art. After leaving college to marry a military man, Morrill returned to school to enter the MFA program of the Tyler School of Arts, though she left without obtaining a degree. She then moved to New York City to launch a career, beginning with her cover for Jane Parkhurst's Isobel (1977), which shows a naked woman holding up a chalice for a demonic Monster. She demonstrated the ability to handle sf tropes with her covers for a 1978 reprint of Harry Harrison's Skyfall (1976), a straightforward depiction of a Spaceship in Earth orbit; and for a 1979 edition of Robert Sheckley's Dimension of Miracles (1968), wherein a man confronts a Dinosaur wearing a bow who has emerged from a space warp. However, she became better known for painting covers for works of Heroic Fantasy in a manner that recalled Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo; one representative example is her cover for Ellen Kushner's anthology Basilisk (anth 1980), showing a topless, sword-wielding woman confronting a naked male wraith with a two-horned unicorn in the background.

Morrill's covers could display great variety and creativity as well: including the 1979 reprint of Bob Shaw's Night Walk (1967), with a blind man staggering toward an array of floating eyes; her cover for Theodore Sturgeon's The Stars Are the Styx (coll 1979), featuring the venerable author as a boatsman on the river Styx; and her cover for Philip K Dick's The Divine Invasion (1981), foregrounding a baby drifting in space. Her work also attracted attention for her unusual artistic techniques, as she employed a combination of acrylics and oils rather than one or the other, finally coated with a high-gloss glaze, and she cannily promoted herself by prominently placing her signature, "Rowena", on her covers. As her reputation grew, she published at least three significant compilations of her artwork, The Fantastic Art of Rowena (graph 1983), The Art of Rowena (graph 1983 portfolio) and The Art of Rowena (graph 2000).

Morrill worked steadily throughout the 1980s, and while her pace of production slowed in the 1990s, she remained a prominent figure: her cover for Anne McCaffrey's The Dolphins of Pern (1994), depicting a man on a fire lizard next to a figure riding on a dolphin, was later reused as the cover of Robin Roberts's biography Anne McCaffrey: A Life with Dragons (2007); other later work included a subdued cover for Victoria Strauss's The Garden of the Stone (1999), which features a woman in oriental dress placing a flower in a vase.

Morrill was named the Artist Guest of Honour at the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago (see Worldcon), but could not attend due to health issues, which forced her semi-retirement from around this time . She received the World Fantasy Award for life achievement in 2020. [PN/JG/GW]

Rowena A Morrill

born Mississippi: 14 September 1944

died 11 February 2021



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