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93-year-old artist of Pulp Fiction featured in exhibition at Norman Rockwell Museum
Gloria Stoll Karn, Girl and Snowball, 1940s. Oil on board. 24” x 20 ¼”. ©Gloria Stoll Karn. All rights reserved.

STOCKBRIDGE, MASS.- Norman Rockwell Museum presents Gloria Stoll Karn: Pulp Romance, an exhibition of works by Ms. Stoll Karn, one of just a few female illustrators working during the heyday of popular romance and dime store magazines of the 1940s. On view at the Museum from February 10 through June 10, 2018, the exhibition looks at the artistic contributions that Stoll Karn made to the pulp fiction industry, and her unexpected journey in a world previously assigned to male artists.

Born in 1923 to an artistic family in New York City, Gloria Stoll Karn graduated from the High School of Music and Art in 1940. After graduation, she took a position as an insurance agency clerk to help support the family following the death of her father. Discouraged that her efforts to find employment as an artist did not come to fruition, Stoll Karn attempted to burn and throw out her portfolio, leaving it by the trash chute in her apartment building. Instead of discarding it, the janitor shared it with Rafael DeSoto, a famous pulp artist who was also a resident there. Impressed by what he saw, DeSoto referred Stoll Karn to Popular Publications, one of the largest publishers of pulp magazines, who gave the young artist her start—a steady stream of assignments followed, allowing her to establish her professional career.

During the first half of the twentieth century, inexpensive fiction magazines were described as 'the pulps' for the wood pulp paper that they were printed on, in contrast to the glossies, which were published on high quality stock. Sensational subjects—from romance and western to crime and detective stories—were popular fare for the genre.

"During the 1940s, when Gloria Stoll Karn’s dynamic and sometimes provocative artworks were featured on the covers and pages of America's most popular pulp magazines, female illustrators more frequently worked in educational publishing or created published work focused on domesticity and themes relating to childhood or motherhood," notes exhibition curator Stephanie Haboush Plunkett. "We are honored to share and celebrate her inspiring story, and the exceptional artworks that connect us to another era in society and the history of popular art."

"As a freelance artist, I often traveled New York subways carrying wet canvases," notes Ms. Stoll Karn. "Starting in my teens, ideas for romantic scenes came easily as the influence of Hollywood's 'boy meets girl' movies was significant… Moving on to painting covers for mystery and detective magazines involved a radical conceptual switch. It was a surprise when I came up with gruesome ideas and concluded that within the human psyche, there is a shadow side of which we are often unaware. I am grateful that my work struck a balance which uncovered the dark side within along with the light side depicting the joys of romance."

Gloria Stoll Karn: Pulp Romance features more than 50 original artworks and vintage publications. Including student work, pencil on paper sketches, and final paintings, the exhibition explores Stoll Karn’s many images for romance, western, and detective stories, that appeared regularly in such titles as Black Mask, Dime Mystery, Detective Tales, All-Story Love, Romance, and Argosy. In addition, the artist's commentary is being featured on video in the exhibition galleries, and a catalogue featuring essays by Norman Rockwell Museum curators Jesse Kowalski and Stephanie Haboush Plunkett is available.

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