Robert Ernst Marx and Luther Hughes
BOA Editions, a not-for-profit publisher of poetry and other literary works, recently released a debut collection of poetry from Seattle-based poet, Luther Hughes which features the 1992 painting, Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave by Robert Ernst Marx, on the cover.
Robert’s connection to BOA has been established for some time. Founded in 1976 by the late poet, editor, and translator Al Poulin, Jr., BOA is located in Rochester, NY, the city Robert called home with his wife Francie until he passed away in 2020. Robert’s studio used to be located in the Anderson Alley building which also houses BOA. He was closely connected to Al and his wife Boo and the work being done at BOA, so much so that he donated the use of select artworks to be used on the covers of their publications.
“It has been a long and fulfilling collaboration over many years with Robert’s work appearing on several of our book covers. Robert has also donated art over the years to BOA’s only fundraiser called Dine and Rhyme and his support was always forthcoming in any way that was needed,” said Boo Poulin, honorary vice chair of the BOA board of directors. “He and Al did at least one series together where Robert did the artwork and printing and Al wrote the poems. After Al died, Robert created a bronze angel with lines from one of Al’s poems for his gravestone. A gesture beyond generous and so beautiful.”
Curious about how Robert’s work was selected for the cover of A Shiver in the Leaves, Main Street Arts directors Bradley and Sarah Butler asked BOA Editions executive director Peter Conners about Robert’s connection to BOA and the process of selecting artwork for the covers of publications.
Peter met Robert when his studio was located in the Anderson Alley Arts building. “I would visit him in his studio and Robert would come into BOA. I admired him a lot and enjoyed the opportunities to talk with him,” said Conners. “The man himself was soft spoken, gentle, and sweet. The work you see from him has a darkness, a heaviness, and a mystery to it. There is an interesting gap between those things—the man and the artwork he made—that I found compelling.”
In regard to the selection of artwork for the covers, Peter explained that BOA has established a database of artwork for authors to select from. “The visual art library is a cool local arts thing we do and gives Rochester artists a chance to have their artwork on the covers of books that end up all over the world. We can help support the local arts community through this library.”
The process of selecting Robert’s piece for the cover of A Shiver in the Leaves wasn’t immediate for Luther Hughes. When talking with Bradley and Sarah about the selection, he said was looking for a Seattle-based artist for the cover because the book is very reflective of the city. Knowing of Robert’s strong connection there through his representation at Davidson Galleries from 1970 to 2014, the Butlers that Luther’s selection was because of Robert’s ties to Seattle. But it was simply a coincidence.
“I am surprised by that! I had no idea of his connection to Seattle,” said Luther. “Now hearing about it, it may be possible that I had come across Robert’s work here in the past without even knowing it!”
Luther said that with time winding down and needing to make a selection, he decided to choose from BOA’s visual art library. He went through the database twice and narrowed it down to Robert’s piece from there.
“I wanted the reader to be drawn to the cover and think about how it relates to the book,” said Luther. “Robert’s work was doing exactly what I wanted my work to do but in a visual format. My book deals with duality and tension in duality, for example love and depression. The cover itself illustrates tension—something that is more prominent but on the flip side has darkness.”
Peter Conners echoed a similar sentiment when discussing Robert’s work and its pairing with collections of poetry at BOA. “His work speaks very strongly to poets…It’s what he produced visually but also what is not there that speaks so loudly. It’s the same with poets—they try using the fewest amount of words while conveying the biggest amount of information. It implies mystery. There is a much larger impact than just the words on the page and I feel it is very much the same with Robert’s work.”
Luther continues to be reminded of the first time he saw the painting and book come together and is excited each time he sees the book. “I am able to enter the book the same way each time with excitement about the cover and the book working together,” he said. “This painting is along for the ride for my first book and I am thankful for Robert to have painted this. I feel honored to be forever in conversation with his work because of this cover.”
A Shiver in the Leaves is available through the Main Street Arts owned bookstore Sulfur Books, through BOA Editions, and on Bookshop. You can also view a copy of the book in the Robert and Francie Marx Art Resource Library on the second floor of Main Street Arts.