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At Velvet Museum, Get in Touch with Kitsch

Velvet paintings sold cheap from vans at roadside stands across the country are now achieving loftier status. There's a new coffee-table book and a museum — the Velveteria — in Portland, Ore., featuring the fuzzy velvet art.

Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin serve as curators for the 300 velvet museum pieces, which include paintings of Rambo, Bruce Lee and the rock band KISS as well as luminescent unicorns and fluorescent matadors. Baldwin says contrary to what people might think, in the world of velvet, Elvis is not king.

In fact, visitors who opt to pass through the pink velvet curtains at the museum's entrance will find that Jesus is the figure most often depicted on velvet.

"We have a whole shrine over here with Jesus [and] Mary. We have black Jesus," Baldwin says.

The shrine is a wall filled with about 50 classic religious images, a beatific Liberace and other offbeat icons.

"I saw Sammy Davis Jr. in this painting, hence we have Sammy Davis Jesus," Baldwin explains.

In second place among velvet painters are naked ladies copied from Playboy centerfolds, the curators say. For example, there's a naked woman standing by a glass table with her hand in a goldfish bowl.

Other familiar faces on display include Jack Kevorkian, E.T., Mr. T and multiple Michael Jacksons. And if people ask nicely, they can touch the portraits, Anderson says.

"You know there's the velvet and then there's the velveteen," she explains. "And the velvet's plushier."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Harriet Baskas