Gazing at the walls of the Mennello Museum of American Art, visitors to its newest exhibition won't just be looking at great works of art.
They'll be looking at a love story.
"I fell in love with her the moment I met her," says Michael Mennello of his wife Marilyn, who died in 2006. "Art was one of our common denominators."
The couple married in 1977 and through the years established a formidable art collection. Now, for the first time, the museum they co-founded is hosting an exhibition of the paintings and other artwork that decorate the Winter Park home they shared.
"Style & Grace: Masterworks of American Art from the Collection of Michael A. and Marilyn L. Mennello" opens Friday, Jan. 20, with a free reception from 6-8 p.m.
Mennello director Frank Holt asked Mennello if he could exhibit the work publicly over cocktails.
"He said, 'Are you in a good mood?'" Mennello recalls. "I said I'm always in a good mood."
Holt remembers Mennello's response to his proposal. "He looked at me and said, 'I'm not sure I can live without them.'"
But at least for the length of the exhibition, he will. The two men walked through the Mennello house, sizing up the myriad works.
"We went into the ballroom, he wanted all of those paintings," Mennello says. "We went into an anteroom, he wanted all those. We went into the living room, he wanted all of those, too. He wiped me out!"
Holt says he wanted many of the works to illustrate the depth of the Mennello collection, which encompasses impressionist, modernist and contemporary works. The couple are most often associated with the folk art of Earl Cunningham, a particular favorite of Marilyn's.
"They've got multiple works by some of the biggies," Holt says. For example, they have several sculptures by Deborah Butterfield.
"A lot of people are really, really happy to have one of her works," Holt says. "He has four."
Having that volume of work provides insight into the artist, Holt says. "For the majority of artists, you can't really read them from one work."
Holt says the Mennellos built their collections through a combination of intuition, reading and taking advice from other collectors.
"I hope people will come see what they were able to do," Holt says. "It's pretty amazing."
The exhibition opening will coincide with the debut of a lifesize bronze of Marilyn Mennello, which her husband has had placed near the Cunningham paintings she enjoyed so much.
"I really wanted to do something for my beloved wife, Marilyn," he says. "The last thing I can do for her is she'll be in the Cunningham gallery."
'Style & Grace'
•What: Masterworks of American Art from the Collection of Michael A. and Marilyn L. Mennello
•Where: Mennello Museum of American Art, 900 E. Princeton St., Orlando
•When: Opening reception 6-8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20; exhibit runs through March 18. Museum hours are 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-4:30 p.m. Sundays
•Admission: $4; $3 seniors; $1 students; children younger than 12 free
•Online: MennelloMuseum.comCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times