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November 23, 2014

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Couple’s collection inspired by the art of kissing

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Home News

Kissing art literature and figurines can be found on display in Howard and Helene Moore’s home in Henderson.

Kissing art collection

Howard and Helene Moore lead a tour of the 800-piece kissing art collection in their home for members of the Henderson Senior Center on Wednesday. Launch slideshow »

The sign "Lover's Inn" sits above the door of Howard and Helene Moore's Henderson home. Inside, one finds the description could not be more apt.

Embracing sculptures, photos and paintings adorn every room. Glass doors close to reveal two lovers locking lips. Under foot are rugs depicting a smooch. Outside, two giant metal lips meet, and on the table? Hershey's kisses.

Touted as the largest in the world, the 800-piece kissing collection embodies the Moores' affectionate relationship, and they offered a glimpse of their Anthem home to Henderson Senior Center members Wednesday, just in time for Valentine's Day. Visitors learned how the collection sprouted from a single gift, as well as the personal stories behind some of the couple's most cherished pieces. Naturally, they left with a warm feeling.

"I just wish it had more exposure," said Ginnie Jones, 79. "It's such an upbeat thing in today's downbeat news. It's an inspiration for people to love, care and give."

Drawn by curiosity, Doris Spaur, 80, called the trip one of the most beautiful ones she has taken with the Senior Center.

"It's just remarkable — 57 years of marriage," she said. "It shows how love expresses itself in that time."

The collection began when the Moores, now 77 and 78, could barely afford furniture, living above the Baltimore toy store Howard ran in 1952. A customer who arrived for ice cream would often spot them stealing kisses in the kitchen, and soon gave them a kissing Dutch boy and girl. When their son shattered it while moving the TV, Helene Moore sought a replacement.

"I found another one and another one, and that's how it started," she said.

By the 1980s, the Moores were living in New York, and Howard Moore worked for Toys R Us. By then they were able to commission their own art and buy much more than porcelain figurines.

"We went all out," Helene Moore said.

Among Helene Moore's favorites are the works commissioned by Giancarlo Impiglia, who painted a modernist couple kissing for Valentine's Day. He later made a cutout of the couple called "Just Another Kiss." It stands near a World War II-era picture by Alfred Eisenstaedt of a returning sailor planting one on a nurse.

On the opposite wall hangs a painting, originally thought by the Paris Museum to be a Marc Chagall. The artistic forger was later jailed and interviewed on "60 Minutes." The Moores knew it was a fake, but wanted it anyway.

"He was bragging about what he did," Helene Moore recalled.

As the Moores moved through 17 homes in the ensuing years, the art followed them. How did they move?

"Very carefully," Helene Moore said. They built crates to measure for the art. "It was one expensive project."

Although they initially only showed the collection to acquaintances and friends, word eventually spread.

Elle magazine featured the couple in 1986. Others soon followed, like the New York Times reviewer who derisively told the couple the art was not "a collection." They disagreed, as do their children.

Even the Moores' oldest grandchildren have pieces of the collection in their homes.

"They love the art," Helene Moore said. "Grandma's toys. The grandchildren grew up with it."

Before the move to the Moores' current home, she allowed her oldest grandchildren, who were nearly grown, to select pieces they wanted.

"It's amazing to see what young people take," Helene Moore said. "My granddaughter, who's now a graphic artist, took black and white photographs."

Her grandson, whom she called "very much a male guy," took some frillier porcelain pieces, some of which the Moores purchased when he accompanied them shopping as a young boy.

Although they always find room for new works, they have not added anything lately. Nothing has grabbed their attention.

However, they always sense their intimate surroundings.

"We imitate the art, or our art imitates us," Helene Moore said. "It keeps the love and kisses alive, I'll tell you that."

"I think it just personifies our relationship," Howard Moore said.

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].

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