Fitzgerald fans and lovers of literature and history flocked to The Gallery at Penn College for the opening of “The Art and Illustrations of Zelda Fitzgerald” on Thursday, Nov. 14.
The two-hour event was received with enthusiasm by gallerygoers and was also attended by Fitzgerald’s granddaughter Cecilia Ross, of Kennett Square, who loaned her private collection to Pennsylvania College of Technology.
The exclusive exhibit runs through Dec. 15 in the gallery, located on the third floor of Penn College’s Madigan Library.
“I love Zelda’s artwork and feel that most people are not aware that she was such a good artist,” Ross said of her grandmother’s work. “This exhibit is a great opportunity to share what I love and to introduce this side of her to more people. I hope they will see how imaginative and talented she was.”
The exhibition celebrates Fitzgerald’s creative life and features cityscapes, fairy tales and biblical images, all gouache on paper.
One collection in particular that drew interested eyes at the opening was Fitzgerald’s paper dolls including a self-portrait of the artist; her husband, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald; and their only daughter, Frances Scott (“Scottie”), who was the mother of Ross.
“I was extremely excited to see such a diverse crowd at the opening reception,” said Penny Griffin Lutz, manager of the gallery. “The interest in Zelda was varied: Some had been interested in her ever since reading Nancy Milford’s biography in the 1970s, some were fans of Scott’s writing, one person was even working on producing a play about Zelda and came from New York City to see the exhibit, and of course, all were interested in viewing the artwork created by such an icon.”
Widely recognized as a symbol of the 1920s era and considered to be America’s first “flapper,” Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was an artist, writer and dancer. Her artistic pursuits were often overlooked or discounted due to her husband’s achievements and her struggle with mental health. She died at the age of 47 in a 1948 fire at Highland Hospital, a mental health facility in Asheville, N.C.
Many of her works did not survive the fire, and others were either discarded by friends or intentionally destroyed by her mother and sister, so the collections retained by her grandchildren are rare and unique pieces.
At the opening of “The Art and Illustrations of Zelda Fitzgerald,” in addition to viewing the artist’s creations, guests were able to learn more about her life through text panels that accompany the work.
“Visitors seemed to enjoy reading the chronology of Zelda’s life that we included in the exhibition,” Lutz said. “I am pleased that we could educate more people about this amazing woman.”
Also on display in the lobby at The Gallery at Penn College are numerous Fitzgerald publications, as well as three children’s books featuring illustrations by another grandchild: Ross’s sister, Eleanor Lanahan, who resides in Vermont.
Of her grandparents, Ross said: “I feel like the subject of their legacy has been discussed thoroughly by many, many scholars. What I hope for with this exhibit is to perhaps introduce new people to them, or reignite someone’s interest in their works. I would consider that a wonderful outcome. They were both incredibly talented and have so much to offer on so many levels.”
The college collaborated with the James V. Brown Library, Williamsport, and its communitywide “JVBL Reads” initiative to procure the special Fitzgerald exhibit. The library has 250 copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” available for checkout through January and is also showing the 2013 film adaptation and hosting various discussions on the novel.
Two Penn College faculty members were asked to offer literary insight at the James V. Brown Library. Debra S. Morris, assistant professor of English-technical communication, explored the topic “The Women in ‘The Great Gatsby’” on Nov. 1, and John W. Poritsky, assistant professor of English-composition, will give a presentation on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s background and literary legacy on Thursday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m., in the library’s Lowry Room. Registration is required, and more information is available at the James V. Brown Library.
Also in conjunction with the Fitzgerald explorations taking place in Williamsport, the Community Theatre League will perform “The Great Gatsby” Jan. 9-11 in its theater at 100 W. Third St.
The Gallery at Penn College is open Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 to 7 p.m.; and Wednesdays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Saturdays and Mondays). The gallery will be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, Nov. 27 through Dec. 1.
Admission to the gallery is free and open to the public. The gallery serves as an instructional resource for Penn College students and a cultural asset to the college and community.