On Nov. 14, The Gallery at Penn College will exhibit "The Art and Illustrations of Zelda Fitzgerald," which includes more than 20 of the Jazz-era artist and celebrity's original works spanning more than two decades.
Zelda Fitzgerald has known a certain resurgence in popularity during the past few years. On the literary front, Therese Ann Fowler released "Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald," and R. Clifton penned "Beautiful Fools." The former is equal parts historical fiction and character study, and the latter an imagining of Fitzgerald's last trip with her equally - arguably more - famous husband, author F. Scott Fitzgerald. 2007 saw "Alabama Song," a French novel about Fitzgerald win the Prix Goncourt, the country's largest literary prize. In film, director Woody Allen followed Owen Wilson's character on a romp through a '20s Paris peopled by the most famous authors and artists of the time (the Fitzgerald couple among them) in "Midnight in Paris."
Despite the present rise in her celebrity "stock," it would be easy to disregard Fitzgerald as a hanger-on, or the lesser half of one of our country's first celebrity couples. Even in her lifetime, critics dismissed her. Ring Lardner wrote, "Mr. Fitzgerald is a novelist and Mrs. Fitzgerald is a novelty." Ernest Hemingway was - quite characteristically - more direct: "If he [Scott] could write a book as fine as "The Great Gatsby" I was sure that he could write an even better one. I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him."
A 1926 photo shows Zelda Fitzgerald with one of her works.
Penny Lutz, manager of the gallery, contended that dismissing Fitzgerald's work because of her husband would be a disservice to both the artist and the work itself.
"It was extremely hard for women to be artists in this time period. Most women born around the same time as Zelda didn't become famous until many years later," Lutz said, adding, "It's really important that we look back on these artists now, and examine them for the work they were able to accomplish during a time when they were discouraged from anything considered non-domestic."
With nearly a century separating us from not only the social mores of the time, but the Zelda Fitzgerald who made the earliest prints of the exhibition, Lutz's is an opinion more widely shared by contemporary scholars and critics. Take for example art critic Mary Bentz Gilkerson, who said, "Some have categorized Zelda's work as outsider art simply because the artist was mentally ill. This is simplistic and probably has more to do with her gender than her illness. Nor are her paintings the dabs and doodles of a dilettante. Zelda had studied art and been part of the circle of modernist intellectuals in Paris."
The work in the exhibition (the majority of which was created during the 1940s) was made using gouache and watercolor on paper and returns to the themes of New York City, fairy tales and biblical imagery.
While "The Art and Illustrations of Zelda Fitzgerald" is on display at The Gallery at Penn College, numerous other Fitzgerald-related educational activities are taking place in the Williamsport community.
At the James V. Brown Library, 19 E. Fourth St., the 2013 film "The Great Gatsby," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, will be shown from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. Nov. 14, in the Lowry Theater, on the third floor of the new library wing.
At 6 p.m. Dec. 5, in the Lowry Room, John W. Poritsky, assistant professor of English-composition at Penn College, will give a presentation on F. Scott
Fitzgerald's background and literary legacy. Registration is required and more information is available at the library. As part of its JVBL Reads initiative, the library also has 250 copies of "The Great Gatsby" available for checkout through January.
Debra S. Morris, assistant professor of English-technical communication at Penn College, explored the topic, "The Women in The Great Gatsby," at a James V. Brown Library book review luncheon held Nov. 1.
Also in conjunction with the activities, the Community Theatre League is set to perform "The Great Gatsby," Jan. 9-11, at its theater at 100 W. Third St.
"The Art and Illustrations of Zelda Fitzgerald" runs Nov. 14 through Dec. 15 at the gallery located on the third floor of Pennsylvania College of Technology's Madigan Library. The works are on loan from Fitzgerald's granddaughter, Cecilia Ross, of Kennett Square, who will attend the opening reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 14.
The collection is not a touring exhibition, but on loan exclusively to The Gallery at Penn College. Receipt of the private Fitzgerald collection was achieved through collaboration with the James V. Brown Library, of Williamsport, and its community-wide "JVBL Reads" initiative. For more information, visit The Gallery at Penn College online at www.pct.edu/gallery or the James V. Brown Library at www.jvbrown.edu.