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Exhibit of Zelda Fitzgerald's art

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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi..aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... Out of the Shadow ... She wrote, danced, painted, but Zelda Fitzgerald s many talents were outshone by her husband s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 23, 2003
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      Out of the Shadow
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      She wrote, danced, painted, but Zelda Fitzgerald's many talents were
      outshone by
      her husband's fame. A new book and exhibit showcase her creative gifts.

      By Aileen Jacobson
      STAFF WRITER

      May 20, 2003

      Zelda wrote. Zelda danced. Zelda mothered. Zelda frolicked in a public
      fountain.
      Zelda went mad. And Zelda painted.

      The last of those activities is probably the least known about the wife of
      F.
      Scott Fitzgerald. During long but sporadic creative periods, Zelda
      Fitzgerald
      painted grotesque ballerinas with large feet, her family as a set of paper
      dolls in underwear, whimsical fairy tale scenes, lush abstract flowers and
      jaunty Manhattan and Paris cityscapes.

      She painted particularly well after Scott died in 1940. And she painted most
      prolifically in mental hospitals, including the one where she burned to
      death
      inside a locked room in 1948, at age 47.

      The remarkable career of the multitalented Zelda Fitzgerald, with a special
      focus on her art, is the subject of a new biography and, serendipitously,
      of a
      major show at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Opening Saturday, the
      exhibit features 54 of Zelda's watercolors and drawings and also, through
      the
      museum's own period costumes, photographs and room settings, evokes the
      Long
      Island Gold Coast of the 1920s, where the Fitzgeralds invented the Great
      Gatsby
      life.

      They are part of a re-examination of Zelda's life that has been building for
      several years now, fueled in 2000 by the 100th anniversary of her birth,
      which
      prompted a conference, publication of a few other books and the widely
      traveled
      exhibit of those 54 pieces of art. Launched in Vermont in 1995 by one of
      her
      granddaughters, Eleanor Lanahan, the art show traveled even as far as
      Tokyo.

      For a time, when they were young, Zelda and Scott were America's most famous
      couple. Dorothy Parker once said that, together, they looked "as though
      they
      had just stepped out of the sun."

      But, many observers have argued, Scott stood in the sun and Zelda often was
      in
      his shadow, her gifts subsumed or stifled by his greater fame and frequent
      appropriation of her words and deeds for his own work. Others argue that
      her
      writing, ballet dancing and painting were eclipsed not because she was the
      victim of an overbearing husband and a society that disapproved of
      independent
      women, but because she was destructive, schizophrenic and a dilettante,
      limiting her husband's achievements as well as her own.

      The complicated debate about Zelda that has long raged in literary circles
      is
      addressed in Sally Cline's "Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise"
      (Arcade
      Publishing, $27.95) and in the exhibit "Flappers in Fashion: Zelda
      Fitzgerald
      and the Jazz Age on Long Island." Both, with revelations that sometimes
      startle, demonstrate that Zelda's art was perhaps her most satisfying
      creative
      outlet.

      "We start from the point that she was a remarkably talented person ... and
      such
      a fascinating person to study over the course of her life," says Joshua
      Ruff,
      curator of the museum's history section, as he sits in a back room among
      the
      exhibit's colorfully costumed mannequins. Also surrounding him are handsome
      1920s furniture, crated art and borrowed artifacts, including Zelda's
      ostrich
      feather fan and Scott's leather briefcase and a silver flask that was a
      gift
      from Zelda.

      "In the early '20s, she had her own voice. But you could make the case that
      as
      the '20s wore on ... she was basically in the shadows for much of the rest
      of
      Scott's life," he adds. "This Side of Paradise" and then "The Great Gatsby"
      made Scott more famous.

      One of Zelda's early pieces that gained attention, Ruff says, was a 1922
      article
      for Metropolitan Magazine titled "Eulogy on the Flapper."

      In the satirical piece (the flapper movement was only just beginning), Zelda
      maintained that the original Flapper, who did as she pleased and "refused
      to be
      bored chiefly because she wasn't boring" (much like herself), is dead and
      that
      her "outer accoutrements" have been bequeathed to schoolgirls and shopgirls
      to
      whom "Flapperdom has become a game."

      The exhibit, says Ruff, celebrates the richly creative and happy parts of
      Zelda's life, and includes an evocation, with Art Deco furniture and
      mannequins, of the living room of the Great Neck home where she and Scott
      gave
      parties and lived from 1922 to 1924. There also will be music, videos, a
      dressing-for-a-party scene and a children's area, featuring the museum's
      period
      toys and the fairy tale-inspired paintings Zelda made for her daughter,
      Scottie, and her grandchildren. Her hardships and suffering are
      acknowledged
      mainly in a section toward the end.

      As for whether Zelda was a heroine or a harridan, Ruff's view is down the
      middle: "They were equal-opportunity impeders.... A later psychiatrist
      might
      look at the term co-dependency as being an apt way to describe them." Zelda
      may
      have been mentally ill, but Scott was an alcoholic. Indeed, Scott wrote to
      Zelda in 1930, "We ruined ourselves - I have never honestly thought that we
      ruined each other."

      "Part of their problem was that they were caught between legends and myths,"
      says author Sally Cline, speaking by telephone from her office at Anglia
      Polytechnic University in Cambridge, England. "I think they restructured
      their
      behavior to live up to the legends, to have exploits and then write about
      them
      - behaving badly in public places, jumping into fountains."

      Meanwhile, Cline says, Zelda became overshadowed: "Suddenly, she was Mrs.
      Scott
      Fitzgerald.... And part of the legend was that she was the mad wife.. ..It
      didn't help her to be seen as a serious artist."

      Another difficulty was that Zelda was "gifted in three directions. We tend
      to
      give more credence to those who devote full time" to one genre. Zelda took
      up
      ballet in her late 20s, in Paris; she achieved proficiency but became so
      obsessed, it may have led to her first breakdown. She wrote one complete
      novel,
      "Save Me the Waltz," which she edited under pressure from Scott. Cline
      quotes
      from a transcript of an excruciating, psychiatrist-mediated negotiation
      they
      had later over which parts of their life she could use. "Everything we have
      done is mine," Scott argued.

      Her interest in Zelda, Cline says, was inspired by Nancy Milford's
      now-classic
      1970 biography. Among Cline's revelations is an observation by Zelda's last
      psychiatrist that she may have been depressed, not schizophrenic, and that
      treatments - including electroshock and horse blood injections - may have
      worsened her illness.

      The fascination with Zelda's art may be partly fueled by a recent focus on
      female artists overshadowed by their male companions, such as Frida Kahlo,
      wife
      of Diego Rivera, says David Furchgott, executive director of International
      Arts
      and Artists, the nonprofit group directing the art tour. "A number of
      colleges
      that either are or were women's colleges have expressed interest in her
      personal story of suppressed talent, the one whose creative instincts
      weren't
      allowed to fully blossom as they should have been."

      Cline believes Zelda was a powerful artist, but, since many of her paintings
      were destroyed after her death and many were not dated, they don't
      represent "a
      complete body of work." Much of it, Cline says, is "unsettling,
      hallucinatory
      and unpredictable. There's no ground under anyone's feet." An image of a
      nursing mother with her head half-severed, she observes, is "not
      comforting."

      Other experts agree with Cline's positive but tempered assessment of Zelda's
      art.

      "I thought it was really original and whimsical, really unique," says Janie
      Cohen, director of the Robert Hull Fleming Museum of the University of
      Vermont
      in Burlington, where the art now on Long Island was first mounted eight
      years
      ago. Among the pieces Cohen recalls most vividly are cityscapes,
      landscapes,
      the paper dolls and paintings with fairy tale and biblical themes. "She was
      responding to her own visions. It's very personal art," says Cohen, who
      selected excerpts from Zelda's writings to match each painting.

      "I do remember the ballet scenes," she adds. "She struggled so much with
      ballet,
      and her paintings expressed so vividly what she was feeling, with the
      figures
      with huge feet. They look like they couldn't be airborne."

      Zelda might have flourished more if she had been part of an artists'
      community,
      says Simone Weil Davis, associate professor of English at Long Island
      University, who will speak on "Revisiting Zelda, the Writer and Artist" at
      the
      Long Island Museum on June 8, in one of nine programs, and five more for
      children, scheduled during the exhibit's run, through Oct. 26 (see
      www.longislandmuseum.org or call 631-751-0066).

      "She had a lot in common with women in Surrealism," in style and personal
      situation, says Davis. Those women, such as Meret Oppenheim, creator of the
      famous fur-lined teacup, were thought of more "as models and partners,"
      though
      they wrote and painted on their own. "They appreciated the borders of
      sanity,
      that people on the edge could do creative work," Davis says.

      Even without a support group, Zelda "knew and understood a great deal about
      modern art," says Diane Chalmers Johnson, art history professor at the
      College
      of Charleston, in Charleston, S.C., where Zelda's art recently resided.

      "She understood Cubism and Picasso's kind of breaking up shape and form."
      Her
      "floating lines and exaggerated colors" are a nod to Matisse, and her
      flower
      paintings, which she gave to friends as gifts, demonstrate a familiarity
      with
      Georgia O'Keefe, says Johnson. Her city scenes and children's art are
      "wonderfully exuberant," while her paper dolls are "a real hoot. She had a
      wicked sense of humor." Look for Freudian notes and a "sexual pun," she
      says,
      in even the most seemingly innocent ones.

      "It's now time to give her some equal credit," says Sally Kinsey, a history
      of
      fashion professor at Syracuse University and co-curator of the Long Island
      exhibit. "Her paper dolls are just fabulous," demonstrating Zelda's
      innovative
      approach, says Kinsey. The vivid 1920s street scenes of Manhattan and
      Paris,
      painted 20 years later from memory, are "pretty amazing," she says, and
      Zelda's
      abstract flowers show great skill. "If she had lived longer," she added,
      "she
      might have become an important abstract expressionist."

      The next stop for Zelda's 54 paintings, and the only other close to New
      York, is
      the Huntington House Museum in Windsor, Conn., December through January
      2004.

      Copyright (c) 2003, Newsday, Inc.

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      This article originally appeared at:
      http://www.newsday.com/features/ny-p2cover3291972may20,0,4450543.story

      Visit Newsday online at http://www.newsday.com
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