2004-10-29 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio Rockaway Artists Alliance

Zelda By Herself
By Dan Guarino


“Artistic expression in unexpected places.”

The phrase holds true for the Central Library in Jamaica, best known for its unparalleled collection of words, and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, best known as the wife of wordsmith F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yet both have a ‘secret’ and surprising side to show us in the Queens Library Gallery show “Zelda, by Herself.”

What emerges from the show is a glimpse of Zelda as an artist in her own right, separate from the couple’s notoriety for their 1920’s partying with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, and apart from F. Scott’s fame as the author of “The Great Gatsby” and other works.

The exhibition is alive with Zelda’s vibrancy and imagination. There are simple, observational pencil sketches like “Two Shipyard Workers” or “Figures On A Bus.” And there is also the giddy, gorgeous gouache on paper figures that swirl in the full color carousel of her hand fashioned “Lampshade.”

There are even paper cut-out dolls she created of the Fitzgerald family, complete with bend tab outfits. One of her rather sensible ‘suits’ also sports whimsically improbable wings.

Besides being an artist and aspiring author, Ms. Fitzgerald also avidly devoted herself to ballet. There are many works here depicting courtiers, kings and ladies as if they were on stage, complete with accompanying changes of costume. They appear to float suspended like dancers or puppets.

She takes on such diverse subjects as “Times Square,” “Cinderella,” and the biblical story of “Adam and Eve” in vivid yellows, reds and blues and infuses them with the life of her times. Her distinct personality comes through in these works. In “Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone” we see her passion. In “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” done for her children, we see her love.

The work presented here had been, until now, literally hidden away, in this case in the family attic. Sadly at the end of her life Ms. Fitzgerald was confined to a North Carolina mental hospital, also hidden away as it were. She died in a fire at the hospital in 1948.

But here she lives again in her re-emerged work and the force of her life carries through. And what a life it was.

Said her granddaughter Eleanor Lanahan, “I entirely agree with the motto she emblazoned on the brochure for her only New York one-woman exhibition (in 1934), ‘Parfois La Folie Est La Sagese,’ – Sometimes in madness there is wisdom.”

The Queens Library Gallery, within the Queens Borough Public Library Central branch at 89-11 Merrick Blvd, Jamaica, is open weekdays from 10am-9pm, Saturday 10-5:30 and Sunday from noon to 5. The current show runs to November 7. Admission is free.

Yesterday I came home to a message on my answering machine. Though the voice was faint and reedy, I could discern the emotional fortitude and physical beauty of the caller. So of course, I knew instantly it was our beloved Medium Rayah. She was obviously phoning from the depths of whatever Hell her intergalactic captors had confined her to. Weak yet still brave, the miraculous Madam uttered these words of warning. “The Aliens are coming to Alienate You, on the night of October 31 from 5-8 PM at Building #1, Fort Tilden.” The message ended in a hush.

What more did she need to say? (Oh, will we ever see her valiant visage again)? So – be warned, be careful, be vigilant. Or you will be in danger of being scared silly!

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