Home Artistic creation The artist and the child – Garden & Gun

The artist and the child – Garden & Gun


Zelda Fitzgerald has earned her place as a cultural icon. Born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, she was the face of the flapper movement of the 1920s, a socialite who wandered from Paris to southern France to Italy. She lived alongside the literary fame and downfall of her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and her battles with mental illness and schizophrenia are well documented.

photo: Courtesy of Eleanor Lanahan

A Christmas photo of the Fitzgerald family from 1925.

What’s not to be lost, however, is that while Zelda lived a life of great adventure and zeal, she also lived a life filled with tremendous creative energy. She turned to dance in her late twenties, an age when most dancers would be nearing the end of their career, and was even offered a solo in an Italian ballet. She is the author of the novel Save me the waltz, which delves into the arduous training and complexities of a dancer’s life. She painted. She drew. She wrote poetry.

photo: Courtesy of Eleanor Lanahan

Zelda Fitzgerald in 1926.

And she created paper dolls. But not just ordinary paper dolls. Paper dolls rich in artistic style. Paper dolls depicting characters from history, fairy tales and favorite stories, with multiple costumes and the attention to detail that only a true artist can offer. The practice, which began as a doll-making project for her daughter, Scottie, grew into a large collection over a period of nearly two decades. Now, a hundred years later, these dolls have been brought together by Zelda’s granddaughter, Eleanor Lanahan, in a new book, Zelda Fitzgerald’s paper dollsan extraordinary look at the artistry and vision of the famous Southern Belle.


Like many Southerners, and especially like many former expats, I have always been fascinated by the Fitzgeralds and their place at the center of the Lost Generation. So fascinated that the feelings of wanderlust and bewilderment at the heart of Gatsby the magnificent led to the creation of pseudomy most recent novel, which tells the story of Nick Carraway, the famous narrator of the Gatsby story.

So it’s no surprise that the doll collection strikes me. There’s an androgyny to the dolls, a sensibility that dovetails perfectly with the shifting notions of sexuality and gender that invaded the bars and uninhibited streets of Paris in the 1920s, the same bars and streets where Zelda roamed. The Three Musketeers are pretty. Goldilocks has muscular arms and legs.

photo: Courtesy of Eleanor Lanahan

Goldilocks and a suit.

The dolls almost look like sculptures. The features are distinct, especially the eyes and the mouth, and the construction of the bodies seems to pick up notions from the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin, as the limbs do not appear static and flat but rather suggest physicality and movement. The definition of the muscles and the cheekbones gives a three-dimensional quality. The specific cut of King Arthur’s armor or the frills of Red Riding Hood’s bonnet add individuality to each doll, their own voice and personality, which a mother and daughter could immerse themselves in during playtime. sure. Each doll has multiple costumes, elaborate and whimsical and made for parties. No Zelda Fitzgerald doll can be underdressed during a tea party.

photo: Courtesy of Cecilia Lanahan Ross

Costumes for Scottie.

photo: Courtesy of Cecilia Lanahan Ross

Early Red Riding Hood and two suits.

An introduction to the collection, by Lanahan, reveals that Zelda seemed to know she had created something unique over the years. In 1941 she wrote to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner, the famous publisher of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, that she would like to publish a book of paper dolls: “I have painted…King Arthur’s round table. Joan of Arc and her coterie, Louis XIV and his court, Robin des Bois are on the move. Dolls are lovely… Would you be so kind as to tell me which publishers would handle such “literature” and how to approach it? No books have materialized – until now. And it is precisely published by Scribner.


Zelda seemed certain that these weren’t just paper dolls, but true works of art. And they are. This collection is a fascinating look at the seed of creation, how a mother wishing to entertain her child could create with such imagination and skill. Perhaps the practice may have been as much for Zelda as it was for Scottie.

Michael Farris Smith is a Mississippi writer whose work includes pseudoa novel that imagines the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s protagonist, Nick, before Gatsby the magnificent.