Sylvia Plath is regarded as one of the greatest poets and novelists of the 20th century. But as a teen, she didn’t even want to be a writer. Plath enrolled at Smith College with the intention of studying studio art but switched to English under the conviction of teachers who recognized her talent for words.
And although during her lifetime she was never recognized for her visual work, Plath never stopped making art. Now, with an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Plath’s visual art is getting a retrospective of its own.
One Life: Sylvia Plath explores the writer’s visual art through letters, drawings, and self portraits spanning her entire life. Paper dolls Plath made in childhood are displayed alongside collages of Eisenhower, pin-up girls, and fighter jets. One particularly impressive work is a Cubist-inspired self-portrait Plath made her senior year of high school.
“Sylvia Plath’s fascination with images and imaging was a strong part of her identity,” Dorothy Moss, curator of painting and sculpture at the Portrait Gallery, says in a statement. “The exhibition allows us to see what she described as her ‘visual imagination’ in all its complexity.”
What Plath longed for in her writing was the ability to describe what she was seeing in a unique way. “What I fear most, I think, is the death of the imagination. When the sky outside is merely pink, and the rooftops merely black,” she wrote in a journal entry when she was 24 years old.
Apart from the works of art, there are also plenty of objects and memorabilia on display for hard-core Plath buffs, including a lock of hair from her first haircut and one of her typewriters.
The exhibition will be shown at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery through May 20, 2018.