Revered regional painter and international exhibitor Edwin W. Zoller might have developed a complex artistic career before his death near his home in Tyrone in 1967 - starting out as a realist painter of the familiar Pennsylvania landscapes only to be swept away by the abstraction period of the late '30s and '40s.
But those who knew Zoller personally hold very simple, cherished memories of him as an incredible teacher, friend and inspiration.
Touches of the personal simplicity and artistic complexity of Zoller can both be felt in the Edwin W. Zoller Memorial Exhibition on display in the Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts at Penn State Altoona through Sept. 2.
Artist Edwin W. Zoller works in his studio in this undated photo.
Zoller was born in Pittsburgh in 1900, but moved to the local area after becoming a part-time instructor in Penn State's extension programs in Altoona, and later a professor of art and assistant director of the Center for Continuing Liberal Education. He retired in 1960 as Professor Emeritus of Art.
Though Zoller was already retired when C. David Kimmel, currently the associate director of alumni relations and stewardship at Penn State Altoona, first became a tenured professor in 1963, he became close to Zoller and his wife, Lucille, and frequently attended dinners and parties they had for students and other faculty members.
"There was a small group of us that became their family," Kimmel said.
If you go
What: Edwin W. Zoller Memorial Exhibition
When: Through Sept. 2
Where: Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts at Penn State Altoona
Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday and before and during all performances. For more information, call 949-5452 or visit www.altoona.psu.edu.
Kimmel is just one of a number of friends and former students of Zoller's who loaned pieces from their private collections for the exhibition. Well-known local artist Joe Servello was a student of Zoller's, and has donated pieces of his former teacher's work to the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. But Servello wanted to loan a pencil-drawn self portrait of Zoller for this exhibition to demonstrate just one of the many different mediums Zoller mastered in his career.
"I thought the self portrait was just amazingly full of energy," he said. "It is a remarkably simple pencil drawing, but you could see it was done by a master artist."
Servello said studying with Zoller had a profound affect on his career, and even "changed his life around" after Servello considered not finishing college and Zoller advised him to stay.
"I can't tell you how much I admired him. ... His impact was amazing on me," Servello said. "He showed me a way of having a life as an artist. He encouraged me to be a teacher, he encouraged me to be an illustrator, he encouraged me to do everything I'm still doing to this day. He was a very inspiring man."
For being so well-known internationally, Servello said Zoller's work hasn't been seen and exhibited enough in this area. So for those formerly unfamiliar with his work, Noel Feeley, gallery manager, said the memorial exhibition should provide an "interesting look" at his career.
"It's also a wonderful way to sort of examine an artist's transition over a period of time, and be able to start to look at how abstraction really influenced a lot of American painters in a very focused time period in the late '30s and '40s, and what came out after that and ... where they ended up was such a far cry from where they started," she said.
Viewers of the exhibit will see Zoller's early work painting realistic landscape scenes hanging next to his later abstractionist pieces. Feeley said the layout shows the changes Zoller went through in style, but the similarities he kept in hue and palette.
"While he never really lost a lot of the impact of what a landscape might be, it suddenly came into an unnaturally abstracted form," she said.
Despite his personal interest in abstraction, Servello said Zoller always told his students to "work in their own way." He added that Zoller always tried to encourage people to visit museums, view various exhibitions and keep their minds open about modern art.
In that same spirit, Servello hopes locals will take advantage of this opportunity to view this extensive collection of Zoller's work.
"His influence certainly lives in me," Servello said. "I don't do anything without thinking of him off and on, and the things he taught me."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.