Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Muse: Edna St. Vincent Millay at Vassar

One of Vassar College's many famous alumnae is the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (aka "Vincent") (February 22, 1892 - October 19, 1950), who was a student at the college from 1913 to 1917; she published her poem "Renascence" in 1912 and was already known before her arrival on campus. Her legacy at the college is "significant," says Special Collections Librarian Ronald Patkus.* That legacy is now the subject of the exhibition "Edna St. Vincent Millay: Treasures from Steepletop", on view in Vassar's Thompson Memorial Library and the Art Library through June 11. (Now a museum open from May through October, Steepletop, in Austerlitz, New York, was Millay's home. Formerly, it was a berry farm. Vassar College is in Poughkeepsie, New York.)

The free, open-to-the-public exhibition, organized by Patkus and the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society, commemorates the 125th anniversary of Millay's birth, focusing on the importance to the poet of both Vassar and Steepletop. Interestingly, the exhibition is organized by season. On display are photos of Millay at Steepletop; excerpts from letters, first-edition books, and poems that complement each seasonal section of the exhibit; and such personal items as Millay's hunting rifle, the typewriter that traveled with Millay, and Millay's china, crystal, and jewelry. The artifacts, says Millay literary executor and scholar Holly Peppe, reflect the Bohemian lifestyle Millay and her friends enjoyed on the Steepletop hill, from swimming au naturel in a spring-fed pool to partying at an outdoor bar. . . ."*

The curator of the Vassar exhibition is Mark O'Berski, vice president of the Millay Society.

A smaller exhibition, "Millay at Vassar", opens at Steepletop in May. Drawn from the college's archives and curated by Gretchen Lieb, Vassar's reference librarian, the exhibition will bring together originals and facsimiles of works by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

In addition, in the Photo Gallery of Vassar's art center is "A Certain Zest: Artists' Portraits of Edna St. Vincent Millay" (referenced above). It runs in conjunction with "Treasures from Steepletop".


* Quoted from Office of Communications's exhibition announcement, which is also the principal source of information for this post. A number of images accompany the announcement.

Exhibition Checklist

Exhibition-Related Videos

Steepletop on FaceBook

Vassar College on FaceBook

Vassar College Art Library on FaceBook

The Library of Congress also is the repository for portrait photographs of Millay by Berenice Abbott, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten. Also see American Treasures of the Library of Congress, A Voice of Her Generation, where you'll find an image of a pencil holograph of the unfinished original draft (c. 1912) of the poem "Renascence".

"The EDNA Project: The Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay Set to Music" (This project benefited Rockland Historical Society's effort "Saving a Literary Landmark — Restoring the Edna St. Vincent Millay Birthplace".)

The New York Times Obituary (October 20, 1950)

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