Recently I won a plaster sculptural piece by Hungarian-American sculptor, George Julian Zolnay at an auction. I call it is a piece because I am not sure what it was truly intended for. What attracted me first to this plaster work was that it was the first sculptural depiction of Peter Pan that I have ever encountered which depicts him as the baby from J.M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird. In this case, he is seated, playing his Pan pipes while Solomon Caw looks on.
I also recognized the sculptor’s name but couldn’t place him. Dale quickly pointed out that he is the artist who created the sculpture of Jefferson Davis in Richmond. Dale is a curator for the Library of Virginia and is much more knowledgeable about art history than I am.
George Julian or his real name, Gyula Zsolnay, was born in Hungary on July 4, 1863 and immigrated after extensive art training. According to Wikipedia, he was “a scion of the distinguished Zsolnay family of the city of Pécs, Hungary, where their internationally famous ceramics works thrives to this very day. Zolnay came to the United States to attend the Columbian Exposition in 1893 at the behest of the U.S. consul-general to Vienna. Already enjoying considerable acclaim in Europe, Zolnay had no difficulties in adjusting to life in America. He intended to return home, but became “enamored” with the United States, and chose New York City for his new home in 1894, eventually achieving American citizenship.
In 1895 Zolnay was “employed to make models for the ornamentation” for the Pantheon building created for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897. He became a favorite sculptor of Southerners in 1897 after he sculpted a statue of Sam Davis, a Confederate spy who was executed; as no pictures of Davis survived, Zolnay based the likeness on Davis’ relatives.” A sculptural portrait Jefferson Davis and his daughter gave him the title “sculptor of the Confederacy.” He passed away on May 1, 1949.
The Peter Pan inkwell was given to his granddaughter, Virginia Summerlin Wilcox, who died on May 13, 2014. Born May 4, 1926, Virgina lived in Washington, DC for over 60 years where she attended Potomac, National Cathedral, and Spence Schools, and graduated with a degree in history from The George Washington University. Known as “Ginnie,” she socialized extensively and entertained her many friends; traveled to many countries; avidly played bridge; attended the theatre and opera; and volunteered for charitable causes. She had a keen interest in early modern and modern English and Western European history, and was known as a gracious, gregarious hostess and avid social organizer.
In addition to Zolnay and Abigal Gillam, Ginnie was the granddaughter of George T. Summerlin, Chief of Protocol during the Roosevelt Administration and U.S. Minister to Panama, Venezuela, and Honduras, and Virginia L. Spencer. She was the daughter of George T. Summerlin, Jr. and Elizabeth Z. Dewey. She was the loving,devoted niece of Margaret (Peggy) Z. Gould. Ginnie regularly visited and enjoyed Peggy’s company in New York City for over five decades. She was the stepdaughter of Horace B.Smith, of whom she was especially fond. She was the widow of Francis O. Wilcox, founding Dean of The Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations in the Eisenhower Administration, and the first Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chief of Staff.
We believe that the auctioneer might have been incorrect in his/her assessment of the Peter Pan inkwell and that it may have been a prototype for a double lamp. Zolnay actually sculpted in plaster and this one was stained to appear as if it was bronze. Either way, it’s an unusual one-of-a-kind piece of art for which the sculptor was obviously influenced by Arthur Rackham’s illustration of Peter as he “put his strange case before old Solomon Caw.” From Barrie’s The Little White Bird:
“Then I shan’t be exactly a human?” Peter asked.
“Nor exactly a bird?”
“What shall I be?”
“You will be a Betwixt-and-Between,” Solomon said, and certainly he was a wise old fellow, for that is exactly how it turned out.