Black and white photograph portrait of Sylvia Plath

Studio photograph of Sylvia Plath (with brown hair) by Warren Kay Vantine / Photograph, 1954 / Mortimer Rare Book Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts / © Estate of Sylvia Plath

One Life: Sylvia Plath

June 30, 2017 - May 20, 2018
First floor

“One Life: Sylvia Plath” is the first exploration of the poet and writer’s life in an art and history museum. The exhibition reveals how Plath shaped her identity visually as she came of age as a writer in the 1950s. Visitors will get a look into Plath’s personal life and her dualistic nature she explained as her “brown-haired” and “platinum” personalities. Through personal letters, her own artwork, family photographs and relevant objects, this exhibition highlights Plath’s struggle to understand her own self and to navigate the societal pressures placed on young women during her time. Her Smith College thesis, “The Magic Mirror: A Study of the Double in Two of Dostoevsky’s Novels,” suggests that she took an academic approach to studying her own dualities.

The exhibition features a carefully selected array of images and objects from the Plath archives at Smith College and Indiana University's Lilly Library, two collections that have never been brought together before in a museum exhibition.  Dorothy Moss, curator of painting and sculpture at the Portrait Gallery, is curator of this show, joined by guest co-curator Karen Kukil, associate curator of rare books and manuscripts at Smith College.

  • Photograph of a man and woman with a baby sitting on the grass

    Plath Family |  Aurelia Greenwood Schober  |  1933, Photograph  |  Mortimer Rare Book Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts

  • cartoon-like illustrations of a house and family

    "Twas the Night Before Monday"  |  Sylvia Plath |  Undated, Paper |  Courtesy The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana © Estate of Sylvia Plath

  • Young woman in the 1950s standing with her bike in front of a house.

    Sylvia Plath standing beside her bicycle, Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1951  |  Marcia B. Stern  |  Photograph, 1951  |  Courtesy Mortimer Rare Book Collection, Smith College, Northampton,  Massachusetts

  • Studio photograph of Sylvia Plath (with brown hair) |  Warren Kay Vantine |  1954, Photograph |  College Archives, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts  © Estate of Sylvia Plath

  • Woman in a white bathingsuit with blond hair lying on the beach

    Sylvia "Marilyn" Shot | Gordon Ames Lameyer |  June 1954, Photograph | Courtesy The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

  • black and white photo of a young man and woman in white shirts his arm is around her waist.

    Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in Yorkshire, England  | Harry Ogden |  1956, Photograph | Mortimer Rare Book Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts

  • Sylvia Plath with Frieda and Nicholas, Court Green |  Siv Arb | April 1962, Photo blow-up |  Courtesy Writer Pictures © Writer Pictures Ltd.

  • Sylvia Plath | Rollie McKenna  |  1959 (printed later), Gelatin silver print |  National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Rollie McKenna  © Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation, courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Foundation

  • Glass Heart (Bells for Sylvia Plath)  | Jenny Olivia Johnson (born - 07 May 1978) | 2013, Glass bell jars, audio, LED light | Jenny Olivia Johnson