TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama artist and retired University of Alabama professor Richard Zoellner, whose widely-collected paintings and sculpture-like prints were known for their energy and vibrant application of color and pattern, died Thursday, March 6 at the age of 94.
Details concerning a memorial celebration of Zoellner’s life will be released later.
Zoellner served for 33 years on the department of art faculty in UA’s College of Arts and Sciences. His retirement from UA in 1978, at the age of 70, launched a period of renewed creativity in which he received extensive recognition as a highly productive painter of elegantly crafted lithographs and canvasses. He worked daily in his studio and continued to exhibit his work until his death.
Zoellner established, in 1945, one of only two departments of fine art printmaking in the Southeast at The University of Alabama. At that time, UA’s art program was part of the department of home economics. Zoellner was one of a new generation of UA art professors, including professors and artists Dick Brough, Frank Engle, Jack Granata, and Joe Bolt, who developed the independent department of art with a strong studio focus. His printmaking program attracted to the state a generation of young artists and professionals to learn the craft of lithography and etching.
In 2001, Zoellner received the Druid Arts Award for Visual Artist of the Year from the Arts Council of Tuscaloosa. He received the 1995 Distinguished Career Award, given by the Society for the Fine Arts at The University of Alabama, and the 1980 Emeritus Award from the Southern Graphics Council.
A native of Portsmith, Ohio, Zoellner graduated from the Cincinnati Art Academy. He studied in New York City and Mexico as a recipient of a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation scholarship. From 1933 to 1942 he maintained his own studio in Cincinnati and received a number of public and private commissions as part of the U.S. Treasury Section of Fine Arts, part of then-President Roosevelt’s New Deal administration.
Commissions included murals for the U.S. Post Offices in Cleveland, Georgetown, Hamilton, Medina, and Portsmouth, Ohio; and Mannington, W. Va. Other commissions included paintings for U.S. Marine hospitals and murals for the Cincinnati Zoo.
While at UA, Zoellner produced paintings and sculpture, but his primary focus was printmaking. He was active in a number of national and regional printmaking organizations. Dubbing himself the only abstract artist in the South in the 1950s and 1960s, Zoellner was known for his translation of natural objects into abstract forms in his prints and paintings.
In his later period, Zoellner returned to more representational images, painting shells, flowers and landscapes. In 1992 at the age of 84, he exhibited, to critical acclaim, 15 new works of art inspired by a trip to the Yucatan peninsula and the architecture of its Mayan ruins.
He held more than 20 one-man exhibitions, including representing the United States in the visual arts during the “Salute to America” week in Barcelona, Spain. He was in five group shows of prints, which toured galleries in Europe, Mexcio, South America and the Orient.
Zoellner’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Dayton Art Institute, the Delgado Museum of Art in New Orleans, the Andover Museum of Art in Massachusetts, the Mint Museum of Art in North Carolina, the Birmingham Museum of Art, and the Library of Congress, among others.
Zoellner is survived by his wife, Willita Skelton GoodsonZoellner; his son, David Zoellner; daughter-in-law, Pamela Kruzic, and their children, Olivia and Michael of Washington, D.C. His is also survived by a stepson, artist Nathan Goodson of Tuscaloosa.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Richard Zoellner Scholarship in Art, University of Alabama, Box 870101, Tuscaloosa, Ala. 35487-0101 or to Hospice of West Alabama.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.