Art in the Library: Karl Zerbe

In fall 2021, FSU Libraries’ Art in the Library program launched its first exhibition on the library’s newly renovated second floor. The works on display highlight two interesting narratives: that of both library history and local art history. Gifted in the name of a former librarian, these four works by a former FSU Art faculty member had been taken out of view in the course of several library renovations throughout the recent decades but were recently rediscovered. With little institutional documentation to work with, next steps included investigating the provenance of these works, their relationship with the building, determining physical condition and preservation needs, and ultimately, deciding when, how, and where to (re)install them.

Owl, before reframing.
Tree Ducks, recently installation on the second floor of Strozier Library.

The four bird prints by FSU Professor of Art Karl Zerbe were donated to FSU Libraries in 1972 by the family of FSU Librarian Reno Wayne Bupp. They were to be installed in the Social Sciences Division, where Bupp had been the first department head when Strozier Library was opened in 1956. Although this department no longer exists, the second floor – the current floor where the prints are located – was the original home of the Social Sciences at FSU. The prints are part of a 1970 series of twelve serigraphs, each depicting birds seen by Zerbe either in the wild or in a zoo. The four on display on the second floor are Owl, Tree Ducks, Ostrich, and Sun Bitternies.

Floor plan of Strozier Library’s second floor from the 1956 Robert Manning Strozier Library Dedication Program. Image Courtesy of FSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives,

Karl Zerbe (1903-1972) was a German-born American artist and educator. Zerbe studied chemistry in the 1920s at the Technische Hochschule in Friedberg, Germany, before studying painting under Josef Eberz at the Debschitz School in Munich. He fled Germany for the United States in 1937 when his work was labeled as “degenerate” by the Nazis and he soon became the Head of the Department of Painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. While in Massachusetts he was affiliated with the Boston Expressionist school of painting.

In 1955, Zerbe joined the Department of Art and Art History at Florida State University and continued in this position until his death in 1972. Zerbe had an avid interest in ornithology and created many paintings and photographs of local birds, including the works in this series. During his lifetime, Zerbe had many solo exhibitions at institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Today his work can be found in museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

“Karl Zerbe at work – Tallahassee, Florida, 25 May 1970.” State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Reno Wayne Bupp (1910-1972) was born in Wayne Township, Ohio, and he earned a Master of Arts in History at Ohio State University in 1939. A veteran of World War II, Bupp completed a master’s degree in library science at Florida State University in 1950. He was the Head of FSU Libraries Social Sciences Division from 1959 to 1969 and he served on the FSU Faculty Senate during his tenure.

Dedication plate for Reno Wayne Bupp visible on each Zerbe print.

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