The Poe Museum’s new special exhibit “Stormier, Wilder, and More Weird: James Carling and ‘The Raven’” opened on January 14, and visitors were in awe of Carling’s 43 masterful drawings, which fill both floors of the Exhibit Building.
The artist who produced these drawings, James Carling, was born in 1857 in Liverpool. He was fifth son of Henry Carling, a blacking maker. When James was five years old, he began to earn a living as an errand boy and singer. He would even recite the poetry of Shakespeare on street corners for spare change. Encouraged by his older brothers, James started drawing pictures on sidewalks, and he soon found passersby filling his hat with pocket change. At the age of seven, he was arrested for drawing on the sidewalk and was jailed overnight before being sentenced to seven days in a workhouse. He was sent to a technical school for six years. Though the court had sentenced Carling to attend the school, it demanded his father pay for tuition. When Carling’s father refused to pay, he was thrown in jail, where he died. Carling was fourteen when he completed his sentence at the school. Upon his release, he travelled with his brothers to the United States, where they resumed their careers as street artists. Carling eventually found work as a vaudeville performer billed as the “Lightning Caricaturist” and “the Fastest Drawer in the World.” In 1883, it was announced that Harper Brothers would be publishing an edition of Poe’s poem “The Raven” with illustrations by the French artist Gustave Dore. It was about this time that Carling began his own set of drawings for the poem. The drawings remained unpublished at the time of Carling’s death, four years later in 1887. He was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The drawings remained in storage for over fifty years until Carling’s brother decided to exhibit them in 1930. Response to the work was so positive that the Poe Museum purchased the set in 1937.
Below is a small sample of the work on display. These pieces have so many strange and subtle details that the photos provided below can only give a faint impression of the experience of seeing the entire series up close. For more information about the Poe Museum’s collection of James carling’s illustrations for “The Raven,” visit our Collections Database. The exhibit continues until May 1, 2012, so be sure not to miss it.