In 1887, the promising young artist James Carling was buried in a pauper’s grave in Liverpool. He was only twenty-nine. During his lifetime, he had been celebrated as the “Fastest Drawer in the World” and the “Lightning Caricaturist.” Though his “lightning” drawing skills had brought him from a childhood in poverty on the streets of Liverpool to the acclaim of audiences throughout the United States, he aspired to something greater. Carling sought to outdo the world’s most popular illustrator, the French artist Gustave Dore, by illustrating Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” better than Dore had done in his own celebrated illustrated 1882 edition of the poem.
Comparing his illustrations to Dore’s, Carling wrote, “Concerning ‘The Raven,’ I have been ‘dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.’ As well as Dore, I have illustrated ‘The Raven.’ Our ideas are as wide as the poles. Dore’s are beautiful; there is a tranquil loveliness in them unusual to Dore. Mine are stormier, wilder and more weird; they are horrible; I have reproduced mentality and phantasm. Not one of the ideas were ever drawn before. I feel that Poe would have said that I have been faithful to his idea of the ‘Raven,’ for I have followed his meaning so close as to be merged into his individuality. The series will be more numerous than Dore’s.”
In spite of (or perhaps because of) their originality and weirdness, Carling’s illustrations remained unpublished at the time of his death. He entrusted the drawings to his brother Henry, himself a successful artist. Over fifty years later, in 1930, Henry Carling exhibited the drawings, which were received with such enthusiasm that, six years later, the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia purchased them, for display in a “Raven Room.” Many a long-time Richmonder recalls with a shudder the time, decades ago, they were terrified by the “Raven Room” filled with James Carling’s masterful illustrations. After forty years on display at the Poe Museum, the drawings were taken down and placed in storage to protect them from damage by light and humidity. For some time the drawings were replaced with small black-and-white reproductions, which, over time, were also removed to make way for other exhibits. Since the 1970s the complete set of James Carling’s illustrations for “The Raven” have been in storage, but in January 2012 in honor of Poe’s 203rd birthday and the Poe Museum’s 90th anniversary, the Poe Museum will once again display Carling’s masterpiece for the first time in a generation. The exhibit will open on January 14, 2012 and will continue until May 1, 2012, after which the artwork will return to storage to prevent further deterioration so that the drawings may be safely exhibited for the enjoyment of future generations.
Think Poe was morbid because he wrote so often about death in poems like “Annabel Lee,” “The Raven,” and “Lenore?” Such poems about death and mourning were actually fairly common in the nineteenth century. With high infant mortality rates and the inability to combat diseases like tuberculosis (which claimed Poe’s mother, foster mother, brother, and wife), death was very much a part of everyday life. One in four children in Poe’s time died in infancy, and many women died in childbirth. Consequently, almost everyone knew someone who had died young. In this light, Poe’s poems about the deaths of loved ones seem less the reflections of a morbid imagination than common experiences shared by many of his contemporaries.
From October 6 until November 30, 2011, the Poe Museum will honor the anniversary of Poe’s Death (October 7, 1849) with an exhibit devoted to the elaborate mourning rituals people of Poe’s era followed after the death of a loved one. The exhibit “Death and Mourning in the Age of Poe” features dozens of unique artifacts, including post mortem photographs, a post mortem portrait, a tear catcher, mourning jewelry, mourning stationery and mourning art from the private collection of Mary Brett, author of Fashionable Mourning Jewelry, Clothing, and Customs. The exhibit will show how Poe’s feelings about death and grief, expressed in his poetry, were typical for his time. The exhibit will complement related items in the Poe Museum’s permanent collection, including a lock of hair taken from Poe’s head after his death and a reproduction of a post mortem portrait of Poe’s wife.
The exhibit will open from 6-9 P.M. on October 6 during the Poe Museum’s annual observance of the anniversary of Poe’s death. During the opening, visitors can listen to the authors of the new horror anthology Richmond Macabre read from their work, listen to DJ Sean Lovelace play creepy music on a theremin, explore the Poe Museum’s permanent exhibits, or see the new temporary exhibit The Raven, Terror & Death. Admission to the exhibit opening and Poe Memorial Service are free.
Excellent jazz accompaniment for the evening’s festivities was provided by Jack Winn Duo and Poe fans young and old (plus a stray bat or two) really got into the spirit of the event.
Of course, this Unhappy Hour also served as the Poe Museum’s first event of our busy fall season. Make sure that you check our events calendar for information about all kinds of exciting things that will be happening in October.
First up on Sunday October 2nd from 2-4pm is the launch party for Richmond Macabre a horror anthology dedicated to Poe and featuring stories set right here in the River City. We hope to see folks at as many of our October events as possible. October is Poe’s month after all!
On Thursday, September 22, 2011 from 6-9P.M., the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia will celebrate the opening of the United States debut of a new art exhibit, The Raven, Terror & Death, with an Unhappy Hour devoted to Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 poem “The Raven.” Guests will enjoy raven readings, films, music, games, and, of course, this unique artistic tribute to the poem featuring over 60 artists from the United States and Mexico. The Raven, Terror & Death was first exhibited earlier this year at Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Mexico. In addition to showcasing a wide variety of different contemporary artists’ responses to Poe’s poem, the exhibit also offers a rare opportunity for Richmonders to see new art by some of Mexico’s most respected artists.
Exhibit organizers, George Rivera, PhD, Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado, and Dr. José Daniel Manzano Águila, Director of the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas, offered a select group of contemporary artists the challenge of creating work in response to Poe’s poem, “The Raven.”
According to Rivera, “Since art has the capacity to build bridges between people by addressing what is universal among human beings, the exhibition of “El Cuervo” [“The Raven”] in the United States is timely… Dr. Manzano understands the importance of the artistic spirit in the New Millennium. The artists who he has gathered from the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas have created excellent examples of art that transcends borders.”
The Co-Curator, Manzano says of the Mexican artists in the exhibit, “This sample integrated with 24 works created by the same number of participants, all educators of the National School of Plastic Arts of the UNAM, will contribute in the promotion and diffusion of the artistic work and will serve as a homage to the highly esteemed writer Edgar Allan Poe, who bequeathed the humanity an extraordinary abundance of literary works. It is also our desire that this exposition serve to preserve the Poe Museum, where the literary creator lived part of his life, carrying out the magisterial work that can be found translated into almost all the languages of the world.”
Professor Rivera will be attendance at the exhibit opening to answer questions about the extraordinary range of works on view. The exhibit will continue through January 1, 2012. Admission is free during the exhibit opening and thereafter is included with Poe Museum general admission.
Below are a few samples of the work to be displayed.
Some of Poe’s most popular tales of terror were inspired by true events. One example is “The Pit and the Pendulum,” which tells of the story of a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, an infamous program of trials in which the judges were allowed to use torture to extract confessions from the accused. Poe sets this story in a torture chamber during the Spanish Inquisition. He may have been inspired by a paragraph in Thomas Dick’s Philosophy of Religion (1825): “On entry of the French into Toldeo during the late Peninsular War, General Lasalle visited the Palace of the Inquisition. The great number of instruments of torture, especially the instruments to stretch the limbs, and the drop baths, which cause a lingering death, excited horror, even in the minds of soldiers hardened in the field of battle.” Poe’s story ends with Lasalle entering the Palace of the Inquisition and rescuing one of the prisoners. Poe imagines a series of terrifying events leading up to that conclusion.
In composing his story, Poe describes tortures that differ from those actually used by the Inquisition. In one room, for example, the victim is placed in a dark room with a seemingly bottomless pit and burning walls that close in on him. In another room, the man is tied to a table over which a sharp blade swings, gradually lowering until it almost chops him in half. Through a combination of luck and intelligence, the prisoner is able to narrowly escape each challenge set before him.
After the French invasion of Spain in 1808, Joseph Bonaparte briefly suppressed the Inquisition and appointed Llorente to take over the Inquisitions archives and to write its history. This work was published in 1812. When the Spanish drove out the French, Llorente moved to Paris where he issued a French translation of his history of the Inquisition. By 1826, two English translations were published. Any of these could have been Poe’s sources for research while writing “The Pit and the Pendulum.” The Spanish Inquisition finally ended in 1834, just eight years before Poe wrote his story, so reports of the terrors of that time would still have been fresh in the minds of the public.
The Poe Museum’s new exhibit, “The Pit and the Pendulum: Fact and Fiction,” recreates a scene from Poe’s story and brings together a rare first printing of the tale, illustrations by Harry Clarke, Mark Summers, and others, as well as translations of the work into other languages.
The show runs until August 30 in the Poe Museum’s Exhibits Building.
June’s Unhappy Hour (which took place on June 23rd) featured Poe’s short story “The Pit and the Pendulum”. First published in October 1842, the story is a hair raising tale of a prisoner’s experiences at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition and is notable for evoking terror through its heavy reliance on sensory details to emphasize the reality of the narrator’s harrowing situation.
The museum has put together a new exhibit based on Poe’s tale that opened for the Unhappy Hour.
Here is a small sampling courtesy of Keith Kaufelt:
You’ll have to come experience the whole exhibit for yourself – it will be here through the end of August.
Unhappy Hour featured a Spanish Inquisition themed scavenger hunt as well as Spanish themed food in honor of the story. Jamie and Katie, two of our lovely staff members, even volunteered to make pendulum cookies for the occasion.
Marvel at their hard work!
Pendulum cookies – with “bloody” sprinkle edges courtesy of Jamie and Katie
Family enjoying the Spanish Inquisition scavenger hunt at Unhappy Hour
Lovely Spanish guitar music was provided by the Robinson Guitar Duo.
Unless you’re a victim of the Inqusition, a good time can always be had during Unhappy Hour at the Poe Museum.
Next Unhappy Hour will be on July 28th from 6pm-9pm and will feature a carnival and an amontillado tasting in honor of “The Cask of Amontillado.” Beggars of Life will provide the evening’s musical entertainment.
This isn’t technically related to the bicentennial, but the exhibit of Poe in the comics is still running at the Poe Museum. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to see it, you still have until the end of October visit. Even those of you who are not particularly interested in comic books or graphic novels will still be able to appreciate the artistry of some of these drawings and paintings. Among my favorites were the illustrations by Richard Corben for “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Beautifully rendered, these dramatic images really make an impression on the viewer. The murderer’s face in “The Tell-Tale Heart” truly evokes his nervousness and paranoia. Corben’s drawings for “The Raven” are lyrical and enigmatic. They are hanging in a suitably creepy black room on the second floor of the exhibit building along with some dark drawings by other artists.
The first floor of the exhibit contains an overview of Poe in the comics. This section shows how not only Poe’s stories but also Poe, himself, have appeared in comics from the 1940s until today. The area devoted to Poe as a comic character gives the viewer a new perspective on the idea of Poe as a pop culture icon. Here you will encounter Poe joining forces with Batman and helping “the world’s smallest super hero” the Atom fight crime. An original drawing by Rick Geary for his book The Mystery of Mary Rogers details the real Poe’s attempt to solve an actual murder mystery, proving that Poe didn’t need Batman’s help to battle the forces of evil. (Come to the Poe Museum’s Summer 2009 exhibit “Ratiocination” to learn more about how Poe tried to solve some real-life mysteries.)
One case in this room is devoted to Poe parodies. Among these are a Simpsons version of “The Cask of Amontillado” and a story entitled “The Tell-Tale Fart.”
A favorite with many of visitors is Gris Grimly’s watercolor cover art for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness. Grimly uses subtle washes of watercolor with delicate pen-and-ink details to create a twisted world that reminds one of a cross between a Tim Burton film and an Egon Schiele drawing.
In addition to the exhibit, the Poe Museum has published a catalog, The Incredible Mr. Poe, which includes a history of Poe in the comics by Dr. M. Thomas Inge, the collector who loaned many of the pieces in the show, as well as chronology of most of Poe’s comic appearances from the 1940s until 2007.