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In spite of (or perhaps because of) their originality and weirdness, Carling’s illustrations remained unpublished at the time of his death.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.
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.
Kids showing off their freshly made Raven puppets (photo courtesy of Tammy Breeding)
For the past few weeks, the Poe Museum has played host to several primary school aged groups who were interested in learning about Edgar Allan Poe as part of their summer enrichment. Our usual bailiwick is middle and high school aged pupils, but we at the Museum were more than happy to help introduce Poe to younger folks.
Children received a special tour of the museum and then got to participate in an activity designed to introduce them to poetry via Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven”. They also got to make their own Raven puppets to take home.
The kids (and the Poe Museum guides) all seem to have had a great time. Hopefully, we are helping to instill an early appreciation for poetry in general and Poe in particular for the young people that have visited us this month. Maybe we will even inspire someone to go on to write poetry or short stories of their own.