Museum News


The Challenge of Evaluating Poe’s, Eureka: A Prose Poem


 

Wikipedia.com

Was Poe Searching for Gold in Eureka: A Prose Poem?

In my last column, I discussed the reasons that I decided not to focus my entire Master’s Thesis research on Poe’s Eureka: A Prose Poem. That conclusion became obvious to me after I examined all of the clues that were available to me at the beginning of my investigation. First of all, I found that Eureka was extremely technical and too difficult to interpret. It appeared that when Poe was warning critics not to evaluate it during his lifetime, he was also sending out a cautionary note to me that I should not take on such a big project before I was ready. Poe’s culminating work is extremely challenging because it spans several genres and,thus, cannot be compared to any other poetic, literary, historic, scientific, or metaphysical works; however, it is a combination of all of the aforementioned genres. I was left with the impression, that was also concluded by other researchers, that  it is too literary to be considered a scientific work and too scientific to be considered a literary work. However, Poe described his book as a scientific treatise on the origins and future of the Universe. In Eureka, he writes extensively on the history of science, integrates much of what was already known about science in the nineteenth century, and proposed several original scientific and metaphysical theories. Therefore, I decided to focus my research inquiry on Poe and Science, even though the book also spans several other genres.

At the 2013 Positively Poe Conference at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Virginia (see my last Poe and Science Blog), I explained that when miners found gold in the nineteenth century, they needed to assay it against a known gold standard to determine its value. I noted that, perhaps, Poe was inspired to name his book after the exclamation that the miners in his lifetime shouted after they struck gold. Their joyous exclamation, “Eureka” means, “I have found it!”  He wrote that his book was the most profound work about science “since Newton’s discovery of gravity.”  Poe may have believed that he had would become rich and even more famous as a renown science writer after he published his book. Unfortunately, there were few other critics in his lifetime who agreed with him, since there weren’t any established standards to determine the value of his work. Unfortunately, the book is no easier to evaluate today than it was when Poe wrote it 1848. It has been speculated, though, that Poe was defying critics to attempt to write an evaluation of a book that could not be compared to anything else. Consequently rather than attempting to deal with the challenges of evaluating

Consequently rather than attempting to deal with the challenges of evaluating Eureka directly, I believed that a more manageable project would be to  determine the extent to which Poe’s final work might have been influenced by the literary, historical, philosophic, and scientific contexts of the nineteenth century. I was also curious to find out if Poe’s interest in science was first initiated in Eureka, or whether he expressed an interest in other scientific topics in his earlier works of poetry, journalism, and fiction.

I concluded that my project would focus on Poe and Science. I would start with examining his poetry and technical training, and then how he wrote about the science as a journalist and a writer of  science-based fiction. It was my hypothesis that if I attempted to examine what Poe wrote about related to science prior to Eureka, it might help me to understand what he was trying to express in Eureka: A Prose Poem. Ultimately, looking at the ways that Poe wrote about science in each of his writing styles, and then discussing the ideas that he was attempting to express about science became the way I organized and reported my research. It also helped me to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of Eureka than I had after my initial reading of Poe’s most enigmatic book. In my future columns on Poe and Science, I will reveal what I discovered about Poe and Eureka. I hope you will join me and share your reactions about this topic.

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 Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education at Temple University (1973), a Master’s of Arts in English Literature at VCU (2015), and  a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia, and is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write to Murray by leaving a Comment or at [email protected]

Murray Ellison at the Richmond Poe Museum




Poe Museum Sheds New Light on Endangered Portraits


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What in the world happened to Caroline Griswold’s face? Rest assured, she still looks the same as she did last week. We just photographed her under different lighting conditions. By lighting the portrait from an angle, the conservator is better able to see the surface cracks that need to be repaired. Below is the portrait under normal illumination. The cracks are not quite as easy to see this time.

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Now look at this photograph taken under ultraviolet illumination.

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This lighting causes organic substances to fluoresce while inorganic substances absorb the light and look black. The organic resin varnish added as a protective layer over the finished painting is fluorescing, but there are also dark splotches that show the presence of paint applied on top of the varnish. This is the result of restorers covering up areas of missing or damaged paint with matching paint. The only problem is that, because they didn’t clean the painting before adding the patches, the patches match the color of the dirty paint. These means that, when the painting is cleaned, the patches will no longer match the painting. Figuring out which parts of the painting are original and which are not helps our conservator get a better understanding of how the painting originally appeared. This provides him a kind of road map to follow during the conservation process.

Notice that some of the patches are lighter than others. These are likely older patches painted by a previous restorer. The light spots on the painting appear to be another organic residue, maybe splattered food or mold.

This detail of the lower edge of the portrait shows the presence of organic residue that dripped down the paint surface.

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Now let’s take a look at some of the conservator’s photos of the Rufus Griswold portrait. This is a photograph under normal illumination. Under this light, one can already see how dirty the painting is, but looking at it with different lighting will show us even more.

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Here is one taken with raking light to show the cracks. Especially evident is a bulge on the lower edge of the canvas caused by the accumulation of dust and debris between the back of the canvas and the stretcher. This will have to be repaired by removing the canvas from the stretcher and flattening it before restretching it.

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Here is one taken under ultraviolet illumination. (Notice the varnish on the easel is also fluorescing.) You can see some large areas where missing paint was restored.

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A detail of the lower left corner of the portrait taken under raking light shows the bulge, a vertical crack with missing paint, and a major hole in the canvas.

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The same area shown under ultraviolet illumination reveals extensive repairs made by a past restorer.

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By taking multiple photographs using different kinds of light, our conservator will determine which parts of the painting are original and which are not as well as which parts should be cleaned and which should be removed. This guided him when he performed a test cleaning on Rufus Griswold’s face.

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These kinds of tests will help the conservator get a better idea of how the portraits underneath 176 years of grime and dirty varnish should look after a successful cleaning. Only after careful study, planning, and testing, will the conservator be able to begin the treatment process, which may take months to complete.

Since the portraits of Rufus and Caroline Griswold arrived at the Poe Museum a couple months ago, we have had several visitors ask about them. If you would like to see the portrait of Rufus Griswold in its current state, please visit the Poe Museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building where it is hanging above Edgar Allan Poe’s trunk.

If you are interested in helping out with the conservation process, please vote for the Rufus Griswold portrait to be Virginia’s Most Endangered Artifact for 2016. Just click here to vote.




H.P. Lovecraft Visits the Poe Museum


HP Lovecraft by Semtner

HP Lovecraft by Semtner

Last Saturday, August 20, would have been the 126th birthday of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), author of such influential horror, science fiction, and fantasy tales as The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, and At the Mountains of Madness (which was inspired by Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym). Lovecraft’s influence on both horror fiction and popular culture has been vast. Several of his works have been adapted to film, music, and even games. In his tales of cosmic horror he created a shared fictional universe known as the Cthulhu Mythos, which continues to live on in the works of legions of later authors.

Lovecraft was also a great admirer of Poe’s works and devoted an entire chapter of his 1935 book Supernatural Horror in Literature to him. In that chapter, Lovecraft writes,

Before Poe the bulk of weird writers had worked largely in the dark; without an understanding of the psychological basis of the horror appeal, and hampered by more or legs of conformity to certain empty literary conventions such as the happy ending, virtue rewarded, and in general a hollow moral didacticism, acceptance of popular standards and values, and striving of the author to obtrude his own emotions into the story and take sides with the partisans of the majority’s artificial ideas. Poe, on the other hand, perceived the essential impersonality of the real artist; and knew that the function of creative fiction is merely to express and interpret events and sensations as they are, regardless of how they tend or what they prove — good or evil, attractive or repulsive, stimulating or depressing, with the author always acting as a vivid and detached chronicler rather than as a teacher, sympathizer, or vendor of opinion. He saw clearly that all phases of life and thought are equally eligible as a subject matter for the artist, and being inclined by temperament to strangeness and gloom, decided to be the interpreter of those powerful feelings and frequent happenings which attend pain rather than pleasure, decay rather than growth, terror rather than tranquility, and which are fundamentally either adverse or indifferent to the tastes and traditional outward sentiments of mankind, and to the health, sanity, and normal expansive welfare of the species.

Never a terribly famous writer during his lifetime, Lovecraft would likely not have been recognized by the staff when he visited the Poe Museum in Richmond in May 1929. On May 4, he wrote Elizabeth Toldridge, “In Richmond the chief object of interest for me is the Poe Shrine—an old stone house with two adjoining houses connected as wings & used as a storehouse of Poe reliques. Here I have spent much time examining the objects associated with my supreme literary favourite—to say nothing of the marvelous model of Richmond in 1820, housed in one of the wings.”

The Poe Museum’s Old Stone House, Enchanted Garden, and model of Richmond remain much as they were in 1929, so today’s guests can still feel much of the atmosphere that must have inspired Lovecraft during his visit. The following photographs date to about that time.

The Poe Museum in June 1929.

The Poe Museum in June 1929.

The Enchanted Garden in early spring of 1929.

The Enchanted Garden in early spring of 1929.

Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building in about 1928

Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building in about 1928

Lovecraft was not the only famous cultural figure to make a trip to the Poe Museum. Vincent Price, Salvador Dali, and Gertrude Stein also visited. Click their names to read about their Poe Museum experiences.




A Poem by Edgar Allan Poe’s Cat


[The Poe Museum is always glad to learn of poets Poe has inspired. We recently received an email from Vik Shirley, a poet based in Bristol in the UK. Vik writes, “I recently completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English Literature (with Creative Writing) and was awarded First-class honours. For my final project I wrote a poetry sequence called Death: The Human Experience, based on an exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which featured various artefacts and symbols of death from around the world and throughout history. I based each poem in the sequence on a different exhibit and one of those was the death mask of Edgar Allan Poe…When I was carrying out research for my poem, I came across the museum website, in addition to an online 2014 article of yours in Biography.com, which I found fascinating and very useful. My poem is in the voice of Edgar’s cat Catterina. I was inspired to learn that she died shortly after the death of Edgar.” Here is the poem for your enjoyment.]

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Catterina’s Farewell

After Edgar

I always clawed the walls when he left,
sank into a fantastic gloom. Fetched
presents to his empty room, licked
my paws, preened myself, waiting, waiting.
But this time, there was something more;

one develops a feeling for these things,
a hunch, a penchant for the peculiar
in this house. My tortoiseshell pelt prickled
from that very first day, from the moment
he departed. I remember it well. I slunk

around his trunks – circling his doomed
luggage, brushing up, pressing against
his legs, weaving eights, provoking,
coaxing for one final caress. To explain:
we were close. I would sit on his shoulder

while he wrote, everybody knew I adored
him. I learned from the master; was wise
to the clues, the omens, symbols. The days
went by. I was wondering, wondering,
fearing the worst. My stomach churned,

I yearned to nibble his finger, flip the tip
of my tail in his presence, issue him with
a slow blink, a purr, but no, still, nothing,
nothing. Then yesterday the news bludgeoned
us without mercy or warning and confirmed

the unthinkable. It was an enigma, a conundrum,
and not, as I was hoping, a hoax. So, now it’s time
for me to go. My tell-tale heart is tired of talking.
I will follow my soulmate into the shadows, trace
his footsteps with paws, all the way to Nevermore.

(c) Vik Shirley 2016

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Poe Museum Portraits Nominated to Virginia’s Most Endangered Artifacts


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Each year, the Virginia Association of Museum’s accepts nominations for Virginia’s Most Endangered Artifacts, and this time the Poe Museum’s newly acquired portraits of Edgar Allan Poe’s worst enemy Rufus W. Griswold and his wife Caroline made the list of nominees. This honor means that people realize the significance of these historical artifacts and how important it is to preserve them. As we have seen in a previous blog post, these portrait have not been cleaned since they were painted back in 1840. The 176 years of accumulated dust and tobacco smoke have almost completely obscured the surfaces to the point that it is difficult to tell there are even portraits under there. The paintings also suffered from severe cracks and paint loss resulting from being removed from their frames and stored rolled up for years.

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The good news is that much of the original paint is still intact underneath all the grime. A conservator recently tested the paintings to determine just how bright the colors once were and how easily they can be returned their original appearance. Once the process is complete, we can be among the first see the paintings as Griswold himself would have seen them.

You can help bring these treasures out of the shadows and allow the public to see them for the first time. Just click here to cast your vote for the paintings of Rufus and Caroline Griswold to be Virginia’s Most Endangered Artifact for 2016. For more information about the program, click here. To donate to the conservation effort, please click here.




Poe’s “Oval Portrait: and The Picture of Dorian Gray: the Artist, the Subject, and the Audience*


www.goodreads.com

Poe’s Bride in ” The Oval Portrait” (www.Goodreads.com)

After reading Oscar Wilde’s, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), I was struck by how much his theme about the value of art resembled the one found in Poe’s 1842 short fictional work, “The Oval Portrait.” Both stories focus on the relationship between the artist, his subject, and the viewer, or, in the case of literature, the reader.  In Poe’s story, the young artist is driven to paint the ultimate portrait of his beautiful new wife. His goal was to produce a masterpiece that would portray a symbol of youth and vitality that would last an eternity. Poe writes, “As a thing of art, nothing could be more admirable than the painting itself.” The artist writes about the bride (the subject of his art): “She’s  a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee; all light and smiles, and frolicsome as the young fawn; loving and cherishing all things; hating only the Art which was her rival; dreading only the pallet and brushes and other untoward instruments which deprived her of the countenance of her lover.” However, she wanted to satisfy her husband and sat idly for days, while the artist was engrossed in his creation. He “turned his eyes from the canvas merely, even to regard the countenance of his wife.” After his last brush stroke, “the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought.” Instead of joy, “he grew tremulous, very pallid, and aghast crying with a loud voice, ‘This is Life itself!’ [and] turned suddenly to regard his beloved—She was dead!” Poe’s story shocks readers and forces them to make a judgment on the artist’s values, as well as their own values. Some  might conclude that the story demonstrates that the value of even the most beautiful art is diminished when an artist lives without compassion and positive connection with humanity. Others might conclude that the value of art exceeds the human sacrifice it took to produce it. “The Oval Portrait” also foreshadows the idealistic relationship that modern artists have with their work, as they splash images of their creations across social media and urge people to “Like” them. In many cases, they value their work more than they try to establish and maintain positive human interactions.

Wilde writes, in his Preface of the Picture of Dorian Gray, “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.” Wilde, like Poe, focuses on the relationship between the artist, his subject, and the reader: In the opening pages, he writes, “As the painter looked at the gracious and comely form he had so skilfully mirrored in his art, a smile of pleasure passed across his face.” The artist was deeply satisfied and even “riveted” by the profundity and beauty shown in his painting. The viewer of the painting, Lord Henry, who also symbolizes the reader, or the critic of art, remarks, “It is your best work, Basil, you must certainly send it next year to the Grosvenor.” The painter remarks that he cannot send it the exhibition, because “I have put too much of myself into it.” Lord Henry, acting as the art critic remarks, “What odd chaps you painters are. You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. As soon as you have one, you seem to want to throw it away.” Although Basil is still interested in having his art recognized, he cannot risk showing Dorian’s portrait because he fears that it will expose the darkness of his soul. The artist believes that he has become too emotionally connected to his subject to allow the purveyors of art to view his creation. Basil was once as scornful of his painting as Poe’s young bride was. However, he becomes enthralled with it after it is finished, and wants to keep it as a symbol of his youth. He makes a Faustian-like request: He wishes to remain eternally young and beautiful, and in his steed, his portrait would age with time. As this a Wilde novel, he is granted his wish. As he ages, he decides that he must hide his painting in the attic for fear that someone might discover that he has found the secret formula to eternal youth. Poe was also consumed with writing about the secret of longevity and eternal life and developed this theme throughout his career in several fictional works, including “Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” and “Some Words with a Mummy,” and in his final science treatise, Eureka: A Prose Poem.

Since he is granted long-lasting youth, Basil’s youthful appearance does not change after several decades. However, his life becomes increasingly decadent and even more violent than any character in a Poe story! He heartlessly scorns his lover, Sybil Vane, because she proposes to love Dorian rather than to continue as being a famous Shakespearean actress. In her final stage role, she portrays Juliet, who died an unnecessary death in Shakespeare’s tragedy. When she ceases to be an idealistic object of worship for Dorian Gray, she becomes totally undesirable to him. Dorian’s heartless rejection of her also causes her to commit suicide in real life. Afterward, Dorian and his mentor, Lord Henry, coldly justify that her dramatic death was even more profound than her life would have been as a faded actress and wife of an artist. The scenario with Sybil reminds readers of the wife, in Poe’s story, who was more dedicated to her husband than to his art, and of her the husband, who was more dedicated to his art than to his loving wife. The tragic suicide of Sybil, a word meaning an auspicious omen, foreshadows the tragic downfall of Dorian and, by psychic connection, of Basil, the artist who painted him. Due to Dorian’s decadent human activities, his portrait increasingly begins to mirror his corrupted soul. In the final scenes of the book, he must decide what he is going to do to relieve the guilt he feels when he looks at his hideous portrait. He tries to resolve his tormented soul by killing the artist who painted the work and by destroying the picture. But, does he succeed? Not all that we see in Gray is certain. Readers are as shocked about the conclusion of Wilde’s book as they were about The Oval Portrait. But,  they are not certain if Dorian Gray was conveyed realistically or whether it was entirely imagined in the mind of both the artist and his subject. The creator of the novel, Oscar Wilde, provides little to no clues to help unravel the mysteries of his well-constructed story. Instead, he challenges us to draw our own conclusions. There are several unanswered questions. For example, Did Dorian’s immoral behavior cause the painting to deteriorate? Was there a psychic connection established between the artist and the subject which caused both of them to see the painting in the same way?

Oscar Wilde’s book, Dorian Gray, was also continuing a trend that was pioneered by Poe, which introduced indeterminate endings. In this type of literature, readers had to use their own resources to unravel the loose ends of a story. For example, we do not anything about the relationship between Poe’s artist and his wife before he created his painting. We also don’t know if or how the artist changed after his wife’s death. Readers and literary critics are uncertain whether Gray’s actions caused the portrait to revert back to its former youthful vibrancy, or whether the changes seen in the portrait were only in the minds of Dorian and the artist who created the painting. Wilde wrote that art imitated life and that life imitated art, concluding that readers could understand much about themselves by the ways that they interpreted literature and art. If they thought that the lack of morals caused the tragic destruction of Dorian Gray,then that would be one conclusion about the over-arching theme of the story. However, if they concluded that Dorian lived a full and productive life of hedonistic pursuits, then they might consider that his death could be considered as noble. After all, he did try to reach for eternity. I have stopped a bit short of fully describing the final ending so that readers might explore it and draw their own conclusions about The Portrait of Dorian Gray! However, if you do like that book, I suggest that you also read any of Poe’s stories—many of which had a strong influence on Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece!

*This article was originally posted on Murray Ellison’s, www.Litchatte.com Website.

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 Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education at Temple University (1973), a Master’s of Arts in English Literature at VCU (2015), and  a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia, and is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write to Murray by leaving a Comment or at [email protected]

Murray Ellison at the Richmond Poe Museum

Murray  at the Poe Museum




Poe Museum Launches International Poe Film Festival


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From September 22-24, the Poe Museum, in partnership with the Byrd Theater, will host the Poe Film Festival to showcase the best in Edgar Allan Poe movies of the past ninety years from around the world.

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There have been hundreds of cinematic adaptations of Poe’s works and biopics of his life. These films, featuring Hollywood stars like Vincent Price, Jack Nicholson, and Sir Christopher Lee, have become part of our cultural heritage. Yet, so far, there has never been a film festival devoted entirely to Poe movies. By bringing the first Poe Film Festival to Richmond, the Poe Museum, along with special guests such as Victoria Price and Raul Garcia, invites fans to explore Poe’s legacy and influence through iconic American cinema.

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The three-day event will begin at the Poe Museum on Thursday, September 22 from 6-9 p.m. with a special “Poe Goes to the Movies” Unhappy Hour, with special guest Victoria Price, daughter of screen legend Vincent Price. The Unhappy Hour will also showcase a new exhibit of Poe-inspired art in partnership with Ohio’s Good Goat Gallery.

TheBlackCat-1934

On Friday the 23rd, from 7:00-10:30 p.m. the Byrd Theatre will show two feature-length adaptations of Poe’s most beloved works, Stonehearst Asylum (2014) and House of Usher (1960) hosted by Victoria Price. On Saturday from 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m., the Byrd will screen a series of short films, followed by panel discussions with film experts such as Raul Garcia, director of Extraordinary Tales; Scott Peeples of the College of Charleston; John LaTier, director of The Tell-Tale Heart; Sean Kotz of Radford University; and many more.

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On Saturday evening from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m the Poe Museum will host a special “Evening with Victoria Price.” This ticketed event will allow attendees to meet and mingle with Victoria Price and to celebrate the artistic legacy of Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe.

Richmond's landmark movie palace the Byrd Theatre will host the Poe Film Festival.

Richmond’s landmark movie palace the Byrd Theatre will host the Poe Film Festival.

Admission for each film or panel is $8. Admission to the Saturday evening reception is $75. Unhappy Hour admission on Thursday night is $5. Tickets will go on sale at the Poe Museum very soon. Here is the tentative schedule:

I. Thursday, September 22 (Poe Museum)
A. Unhappy Hour at the Poe Museum
B. Opening of Good Goat Gallery Exhibit “A Poe-tic Tribute”
C. Screening of 1928 silent film “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Jean Epstein in the Poe Museum Garden with live music

II. Friday, September 23 (Byrd Theatre)
A. 7 p.m. Screening of “House of Usher” (1960) introduced by Victoria Price
B. 9 p.m. Screening of “Stonehearst Asylum” (2014)

III. Saturday, September 24 (Byrd Theatre)
A. 10:00-12:00 Poe in Black-and-White Panel
1. Panelists Scott Peeples and Sean Kotz
2. Moderator Chris Semtner
3. Screening of “The Black Cat” (1934) “The Fall of the House of Usher” (Watson, 1928)
B. 1:00-2:45 Animated Poe Panel
1. Panelists Raul Garcia and TBA
2. Moderator Chris Semtner
3. Screening of “Extraordinary Tales” (2014)
C. Adapting Poe Panel
1. Panelists John LaTier and Poe Movies
2. Moderator Scott Peeples, University of Charleston
3. Films: “The Cask of Amontillado” (2015) by Poe Movies and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (2016) by John LaTier

IV. Saturday Evening, September 24 (Poe Museum)
A. 7-9 p.m. Reception at the Poe Museum with talk by Victoria Price, screening of “Tales of Terror,” and meet and greet with panelists

More details will be coming soon. For more information, please contact the Poe Museum at [email protected] or 804-648-5523.




What Ever Happened to Poe’s Hat?


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The other day someone brought me a top hat supposed to have once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. I had never doubted that Poe would have worn a hat. Fashion plates from Graham’s Magazine (which Poe edited) and other popular magazines of the day showed men in top hats, and, as seen in the below illustration from an 1842 almanac, even a lawless gang wore top hats while murdering people.

Tragic Almanac (Rogers)

In fact, the surviving photographs of Poe often show the tell-tale signs of “hat head” in which the hair is flattened down on top and sticks out, mullet-like, in the back. Of course, he took his hat off for his photos and portraits, and only one photo even shows what appears to be the edge of a hat. That does not provide a very clear picture of the kind of hat he would have worn, but we can probably make some educated guesses based on the fashions of Poe’s day.

Graham's Magazine fashion plate from 1841

Graham’s Magazine fashion plate from 1841

Another Graham's Magazine fashion plate from 1841

Another Graham’s Magazine fashion plate from 1841

A gentleman’s hat at the time might have been made of beaver fur or silk, which was gradually growing in popularity by the 1840s. During the 1840s and 1850s, hats were getting especially tall, as can be seen in the photo below.

Men in hats from 1857 photo via Wikipedia

Men in hats from 1857 photo via Wikipedia

Using a reproduction of one of William Abbott Pratt’s daguerreotypes, taken in Richmond in September 1849, I have envisioned how Poe may have looked in his top hat.

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Top hats were not the only gentlemen’s hats available at the time. This illustration from the first printing of Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug” (1842) shows a man on the left wearing a broad-brimmed hat.

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Some people who saw Poe on his summer 1849 visit to Richmond describe him wearing just such a hat to shield his eyes from the bright summer sun. A Richmonder at the time later wrote, “I was in Richmond in 1849, and remember Mr. Poe, with his white linen coat and trousers, black velvet vest, and broad Panama hat.” Here is a photograph showing how he would have looked wearing it.

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I regret I cannot tell if Poe ever used the hat shown to me. The owner could tell me nothing of its provenance, so I had no evidence tying it to Poe. Although someone had written the name “Poe” on the inside of the hat, there are several people with than name. To make matters worse, someone wrote the date “1850” in the hat, and, if the date is correct, the piece dates to a year after Edgar Allan Poe’s death. Of course, we do not know who wrote that in the hat or why they wrote it. Maybe more evidence will become available to help us determine just whose hat this was.

There is no telling what ever happened to Poe’s hat. When he was found at a Baltimore polling place four days before his death, someone had already stolen it and replaced it with a cheaper one. As a witness, Dr. Joseph Snodgrass, later wrote, Poe’s “hat, or rather the hat of somebody else, for he had evidently been robbed of his clothing, or cheated in an exchange, was a cheap palm leaf one, without a band, and soiled.” It appears someone may have purloined Poe’s hat and likely disposed of it at some point without ever realizing (or caring) that it had once belonged to a famous poet.




Third Anniversary of the Positively Poe Conference at the University of Virginia


 

Poe was in the second class of students who attended the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. According to the UVA Website(aig.alumni.virginia.edu), “Edgar Allan Poe enrolled at the University on February 14, 1826, the 136th of 177 students registering for the second session. He attended classes in the Schools of Ancient and Modern Languages, under Professors Long and Blaetterman respectively. Although not known for spending long hours at his lessons, Poe was already remarkable for his brooding, lonely genius. His excellent memory allowed him to read ahead in class and recite correctly even when utterly unprepared. In his final examinations, he took top honors in French and Latin and was cited for excellence by both professors.” Chris Semtner, Poe Richmond Museum Curator, noted that Poe often watched the construction of Jefferson’s Rotunda as it was being built and that he attended Jefferson’s funeral. Although Poe’s stay at the college was short, it is still notably marked around campus with a bust in the library and the preservation and public display of his college dorm room. During my three days of attendance at the Positively Poe Conference at the University, in July 2013, Poe’s Room, right across the street from where the conference was held, appeared to be the most visited site on campus.

Poe attended UVa in 1826.

Poe attended UVa in 1826.

As July is nearing an end this year, I fondly remember back to my first immersion at a major Poe conference with many of the top Poe scholars of the world. It was organized by the Richmond Poe Museum and it’s Board President Harry Lee (Hal) Poe and by Gorky Institute of Moscow Professor, Alexandra Urakova. As I was beginning my Master’s Thesis on Poe’s book, Eureka: A Prose Poem, I was accepted to deliver a workshop proposal on that topic. It was a most inspiring immersion experienced for me, as it initiated me into the modern world Poe community.

The program began on Monday evening, July 24, 2013, in the Rotunda Room, which was undergoing extensive renovation. The main speaker was the scholar, Ben Fisher, and a “Poe Performance” of the “Imp of the Perverse,” by Rob Velella.  I offer a summary of the program that was offered below. In my subsequent Blog, I will discuss what I presented during my electrifying workshop.

From the Positively Poe Program Brochure:

About the Conference

Over the last few years, we have seen several notable additions to the number of film and television adaptations of Poe and his works. They are notable for having large enough budgets to have no excuse for doing such a bad job of treating Poe. In this dreary cultural context, the idea for this conference grew. We wondered what would happen if scholars were invited to reflect on the positive aspects of Poe and his work. Poe’s reputation as a tortured, tragic figure, melancholic poet and the “master of the macabre” has fueled his popularity for over a century and a half, while debunking stereotypes and myths associated with that reputation has always been an essential part of Poe criticism. Going beyond the debunking of the popular caricature, we would like to discover the “positive” side of Poe’s life and work. Just as his life had its ups and downs, his writing, too, reflects a wide range of experience, not exclusively the dark and dismal. We have been gratified by the response to this little boutique gathering set at Poe’s university at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains he so loved. In planning this conference, we considered the setting to be of major importance, and we hope the conferees can find the time to enjoy Mr. Jefferson’s university and the mountains around it.

The Poe Museum

For over ninety years the Poe Museum has strived to preserve and advance the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. Located in the Old Stone House, the oldest residence in Richmond, the museum stands in the midst of the neighborhood where Poe lived as a child before his foster father came into his fortune. The museum preserves the largest collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia in the world which includes such items as Poe’s childhood bed, the walking stick he left behind in Richmond on his last fatal trip, the chair he used at The Southern Literary Messenger, his trunk, and many items from his boyhood home. In addition to a collection of first editions of Poe’s books and first appearances of his stories, poems, and articles, the museum also has a large collection of rare and unique images related to Poe, as well as a large library of secondary works on Poe. The museum hopes that Poe scholars will find its holdings useful to scholars as they continue to explore the body of his work in the third century since his birth.

Workshops Offered

Tuesday, July 25, 2013

9:00    a.m.       Session One – Poe Makes Friends

Chair – Stephen Railton, University of Virginia

Richard Kopley

 “Edgar Makes a Friend”

Chris Semtner

“A Young Girl’s Recollections of Edgar Allan Poe”

Philip Phillips

“Yankee Neal and Edgar Poe: The Fruits of a Literary Friendship”

John Gruesser

“Poe, Whitman, and Melville in New York and Beyond”

11:15  a.m.        Session Two – POEtic Effect

                  Chair – Jerome McGann, University of Virginia

Jerome McGann,

“Poe’s ‘The Bells’ as a Musical Mirror of a Discordant Age”

Stephen Rachman

“From “Al Aaraaf” to the Universe of Stars: Poe, the Arabesque, and Cosmology”

Emron Esplin and Margarida Vale de Gato

“‘Excellent system(s) of positive translation(s)’: Why Poe’s Translators Have Neither Been Invisible nor Ephemeral”

1:45   p.m.       Session Three – Poe and Art

                  Chair – Bonnie Shannon McMullen,  Independent Scholar, Oxford (UK)

Scott Peeples

“Poe in Love”

Sonya Isaak

“‘When Music Affects Us to Tears’:  Poe’s Silent Music – Divine Aspiration and Lasting Inspiration”

Anne Margaret Daniel

“Bob Dylan: ‘like being in an Edgar Allan Poe story’”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 (cont.)

3:30  p.m.         Session Four: Collecting Poe

Susan Jaffe Tane and Harry Lee Poe

6:00 p.m.      Picnic – The Ragged Mountain

Beth Sweeney: Readers’ Theatre Boston:

Reader's Theatre

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All paper sessions in the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library auditorium

9:00   a.m.        Session One – The Comic Side of Poe

                  Chair – Richard Kopley, Penn State University

  1. Barbara Cantalupo

“‘A little China man having a large stomach’:  Poe’s Homely Details in ‘The Devil in the Belfry’”

  1. Alexandra Urakova

“‘Shreds and patches’: Poe, Fashion, and Godey’s Lady’s Book

  1. Elina Absalyamova

“A Comic Poe: European Success Story”

11:00  a.m.       Session Two – Tales: Rethinking the Gothic

Chair – Margarida Vale de Gato, University of Lisbon

Bonnie Shannon McMullen

“The ‘Sob from the ebony bed’: The Reanimation of the Gothic Tale in ‘Ligeia’”

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney

“Positive Images: Poe and the Daguerreotype”

William E. Engel

“Jaunty dialogs with the non-human: a Closer Look at Dogs in the Works of E.A. Poe”

1:30 p.m.           Session Three – Poe and Ethics

                        Chair – Bill Engel, University of the South

Gero Guttzeit

“‘Constructive Power’: Poe’s Mythology and Ethics of Authorship”

Katherine Rose Keenan,

“You Can’t Escape Yourself”: Poe’s Use of Moral Doppelgangers”

Shawn McAvoy and

Heather Myrick Stocker

“Selective Symbolism: Poe’s Romantic Theology”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 (cont.)

3.30 p.m.     Session Four – Poetry, Science, and Eureka

Panel Chair – Harry Lee Poe, Union University

René van Slooten

“The Facts in the Case of Eureka”

Murray Ellison

“Judging Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka after the Author’s Death”

Diffusion Diagram from Poe's, Eureka: A Prose Poem

Diffusion Diagram from Eureka: A Prose Poem

Ironically, as I began my final presentation of the conference on Poe’s strangest and most enigmatic work, Eureka: A Prose Poem, the lights in the University of Virginia’s Special Collections Library began to flicker. This show from Nature was followed by some of the most powerful lightning and thunderclaps I ever remember experiencing. Not surprisingly after these impressive  events, our lights were lost and flickered to the minimum backup generator dim-strength. Our Power, which was to illuminate my elaborate Power Point presentation on the difficulties of evaluating Poe’s, Eureka, left the building! If scientists at the University of Virginia would have argued that the power failure was caused by the energy of the Poe enthusiasts in the room, I would not have disagreed with them! I will explain how I handled the situation and what I said about what I thought would be needed to conduct a proper evaluation of Eureka in my next Blog.

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 Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education at Temple University (1973), a Master’s of Arts in English Literature at VCU (2015), and  a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia, and is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write to Murray by leaving a Comment or at [email protected]

Murray Ellison at the Richmond Poe Museum

Murray  at the Poe Museum

                                                                               




Rufus Griswold Visits the Conservator


Griswold portraits at the conservation studio

Griswold portraits at the conservation studio

The Poe Museum’s newly acquired portraits of Rufus and Caroline Griswold have just returned from a visit to a conservator who examined them so that he can put together a proposal for treating them. We will post that information when it becomes available. To find out more about these portraits, click here.

The good news is that the paintings are in great shape. The bad news is that those great paintings are covered under layers of dirt, grime, and varnish. A quick examination revealed a little of what these paintings have endured over the past 176 years.

Rufus and Caroline Griswold meet George III at the conservation studio

Rufus and Caroline Griswold meet George III at the conservation studio

The portraits were painted in 1840 when Rufus Griswold was twenty-five years old. Rufus and Caroline had married three years earlier, but he would leave her in New York in November 1840 in order to take a job in Philadelphia. She remained in New York, where she died just two years later. Griswold was devastated by her sudden death. He refused to leave her side until he was forced to do so by a relative thirty hours later. Then he returned to her crypt forty days later and spent the night with her corpse.

The loss of Caroline inspired Griswold to write poetry in her memory. Among these were “Five Days” and “To Elizabeth Waring—A Christmas Epistle.” The manuscript for the latter is in the collection of Griswold’s letters and manuscripts included with the above portraits. The poem begins,

A day of joy to all the world is this,
But unto me, alas! A day of gloom;
For she who was the fountain of my bliss
Is hid from me forever in the tomb.
“A happy Christmas!” comes from many a voice,–
‘Tis kindly meant,–it brings me only pain,–
She who alone could bid my soul rejoice,
Oh, wo is me! I ne’er shall see again!”

But fifty days ago,–she by my side,–
I knew no pleasure which was not mine own,–
Ah, cruel Death!—to take from me my bride!—
Thou hast the temple of my hopes o’erthrown.
With broken heart, my weary way I wend,
No stars henceforth upon my pathway shine,–
Alas, what stars like eyes of such a friend,
As thou to me, oh, sainted Caroline!

These portraits serve as a record of the young couple in the early years of their marriage. A year after this portrait was painted, Griswold met Edgar Allan Poe. Another year later, Griswold rose to literary fame with the publication of his anthology The Poets and Poetry of America. Poe faintly praised the book at first but later ridiculed it for placing too much emphasis on northern writers while overlooking southern poets. This was only the beginning of the literary feud that ended after Poe’s death with Griswold attacking him in print with a largely fabricated biography.

The painting has been attributed to the artist Charles Loring Elliott in the 1943 book Rufus Wilmot Griswold: Poe’s Literary Executor by Joy Bayless. Griswold is known to have commissioned more portraits from him, so it is possible the Poe Museum’s portraits could be Elliott’s work. These paintings are, however, so dirty that it is difficult to tell what they really look like or who might have painted them.

When Griswold died at the age of forty-two in 1857, his daughter Emily Griswold took ownership of the paintings. From her, they descended through her family until they arrived at the antique dealer who sold them to the Poe Museum. A quick look at the surface of the paintings tells us a little of what happened to them over the years.

The paintings were done with oil paint on canvas. The canvas was then nailed to a wooden frame called a stretcher. Then they were installed in frames to protect them. At some point, both canvases were removed from their stretchers and frames and rolled up to make them easier to transport. This left a series of horizontal cracks in the paint surface. You can see some of those cracks in this picture. Some of the cracks are difficult to see because a restorer painted them the same color as the surrounding paint.

Horizontal cracks in Rufus Griswold painting

Horizontal cracks in Rufus Griswold painting

When the paintings were attached to new stretchers, somebody decided to make them narrower, so he or she attached them to smaller stretchers and rolled the excess canvas around the side of the stretcher bar. Bare canvas along the bottom of Caroline’s portrait shows that the person who performed this procedure had trouble lining up the canvas on the new stretcher. Since they could not stretch Rufus’s canvas around the bottom edge of his stretcher, they just nailed the canvas through the front. That’s right. There is a nail sticking out of the picture. You can almost see it in this picture.

Lower edge of Rufus Griswold portrait

Lower edge of Rufus Griswold portrait

You might also notice a slight bulge in the lower edge of the canvas in that picture. The bulge was caused by the accumulation of junk between the back of the canvas and the front of the stretcher. The conservator found leaves, dust, and dead insects back there.

Then people smoked in front of the pictures, and the smoke gradually deposited on the surface of the paintings. Fortunately, the paintings had been varnished shortly after they were painted, so the smoke particles stuck to the varnish instead of adhering to the paint. Eventually, the varnish looked dull and brown from all the smoke and dust stuck to it, so somebody applied another layer of varnish on top of the first varnish. Naturally, more tobacco smoke and dust stuck to that layer.

By this time, the painting was so dark it was difficult to see, but it is still down there underneath all that dirty varnish. The conservator wanted to find out what the paint looks like under the varnish, so he used solvents to remove the tobacco smoke, dust, what appears to be some kind of liquid spilled on the surface, and both layers of varnish. The photos below show what he found.

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Next time, we will post the conservator’s analysis of the paintings and what he thinks he can do for them.