Poe Museum Raising Money to Preserve ‘Raven’ Illustrations

Illustration by James Carling
Illustration by James Carling

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, has launched a public fundraising campaign to save 43 illustrations based on the 1845 poem, The Raven. These drawings were done in the 1884 by British-born street artist, James Carling, and are known for their dark, haunting portrayal of Poe’s classic work.

The museum has until November 15 to raise $60,000 via Kickstarter. Meeting the goal will ensure the preservation of these illustrations as well as the preparation and publication of a book the museum is planning of Carling’s work. Part of the money will also be used to create a traveling exhibit. If the museum doesn’t reach its goal, it will not receive any funding for this project.

Carling’s drawings were named as one of Virginia’s top 10 most endangered artifacts for 2013 by the Virginia Association of Museums. The curator of the Poe Museum, Chris Semtner, said the original paper had been glued to acidic cardboard which, over time, had caused the paper to deteriorate and darken.

James Carling, Illustrator

The story behind these illustrations is as interesting as the artwork itself. James Carling was born in Liverpool in 1857 and grew up in poverty. He became a sidewalk artist at an early age, drawing caricatures of people and political issues to earn some money. At the age of 14, he sailed to America with his older brother, Henry. When they arrived, both of them earned extra money as sidewalk artists. James got regular work as the “Lightning Caricaturist” and the “Fastest Drawer in the World” while he traveled throughout the United States.

Illustration by James Carling
Illustration by James Carling

The U. S. publisher, Harper and Brothers, commissioned the popular French artist, Gustave Dore, to illustrate a special edition of Poe’s The Raven that was published in 1884. Carling also illustrated the poem and wrote that the ideas and styles of the two artists “are as wide as the poles.” He described Dore’s version as “beautiful” and lovely, in contrast to his own work as stormy, “wilder and more weird; they are horrible” and faithful to the story.

Poe Museum Display

Carling died at the age of 29 in 1887 after he’d returned to England. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Liverpool. His illustrations had not been published but he had given them to his brother, Henry, for safe keeping. Henry, a successful artist in his own right, exhibited James’ work in 1930. The results were so positive that the Poe Museum purchased the set in 1936 and displayed it for 40 years in the Raven Room.

According to the Poe Museum, visitors would shudder when they stepped in the room. The were surrounded by drawings that depicted the fears and actions of The Raven. Carling used a line from the poem to write about his own work saying, “I have been ‘dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before.'”

The drawings were taken down in the 1970s and placed in storage to prevent damage from light and humidity. Smaller reproductions were put up for awhile but later taken down for other exhibits. The originals were displayed in 2012 in honor of Poe’s 203rd birthday and the Poe Museum’s 90th anniversary.

Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia
Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia

The museum opened in 1922 in the Old Stone House. It is a short distance from Poe’s first Richmond home and his first place of employment, the Southern Literary Messenger. It contains the most extensive collection in the world of Poe’s manuscripts, first editions, letters, personal items and other memorabilia. The author is best known for his short horror stories and poetry, but he also wrote detective stories and science fiction. He died October 7, 1849. in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more about the Poe Museum, please visit their website listed below.

Written by: Cynthia Collins

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Poe Museum in Richmond, VA

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