The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Using Art to Save the Poe House

Gaia holding his print, The Raven (Forevermore). Photo by Edward Winter Photography

Situated amid a housing project in west Baltimore, the tiny brick rowhouse at 203 Amity Street might strike visitors as an unlikely national landmark. Yet it was here that Edgar Allan Poe lived from 1832 or '33 to 1835, and where he wrote a few of his earliest stories. But despite its literary history and Baltimore?s love affair with Poe (the Baltimore Ravens weren?t given their name for nuthin?), the Poe House & Museum is in danger of closing after the city withdrew $85,000 in annual funding last year. If the Poe House doesn?t figure out a way to survive once reserve funds are depleted, it will be forced to shut its doors.

For book lovers, the shuttering of the Poe House is a potential tragedy; for history lovers, it?s a crime. But for one artist, the situation was ripe with creative opportunity. Gaia, a street artist and recent graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, created a block print titled The Raven (Forevermore), inspired by the bird immortalized by Poe?s most famous poem. He is selling 100 signed copies of the piece for $400 a pop; all proceeds will be donated directly to the Poe House.

The idea for the project was initially proposed to Gaia by Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art. While Bolger handled the logistics of marketing and sponsorship, Gaia took to the studio and went to work. ?It was a nice chance to be able to do something good for the city of Baltimore,? Gaia said. ?And of course [to] have some sort of pertinence to his literature.? Although writing is not a major focus of his at the moment, the artist notes the overlap between the two mediums. ?The relationship between literature and visual art has always been a really beautiful one, and one where both practices always inform each other. Essentially, what you?re doing is using vocabulary and words to paint a picture in one?s imagination, so they both sort of pursue the same function.?

The fundraising initiative also offered Gaia a chance to promote street art, which at first glance, might seem like an unexpected counterpart to a 19th-century master of macabre. As part of the project, the artist created a 16 x 38-foot double raven on an exterior brick wall near the Poe House, which can be seen here. Photos of the work were shown at the project?s launch event at [case]werks, introducing gallery visitors to the versatility of what was, until recently, largely considered to be an outsider art form.

Although he doesn?t expect the print to become the House?s financial savior, Gaia hopes it will serve as a ?rallying call? for those who might be unaware of the museum?s financial situation. ?It?s gotten a lot of other donations falling into the home,? he said. Will the uptick be enough to save the House, or is it destined for a fate of nevermore? We'll keep you posted as events unfold!

For more information about Edgar Allan Poe, please visit The Big Read website.

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