“Never to suffer would never to have been blessed,” Edgar Allan Poe.
Known as the master of the macabre and arguably the inventor of the modern mystery genre, Poe’s dark works continue to strike a chord with many people today, more than 165 years since his death. While his poems and short stories still evoke horror and inspire many budding writers today, Poe was paid a mere $9 for “The Raven,” the work that made him a household name. Just like in his stories, struggles and the dark seemed to follow him until his early death at the age of 40.
Area artist Allie Parsons is one of those people who easily identifies with Poe. A die-hard fan of the writer since middle school, she was overjoyed recently to be asked to have seven of her Poe-themed paintings displayed in the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia.
“I have been a Poe fan since the seventh grade, so I was thrilled. I never thought I would get the call from a curator asking, ‘When can you get this done?” said Parsons, a Mount Airy native.
“We were doing American literature in the seventh grade and I remember going to a two-hour assembly. They spoke about nothing but Poe and I think I was the only one paying attention. For someone like me who has always felt like a misfit, I didn’t feel like I fit in. And then when you read something like Poe, you feel reading his stories he was that outcast. Poe is like that to a lot of people who feel misplaced. I believe God gave him a genius gift but quenched it in misery. Death is something people try to stay away from and Poe just sort of embraced it. And for some of us, the outcasts and things like that, we embrace it.”
Each year since 2002, the Poe Museum has celebrated the author’s Jan. 19 birthday with a 13-hour party. Parsons attended last year’s event and noticed local artists were featured in the galleries. Intrigued, she immediately found a curator and asked how to get in the gallery, noting the painting of The Raven she completed three years earlier.
“It had been mentioned to me I needed to do a centerpiece in that similar style, but give each one sort of their own distinctive individuality. So I told them I had a little bit of one done and I had plans for the Black Cat,” Parsons said. “I showed him these pieces and he said, ‘How quick can you have them? We want them.’ I finished them at the end of July and they have been in the Poe museum since the beginning of August.”
Each of Parsons’ Poe-themed paintings were done on 16×24-inch stretch canvas. They all have hand-lettered excerpts of each story, lettering that took about eight hours for each painting. All are based off of one of Poe’s famous stories, each depicting a theme from that particular tale.
“The Cask of Amontillado is one of my favorites. Poe has a way of delving into everybody’s dark side, but this one in particular I think took about 14 hours,” she said. “This one is very hard because everybody knows Fortunato is the one who gets walled up behind the wall out of revenge. You can actually see layers for the far background, the background, a middle ground and then up front, and this one I wanted it to feel like you were actually on Fortunato’s side being walled up while you were reading.”
The Tell-Tale Heart took a little longer as Parsons decided to add a unique touch after she originally finished the painting. Upon completion, it featured just a heart underneath the floor. She later added a face in the background to complete the look she wanted.
“For a long time I was looking at it thinking it was missing something because I wanted it to look like the person was actually pulling the heart from the floorboard,” Parsons said.
“And then I was like no, delving into a little bit of the detail, he buries the entire victim under the floorboard. The whole reason the character in this story kills the old man is because he has a blind eye and it tears him up. So I thought how creepy would it be for him to have to look down and see basically what is tormenting him and still see the eye?”
While in the middle of the Poe-themed paintings, Parsons received another call from the museum’s curator asking if she could do a landscape of the Enchanted Garden at the Poe Museum. That question came with a kicker – it had to be done in a week. Inspired by the subject she is so fond of, Parsons made it happen. She was even offered a part-time job at the museum, but said she did not want to trade living in a rural area for a big city like Richmond — at present she resides in Floyd, Virginia.
The 13-hour party Jan. 19 where Parsons’ paintings were featured also included a monstrous birthday cake for Poe – one big enough for 450 people. There were also bands and many local actors performing plays and reading Poe’s stories.
“And then at 4:30 we all get up and sing Happy Birthday to Edgar and we eat cake,” she said, adding that the party continues on into the night. “The main event is the toast and the shrine, which happens right at midnight.”
Parsons said her paintings will most likely stay on display at the Poe Museum until later this month. She hopes to bring them home and display them at the Floyd Library during the summer and possibly at Surry Community College, where she studied graphic design. She said the paintings will return to the Richmond museum in time for Halloween.
“Right now they are absolutely exploding with popularity so I am very, very excited. I do want to do smaller shows during the summer so the local area can benefit from them because I grew up in Mount Airy and am now part of the artist craze in Floyd,” Parsons said. “I want them for people around here to enjoy, but there is really no better place for them then the Poe House. Part of me wants to take them home and put them on my wall, but they’re really popular and people have really enjoyed them. People who have never read the stories have seen them and wanted to read about Poe, which makes me happy.”
As far as a permanent home for her Poe paintings, that is yet to be determined.
“I have been asked if the right person came along with the right amount would I let them go, and I said they would have to go as a set,” Parsons said. “Then again, I don’t know if I could let them go. It would have to be a good chunk of change.”