Panelists Honor Poe With Discussion Of Life, Legacy

English professor Paul Lewis led a panel discussion on Sunday, titled “The Poe Statue Project: Public Art, Creativity, Politics, and the Law,” to honor the 205th birthday of Edgar Allan Poe.

Lewis, who is also chairman of the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation and the vice president of the Poe Studies Association, was joined by professional sculptor and Hartwick College associate philosophy professor Stefanie Rocknak, Boston arts lawyer Andrew Epstein, and Boston Art Commission Director Karin Goodfellow.

The panelists addressed Poe’s background and legacy, the statue-making process, the legal issues concerning the statue, and the public arts initiative of the project. The discussion was followed by a question and answer session.

Poe was born in Boston in 1809 and returned to the city in 1827. Some of his most famous works of literature include “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Raven,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Rocknak was selected from three finalists to create and design the statue of Poe. She finished the initial wooden model in 10 weeks. Normally, it takes Rocknak at least 10 months to create a model using wood, she said.

“Poe’s relationship to Boston was very complicated. This sculpture is meant to capture that complicated relationship,” Rocknak said.

Rocknak described the statue in relation to the direction in which it will face in its future location in Edgar Allan Poe Square at the corner of Boylston Street and Charles Street South.

“He’s walking towards the house where he may have been born, or at the very least he spent the early days of his life in, and at the same time, he’s dismissing the Frog Pond, which is behind him,” she said. “Meanwhile, there’s a very oversized raven coming out of his trunk, and there are papers coming out of the back of the trunk. It’s a very complicated sculpture, but I think it works when you see it all put together.”

The statue, called Poe Returning to Boston, will hopefully be installed at its location sometime between May and October, Lewis said.

“Unlike some other representations of Poe-maybe most-[the statue] is not morose,” he said. “It’s complex, the feeling. But it’s not like the tragic, doomed, intoxicated, desperate artist. It’s more like he’s returning to Boston, and he’s had this career that’s so productive and creative that it’s literally bursting out of his suitcase. This is his triumphant return to a city where he had lots of quarrels and where that was not where the central creative part of his career was, but a lot of his mind was focused on dealing with Boston through his work. The presence of that heart [in the sculpture] gets to this palpitating vitality and scope.”
After Rocknak finished the wood model, it was then shipped to Texas, where it was enlarged to a life-size model of six feet-a little taller than Poe, who was 5-foot-8. The final statue is currently being cast in bronze.

Epstein, who practices art law, discussed the laws that concern the Poe statue project. He focused primarily on the Massachusetts Art Preservation Act, which protects fine art, and the Visual Artist Rights Act, which protects works of visual art. He also expanded upon the differences between plop art and site-specific art.

The discussion concluded with Goodfellow’s presentation, titled “Love, Hate, and Public Art: How does Boston Come to Terms with Public Art?”

The Boston Art Commission asks for comments from the public on art projects, but oftentimes there are not enough. However, there were over 1,500 comments from the public on the Poe statue project.