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Still

How do paintings feel so strange and alive?

Out-living their creators as they strive to survive.

We – stare and wonder with hearts corrupt

Almost expecting a change with movements abrupt.

Expecting smoke from a chimney

A foot out the door

Movement through a window

Or steps on the floor

A lonely house in the distance

Covered in rain as it softly begins to pour.

I’ve nearly scene a person adjust themselves in a chair

Witnessed a woman brush back her forever, falling, hair.

I swear I’ve seen a man blink his eyes to see

And heard them both whisper and plea, “please rescue me.”

Strange thought to beget in a fragile human mind,

Trapped in its own frame away from the answers it tries to find.

How can an artist create such a Thing?

A photograph in this world created from a dream,

The memory of a bird and the song it is meant to sing,

Or is it the recording of a voice, fragile in its scream.

There is the absence of the creator in the image of their art.

Mixed with the feeling of power come bleeding from their heart.

O.R. B.

John Taylor Arms

Momento Vivere, Notre Dame Cathedral, Evreux

It use to be that I was too embarrassed to admit that I had never before heard of a famous individual and this embarrassment at times hindered my interests since I would be too scared to ask the questions that I needed to ask. That question that would inevitably lead to more questions.

It was only this past July that I learned the name John Taylor Arms and I discovered the name by accident. While touring the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I saw on a sign one of my favorite words, ‘Gothic.’ It is typical that when ever I see that word it is connected to some subject that will interest me. This situation was no different. I walked into a room at the very back and to the left of the basement level of the gallery. It was a place that was being ignored by most of the patrons who where more focus on the impressionist and expressionists art that hung in the main corridor. At the time the quiet atmosphere was great since it gave me the room all to myself. For more on the exhibit, click here.

John Taylor Arms

Upon closer inspection I saw the name John Taylor Arms, and I was happy that I found him, ending my ignorance in private. For those of you who like me had never before heard of this great architect and print maker he is an unique person. Born in Washington D.C. in 1887, he began his academic career by studying law at Princeton, but that did not last and he would transfer to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. After he graduated in 1912 he went on to become the most renown artist working in etchings and aquatints. Because he had an architects trained eye for detail he was able, with constant devotion to the almost painful details, to create images with such superb detail that they seemed to poses more craft and precision than any one person could create.

Though his work is not entirely tied to gothic architecture, he did specialize in strictly representational etchings of medieval cathedrals and gargoyles. His work has been said to be denser than photographs, and it was because of his fine eye for detail that he was able to make etchings of gothic cathedrals so beautiful.It is, after all, these details of gothic structures that give them their power over the eye. Think about it. Next time you see a gothic style building, look closer at it and you will notice the tiny details that add up to its grand presence in an almost out of this world beauty. In his work and in the actual structures you can see the amount of time, talent, skill and care the was poured into the facades, towers, and the entirety of each project. Through his dedication and focus he was able to successfully transfer that marvel onto copper plates and then to paper.

From reading about Arms I learned that he was drawn to gothic architecture not only for its detailed splendor, but for the fact that it survived through the centuries to become living relics. Such survivors deserve respect for the fact that they endured when most perished in time. It is amazing to think that what people can create can long outlive their creators far into the future to the point were they almost seem alien to the modern world. Throughout Arms life and career as an artist the world of modern art change to more abstract art, progressives and independents. Still he dedicated himself to his craft and did not stray and for that we have his work today. Arms died in 1953 in Fairfield, Connecticut. He worked until the day he died and his creations have survived these fifty-eight years for us to see and tell others about.

For a review of the exhibit, click here.

Enjoy,

ORB

The Smithsonian ‘Castle’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though there are many old cathedrals in the United States that can be considered as being of gothic architecture, there are few castles. Sadly for those of us who live in the United States and love gothic architecture, there are few places to visit to see the beauty of that medieval style. There may be some of similar style, but few of historic craft and artifact. Perhaps the most well known gothic castle in American is the Smithsonian Institution Building, which is appropriately nicknamed the ‘Castle.’

James Renwick, Jr.

In terms of size and aesthetics, the ‘Castle’ is an impressive structure. With its red sandstone it appears bold in its splendor on the Washington Mall and stands out from even amongst the Capitol Building, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery of Art and the Supreme Court, all of which are more classical in their style. I have had the chance to visit Washington D.C. many times and I have always been impressed with the layout of the mall with the Washington Monument on one end and the Capitol on the other. I have always been aware of the out of place red gothic castle, but never have I looked into why it is there or who designed it. I did know that it was the headquarters for the Smithsonian, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I am a little sad that it took me so long to learn more about this beautiful building that has stood for over 100 years.

Picture borrowed from Smithsonian Institute Archives

Completed in 1855, the ‘Castle’ was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. James Renwick was born in 1818, in New York City. His was part of an affluent family that was well educated. His mother came from a prominent New York family, and his father was an engineer, architect and professor of natural philosophy at Columbia, where later James would study engineering. James did not, however, study architecture. The only education he received in that field was from his father who taught him the trade. Indeed, he did grow up with early exposure to the craft and was nurtured in architecture throughout his life.

Grace Church: Image from Grace Church website

 

He received his first major commission at the age of 25 for designing the the Grace Church in New York in 1843. The church is modeled in the English Gothic Style. Even though the church received other bids from well established architects it took a chance on the young engineer believing that his background and family provided a guarantee that the church would rise without fault. The finished product was very different from what could be found in the city at the time. It was the first of its kind, gothic, to be seen in New York and one reason why the style was chosen can be linked to the churches rector, Thomas House Taylor.

Prior to his arrival in New York, Taylor had spent a year traveling throughout Europe for possible the purpose of searching for ideas as to what the future church should resemble. It is without doubt that he would have seen many gothic style churches, but we also know that Renwick had never seen one, outside of what he could find in books, thus adding to his talent, skill and vision.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Of all of his designs Renwick is perhaps most renown for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, also in New York City. This project came later in his career after he had completed Grace Church and the Smithsonian Castle. It is a marvel to see in the atmosphere of Manhattan as it was built long before midtown became what we can see today. Once upon a time this was not the populace part of the city. Construction began in 1858, but the project was placed on hold during the Civil War. It would take another thirteen years before the cathedral would be completed in 1878.

Today, like the rest of Renwick’s monuments to the gothic style, the cathedral is a National Historic Landmark. These structures are worth seeing even though they may be hard to photograph. Pictures do not capture their full majesty.

Purgatory IX

Twilight: Purgatory

“When our mind, far straying from the flesh,

less tangled in the network of its thoughts,

becomes somehow prophetic in its dream.”

~ Canto IX; Purgatory

The Man Mr. Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is easily one of the most recognizable names in American literature and though he would wish to not be considered an author of Gothic literature, his stories do have a gothic influence. Let me explain.

He was born in 1809 in Boston to David Poe, the son of Irish immigrants, and Elizabeth Arnold Poe. When both of his parents died in 1811 he was taken in as a ward by man named John Allan from Richmond. Evidence shows that the relationship between Allan and Poe was never that of a father and son and Allan never formerly adopted Poe. Throughout Edgar’s life his relationship with his guardian would go through periods of happiness and deep despair as Edgar battled through times of poverty while attending school and times with of gambling and drinking.

Perhaps the most important time of his life was came in 1815 when the Allan family moved to England where John Allan opened a branch of his mercantile firm in London. In 1819, the family traveled to Scotland to visit relatives and there Poe spent two months admiring the local aesthetics. As he traveled throughout the Scotish countryside he was exposed to the ancient castles, abbeys country mansions and cathedrals. Being exposed to such a world as that stayed with Poe and we can see descriptions of these places in his story ‘Fall of the House is Usher.” In that story Poe describes the ancient house of Usher situated next to a Tarn, which is a small mountain lake that was formed by a glacier. Tarns are not found in the eastern United States as they are more common to Scandinavia and Northern England. The word tarn itself is from an Old Norse word. He begins the story by having his narrator describe the house as a depressing scene. “There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart.” The view of the decaying house is enough to inspire the narrator with these thoughts of horrors the same way the view of gothic cathedrals and castles have inspired writers such as Walpole, Radcliffe, Lewis and Lathom.

Poe wrote man stories that can be considered gothic in nature including “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Man That Was Used Up.” But Poe is more than just gothic, he is also a mystery. In “The Murderers in the Rue Morgue” Poe created the modern day detective story.

Virginia Clemm

He believed in the idea that the only narratives worth writing were those that could be read in one sitting, secretly criticizing his own work, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” calling it “a silly book.”  (I agree in that it is not my favorite story to read.) Poe’s earlier stories including “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “The Assignation,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” received praise from notable American authors such as Washington Irving, whom Poe had to chance to publish in one of the many magazines for which he worked.

Poe worked hard for years to build his own literary magazine that would only feature American writers and he was an advocate for the creation of an international copyright law that would protect American authors and stop American magazines from pirating English works.

Gradually over his professional career he gained some success as a writer and some as a publisher/editor. He once interviewed Charles Dickens in Philadelphia and wrote a well read review of Nathaniel Hawthorne. When his famous poem “The Raven” was published in January 1845 it made Poe an national celebrity.

He was not a drug addict and was not an alcoholic as many people today imagine. The success he is given today was gained through hard work. In school he was very talented in languages such as French and Latin. He once attended the University of Virginia where the faculty included former presidents Madison and Monroe.

Poe is also famous for marrying his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. As strange as this marriage is today with not quite so strange then and there is evidence that he and Virginia did truly love each other. For many years she bought him happiness, but the happiness would not last. In January of 1842 Virginia suffered a massive pulmonary hemorrhage while singing. To distract himself from her illness Poe threw himself at his work. Virginia would never recover and she died at the age of 25 in 1847 leaving Poe in a deep depression that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Poe would die only two years after Virginia, in October of 1849 at the age of 40. HIs death came as a mysterty being admitted in to Washington College Hospital on October 3rd in a delirious fit until he died four days later on October 7.

About a year and a half ago I attended an event that discussed the life and sudden death of Edgar Allan Poe. As most people know, Poe died from unknown circumstances at the Washington College Hospital in Baltimore on October 7th. What no one knows is exactly how he died. Before I go into some of the theories I want to share with you my history of Edgar Allan Poe.

My first experience with Poe happened on October 25th, 1990 when I saw the first Simpsons Halloween Special titled ‘Treehouse of Horror.’ The episode, which is appropriately named “The Raven,” sets Homer as the narrator in this spectacular parody of Poe’s famous poem. After watching the episode and having my father explain to me its origin, I attempted to read the poem, but failed miserably with my young not-quite-eight-year-old mind. It would be ten years later while in high school when I again attempted to read the unusual poem and two years after when I read my first Poe short story, “The Tell Tale Heart,” which was also made into an episode of the Simpsons. Today I can still recall exactly where I was and under what circumstances I read that tale for murder and insanity. I remember how Poe’s words drew me into the story with the steady pace of a beating heart and how the rythme of the tale flowed off of the page and caused me to forget my surrounds. I remember the words changing, moving more rapidly as the climax grew with the beating of the hideous heart.

Back to the library event, which was organized by the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. Throughout my life I heard of a few difference theories about how Poe died. First, the rabies theory, which always seemed the most fitting idea to me, no offense Edgar, but wild stories usually come with wild endings. Second, which I always believed, was the Cooping theory involving a gang that forced him to vote multiple times during an election. Rather than explain the details of these theories I’ll simply refer you to this webpage. In the end no one knows how he really died and we may never know since he has been dead for more than 170 years. If you are interested in reading about Poe’s death, one book that has come highly recommended, which I have not had chance to read, but have every intention is a book titled “Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe,” by John Evangelist Walsh. What ever conclusions people have, I prefer to leave his death as a true mystery. Sometimes there is a little bit of magic hidden in ignorance.

During his lifetime Poe did not receive the attention and praise as he does today. In fact, some people at the time of his death wrote about him being a drunkard and a lunatic. His modern success is in part due to the French poet Charles Baudelaire who published a multi-volume edition of his work in French, which created his fame abroad. Throughout the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th century, Poe’s fame grew as he was gradually introduced into classrooms and pop-culture.

Poe's Tombstone in Baltimore, Maryland

If you are interested in learning more about Poe’s death and how his grave moved from the back of the Westminster Graveyard, where it was first set without without a headstone, to the current day position shown above, please ask Sara Sigourney Rice.

Happy Reading,

ORB

Words on a Full Moon

Allow me to conjure up some words,

Like a scenery of great birds,

On a snow fallen sunset,

Where your memory and words have met.

A vision that may never seem,

To be more than a soft escaped dream.

But please pause for a tune,

When next you see the full moon.

Imagination is one part, memory the other,

Let them meet and dance together.

Share your time and plant your sage,

To find songs from the heart, then words on a page.

Happy Full Moon,

ORB

The Nature of Monsters

The Nature of Monsters

by Clare Clark

The title and the cover of this book had me sold from the beginning and with out any research on the novel or the artist I jumped into its pages. It did not take long for me to understand that Clare Clark is one of the most talented living writers. The Nature of Monsters is a modern day traditional Gothic novel, written in a style that resembles 19th century writers, which is a talent that few writers today have. The only other writer I have read, whose work comes remotely close to her skill, is Michael Cox, the author of The Meaning of Night. (That book is for another post.)

Clark has a fantastic ability to create a dense and complete atmosphere through her story-telling that pervades off of the pages into the very room around you. She is patient with her writing and takes her time developing each scene and every character as the story evolves in a most natural way.

As for the story, it follows the life of a young girl named Eliza who travels from rural England to live in early 18th century London. Part of what is special about this novel is the point of view of the narrator, Eliza, who describes in ugly detail what London was like not only in the 18th century, but what it looks like through her quiet country eyes. From her words we can feel, smell and taste of the time.

Eliza has come to London to become the servant of an apothecary, who is a demented man seeking to prove his theory that nature can create a real life monster. His theory is that what happens to the mother in pregnancy will affect the child, believe this from his own experience. This was a common theory before the development of modern medicine. There was once the idea that if a woman was pregnant and had impure thoughts of a man that was not her husband then her child would look like that man.

It is scary to think of what it would be like to live in a world where such thoughts were not only believed, but taught as medicine. At this time in history it was thought that the blood was created in the stomach and then flowed to the heart where it was burned like oil in a furnace. If someone had a fever they would be bled to remove the excess blood that was thought to be over heating the body.

As I mentioned before this book resembles a traditional Gothic novels in that there is no real ghost or monster. In the beginning, there was always a sinister person or group of vagabonds pretending to be ghouls and this novel keeps with that tradition. There is no mythical monster born from hell that then crawled out of the darkest woods for the deepest seas. Tradition shows that monsters are real, but they are living breathing people, like the apothecary who is himself only a cruel man sinister thoughts.

Gothic novels are also called gothic, because they take place in the old cathedrals and castles that we still see standing today. As much as these structures inspire us now they inspired the imaginations of artists hundreds of years ago. This novel is no different. In an interview (here) Clark explains how much St. Paul’s Cathedral inspired her to write this story and how she imagined that others in history were captivated by the immense structure.

Before you read this novel I must warn you that it is not for the faint of heart as it is a disturbing story. But if you can survive the rough patches , I’ll tell you, with out a spoiler alert, that there is a light at the other end of the pages.
For more you can read a review here and find more about Clare Clarks other novels The Great Stink and Savage Lands.

Happy Reading,
ORB

Shadow of the Wind

I have a deep love for books and library book sales are a great place to stock up on titles you are looking for and titles you have never before seen. Once upon a time while scanning the volumes at a library book sale I noticed the spine of a book that read “The Shadow on the Wind.” The title was unknown to me as was the author. Though it was not the first book I picked up at that sale it was the one that hooked my eye with more curiosity. I picked it out of the rest and learned it was a novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I have read books my Arturo Perez Reverte, but this was the first I have heard of this author. At the risk of judging a book by its cover, I was taken into its appeal and wanted it. It only cost a dollar and was well worth the risk. The description on the back of the paperback read:

A story about a mysterious book with an even more mysterious author and a boy trapped in middle during post World War II Spain? Sold. What the jacket does not tell you is that the boy, Daniel, discovers the book will wandering through the tall stacks of books in a used bookstore. The owner of the store is the Daniel’s father’s friend who grants him the choice of any book he wishes among his vast collection. Out of the masses he finds this book by Julian Carax. As I read the story I could not help but think about how I found the book and I wondered if there was anyone else who found this book in a used bookstore, on a cart outside a shop, at their local library and felt the magic as they read each page.

What moved me the most was the when Daniel reads the novel for the first time. It reminded me of the first time I fell deeply into a story and would not come out until I had finished it. I realized that there is a personal and lonesome quality about books. We invite the story into our minds and let them swim around touching memories and emotions both painful and pleasurable. We read, mostly, when we are alone and in a quiet place and only after we finish reading do we share our thoughts and passion for the story. It is not often that people read to one another. Reading is not like having a dinner party and enjoying a feast and drinks with friend and family. I never read to anyone and when I am reading and when I am done reading I fill pages of my journal with what I liked or did not like about the book.

The descriptions in this story are rich in imagination, to the point where I want to find the fictional author Carax and read his work.  Zafon has become one of my favorite authors since I finished that first book. Later I shall share with you my thoughts of his first published novel, The Prince of Mist.

To learn more about him you can find his website here and a list of his other books here and here.

If you have read this book or any other book by him, please share your thoughts.

Happy Reading,

ORB

You Know the Feeling

I awake, alone in my bed,

Trying to shake that nightmare from my head.

That last dream felt much too real,

Creepy, its presence I can still feel.

In solitude, I am, but something is here,

I know this because of my ever-growing fear.

I hold my covers up, acting as my shield,

Yet, vulnerable I feel like prey in an open field.

Will it attack me?

Will I go crazy?

It is evil and mean,

Escaped from my dream

It bites at my mind and tears at my nerves,

Blind my mind imagines a horror with sinister curves.

It approaches! smelling my tears,

A beast feasting on my fears,

Growing strong as I grow weak;

The breaking point has come-I release my shriek.

I scare myself into another sleep,

As another nightmare steadily begins to seep,

Into my head

Alone in my bed.

Welcome to what is Gothic

Welcome to my website. It is still very new and I am still preparing, but here is what you can expect to find. Gothic Literature and the history of how it came to be known as Gothic is what I want to share and have you help me share. In this website I shall tells stories of what I find in both history and literature through both the physical structures of Gothic architecture and through the authors and their stories they once told. I shall share with you names like Le Fanu, Brown, Stoker, Radcliffe, Lewis, Arms, and many others that are all a part of the Medieval Modern World.  Give me time and I promise to be back.

Etching by John Taylor Arms