By Catherine J.S. Lee
At the most recent event in the Sunday Afternoon at the EAC series, on Sunday, March
19th, the Eastport Arts Center hosted Poe scholar and Eastport resident Barbara Cantalupo for
a well-attended presentation about Edgar Allan Poe and Belgian artist James Ensor. Cantalupo
is an emerita professor of English at the Pennsyvania State University and the founder and
editor of The Edgar Allan Poe Review.

While many artists have been influenced by either Poe’s macabre tales or his lyrical
poetry or both, including Édouard Manet, Gustave Doré, Aubrey Beardsley and James McNeill
Whistler, Ensor alone titled six of his paintings after Poe’s stories. He also referenced other of
Poe’s works in a less-direct way.
Poe’s poems and stories display a lush visual style, painting vivid images in words. He
was the first to speak of what he called “graphicality,” which falls between the subjective and the
objective as a way for images to be appreciated rather than analyzed. It is easy to see why
visual artists would be attracted to him.

Ensor was born in Belgium and educated at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in
Brussels, where some of his teachers were disturbed by his “anxious experiments.” He and Poe
shared an interest in satirical social critique and the tension between “materialist temptation and
spiritual values.”

The work of Poe and Ensor shared a strong undercurrent of romanticism, a literary
movement at its peak during Poe’s lifetime. (Ensor was born eleven years after Poe’s passing.)
Poe believed strongly that meaning belonged below the surface of a work as a “dark
undercurrent,” and that if meaning was made clear, a work ceased to be art and became
prosaic.
Following Cantalupo’s presentation, she held a lively question-and-answer session with
the many questions demonstrating that Poe remains a fascination to modern readers and has
become an American pop culture icon.

Barbara Cantalupo got a laugh with her Edgar Allan Poe-print socks.

Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center programs are held in Eastport Arts Center’s cozy downstairs Washington Street Gallery, amidst rotating exhibitions. Admission is by voluntary donation; proceeds are shared equally between the presenters and EAC constituent group The Concert Series, which offers year-round programming run by volunteers. No one is turned away for lack of funds.
The complete Sunday series schedule and more posts about upcoming and past programs may be found here: https://eastportartscenter.org/constituent-groups/the-concert-series/.