Bringing A Legend to Life
When the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston held a contest in 2012 to determine who would be awarded a commission to create a statue commemorating the Master of the Macabre’s Boston roots, they “didn’t want ‘Poe on a horse,’” explains sculptor Stefanie Rocknak. “Immediately it occurred to me that I had to do something dynamic and different.” Rocknak’s winning statue, called Poe Returning to Boston, is certainly that.
Poe’s relationship with his birthplace was turbulent, since his dark literary style was often criticized by the Boston elite, whom he ridiculed in turn. Yet Rocknak says that Poe loved aspects of Boston, “namely, that he was born there and his mother had a fairly successful career as an actress there.” Rocknak’s winning design shows Poe running along at the intersection of Boylston and Charles streets near the Common, heralded by his trademark raven and leaving a trail of fluttering manuscripts in his wake, “moving away from the stuff he doesn’t like about Boston…to what he loved.” To make the statue, Rocknak left her usual woodcarving to build a clay model that was cast in bronze, but she did not abandon her signature style. “I tend to exaggerate certain things, to exaggerate movement or expressions, and that definitely carried over in the clay.”
When Rocknak read Poe as an American studies major at Colby College, and even while later earning a philosophy Ph.D. at Boston University in the 1990s, she was only vaguely aware of Poe’s Boston connection. “I think there are a lot of people living in Boston who don’t know he was born here,” says Rocknak. “It wasn’t forefront in my mind…and I certainly had no idea that I’d make a public art statue for Boston; that would have blown me away had I known.” Now, it would be hard for anyone to miss Poe’s dynamic presence, and the statue has begun to turn golden at the edges where passers-by stop and touch it.
It has been nearly a year since Rocknak, who now lives and works in Oneonta, N.Y., has visited her own sculpture. She plans to check on Poe this December, and to walk around the Common greeting Boston’s other statues—even the ones on horseback.