HAPPY 123rd BIRTHDAY, H.P. LOVECRAFT!Books/Art/Culture,Fango Local,News Samuel Zimmerman
As Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, Rhode Island gears up for biennial convention NecronomiCon this weekend, filmmaker Jovanka Vuckovic talks to us about the H.P. Lovecraft Bronze Bust Project that will see the pioneering writer finally get his due.
The convention itself runs officially from August 22-25, but Lovecraft-related events are happening all week, including historical walking tours through the College Hill area – where you’ll see not only places Lovecraft lived and frequented but also the houses that inspired counterparts in his stories – courtesy of the Rhode Island Historical Society, a birthday celebration on the grounds of the Ladd Observatory on August 20th, and a three-gallery survey of Lovecraftian art, both contemporary and historical, curated by Mitchell McArtor. The exhibit, titled ARS NECRONOMICA, runs through September (details HERE). Plus screenings, panels, workshops, games, live concerts by Neurosis, Lustmord and The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, a Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast, an Eldritch Ball and special guests ranging from esteemed scholar S.T. Joshi to Fango fave Stuart Gordon!
But the central event of the week’s festivities, in my eyes, is the unveiling of a new bronze bust of ol’ HPL, courtesy of sculptor Bryan Moore of Arkham Studios and project coordinator Jovanka Vuckovic, to be mounted in the esteemed Providence Athenaeum Library (this ticketed event is already sold out), and the establishment of Lovecraft Memorial Square. Says Moore:
“Jovanka and I are proud to celebrate and maintain the literary legacy of H.P. Lovecraft, The Dark Prince of Providence, with the donation of this bronze bust to the Providence Athenaeum Library. We’d like to thank the fans, volunteers and backers who helped make this historic event a reality.”
As the convention’s tagline proclaims, the stars are right, again.
FANG: How did you start working with Bryan Moore on the Lovecraft Bronze Bust Project?
JOVANKA VUCKOVIC: Bryan Moore and I have been friends for years. We met at Vampira’s funeral and discovered we both had a deep appreciation for H.P. Lovecraft and have often noted that Poe has a bronze memorial in Baltimore, yet Lovecraft is completely absent from all of the Providence tourism materials. It’s true. I have been to Providence and have done my own guided “Lovecraft tour,” but I had to use internet fan sites to locate all of relevant points. Lovecraft was a ghost in his own town.
FANG: Why do you think that was? I remember being there years ago to visit Lovecraft’s old haunts and was surprised also that no one there seemed to know who he was, except a single cab driver I had one day.
VUCKOVIC: Well, we think it’s perhaps a bit of shame because of some of Lovecraft’s more repulsive personal views. He was a xenophobe, a racist and women were a complete mystery to him. Knowing this actually helps inform us about his work, but it’s difficult for some people to get past. It’s understandable why the city of Providence would be hesitant to make a known racist one of its local heroes. To quote my friend Richard Gavin, with whom I recently discussed this issue, he referred to Robert Bloch’s essay “A Heritage of Horror” wherein he argues that discarding writers who exhibited behaviour or beliefs that we find repugnant, offensive or abnormal would not only rid the literary landscape of Lovecraft, but also important works by Lord Byron, D.H. Lawrence, Mark Twain, Sylvia Plath, Rimbaud and so on.
FANG: From my memory of it – and this is back in maybe 1999, I don’t know if it’s still like this – but Providence was still a visibly segregated city, racially and ethnically. I guess from that perspective it does seem like embracing him publicly would be a very charged pronouncement for an institutional establishment to make if they’re trying to get away from that history.
VUCKOVIC: But this wasn’t about his personal beliefs, which I strongly disagree with. It was about his literary legacy, which deserves to be recognized. Today every hipster knows who Cthulhu is yet Lovecraft lies beneath a tombstone that was purchased by his fans in the 1970s! One day Bryan called me up and said, “I’d like to give the Old Gent his due in the form of a bronze bust.” My response was, “When do we start?” The first thing we needed was a home for it. After almost a year of being rejected by every library he approached in Providence, Bryan was about to give up when he met Niels S. Hobbs. He is a fellow Lovecraft preservationist who had a connection to the Providence Athenaeum Library (founded in 1753), an historic building located at 251 Benefit Street that Lovecraft himself frequented. It was a miracle: Alison Maxell, Executive Director of the Athenaeum, agreed to accept the gift of public work into the library’s permanent collection! She also agreed that it was time Lovecraft’s literary legacy be acknowledged.
FANG: So what was the next step?
VUCKOVIC: With Alison’s blessing, and Niels agreeing to host the unveiling at his NecronomiCon convention, Bryan and I got to work building a Kickstarter campaign that would succeed in raising the huge price tag associated with a sculpture of this size and quality. Bryan approached me to produce the project because he knew I had run a successful Kickstarter in the past. He likes to say that he asked for my help and I said, “Get out of my way.” (Laughs). I got to work building the Kickstarter and social media community, which we both ran for several months leading up to the launch. I pushed a lot of pencils, people and pixels (I did all the graphic design for the project except for the poster, which was an original painting donated by Graham Humphreys) and Bryan pushed a ton of clay for this. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of the filmmakers, actors, artists and other sponsors we approached for help building the reward tiers. It was months of work. In addition to sculpting the bust, Bryan has been killing himself sculpting literally hundreds of rewards for the Kickstarter backers. We are proud to say that the campaign was a resounding success. We were 100% funded in less than 48 hours thanks to the generosity of the Lovecraft fans who backed the project. These included some big names such as Guillermo del Toro, Frank Darabont, Stuart Gordon, Peter Straub, Mike Mignola and many more. In fact it was so successful, we are able to make a cash donation to the Rochambeau Public Library for their Children’s Literary Programs, which happens today, for Lovecraft’s birthday.
FANG: That’s amazing. I’m sure it’ll be pretty exhilarating to see that bust finally in place.
VUCKOVIC: It’s been about 6 months of hard work and many sleepless nights getting Lovecraft this monument he so rightfully deserves, but we did it and couldn’t be happier. The fans came together to help Bryan and I make this gift of public work a reality. It will be unveiled on Thursday August 22nd at 6PM. We’ll both be there to pull that sheet off the bust. And it gets better!! All this attention on Lovecraft has brought about a significant change in the way the city of Providence views its Dark Prince. After much convincing, The Providence City Council recently named the corner of Angell and Prospect Streets, “H. P. Lovecraft Memorial Square.” Lovecraft was born on Angell Street and spent much of his life in that area. So this month, we are honouring Lovecraft in an unprecedented way: with a convention, a Memorial Square and the permanent installation of a bronze bust that will exist inside the Providence Athenaeum Library long after we are all dust and bones. The stars have indeed aligned. 76 years after his death, H.P. Lovecraft is finally being dragged out of the shadows of obscurity to be celebrated and acknowledged, as Stephen King once called him, the “twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” I’m sure Steve feels the same way about Lovecraft today.
See full details on the NecronomiCon and related events HERE.