Through The Pale Door

Athenaeum of Philadelphia

The discovery by artist Ruth Scott Blackson of a book in the Athenaeum's collection analyzing the paint colors of Edgar Allan Poe's Seventh Street house using only text inspired her to create a book of colors based on Poe's stories. 


  • 219 S. 6th St.
  • Philadelphia,PA 19106

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Ruth Scott Blackson ALL >

Project Description:

Edgar Allan Poe wrote the vast majority of his oeuvre while living in Philadelphia, much of it at what is now the Poe House at Seventh and Spring Garden Streets. Literary historians have long sought to understand the influence of the house and the city on Poe. Now, artist Ruth Scott Blackson has taken on the task, inspired by a book in the collection that analyzes the paint color of Poe’s Seventh Street house.

That book on paint color and architecture curiously has no illustrations--only text. In response, the artist has created a complimentary artist book based on the color descriptions of the Poe house. Seeking to understand color theory of the time, Scott Blackson utilized the Munsell Color System to identify original wallpaper and paint colors of Poe’s house. Her focus on the vibrant colors of the 19th century is a welcome antidote to our tendency to think of the past in black and white.

Philadelphia's Second state Press printed Scott Blackson's book and used the Munsell Color System as a guide for mixing the colors. Each color in the artist’s book refers to a color in Poe’s House, as well as a color in one of Poe’s stories.  

In addition, the artist has curated e a selection of books from the Athenaeum’s collection that explore Poe’s life and times, paying particular attention to the material conditions of his era. In an age when libraries are replacing much of their collections with electronic materials, these books--and the book Scott Blackson will make herself--serve as reminders that physical objects have intrinsic value. Indeed, Athenaeum guest book signed by Poe when he visited on November 19th, 1838 is still in the library’s collection, and is on display during the festival.

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