I spent my Sunday afternoon browsing the stalls at the Nevermore: A Baltimore Inspired Valentine’s Market at the R. House Garage on Feb. 10.
The vendors were mostly all based in Baltimore. Part of the proceeds of the event went to the Women’s Advocacy Coalition: Baltimore.
The Women’s Advocacy Coalition: Baltimore is a nonprofit focused on serving at-risk women and girls. They organize fundraisers, create new programs and support existing ones to encourage the education of women and girls in Baltimore.
The theme did not echo the Valentine’s Day trope of honeyed words, sweet trinkets and candies. Instead, the market was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” In the poem, the speaker mourns the loss of Lenore, his true love, when a raven taps on his window. In response to the speaker’s questions about Lenore’s current state and the possibility of reuniting with her, the raven answers “nevermore.”
The most prevalent interpretation is that the oft-repeated word attests to the transient nature of love and relationships: We can never hold on to who we love. My summary does not capture the dreary and unsettling tone of the Gothic poem. But, if you read it you would understand that it does not suggest a theme for a Valentine’s Day event.
The theme’s intrigue meant that sophomore Gillian Hutter went to the event with no predictions of what the market would be like.
“And yet somehow with no expectations — my expectations were subverted,” she said.
Some stalls fully embraced the noir of the theme. A vendor sold prints of Poe’s unmistakable visage on T-shirts and bags. Another, Monster Lou, sold items which can only be described as an amalgam of both Halloween and Valentine’s Day.
The ambience is difficult to describe, but Hutter made a bold attempt to distill the market to a sentence.
“It almost felt like a Victorian curio shop,” she said.
Jo Cosgrove, the owner of Barnacle Bones Bindery, displayed her custom journals made out of repurposed and recycled materials. She and a friend are opening a shop called Raven’s Beak (inspired by Poe) which will feature local vendors selling crafts which lean toward the dark and cynical. Cosgrove studied printmaking at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) before leaving to pursue ecology.
“I came back to Baltimore and I am teaching outdoor education but I needed to stay with my roots so that’s why I am here,” she said.
While some vendors did not sell Poe-esque items, all the items they sold were handcrafted. Presence and Grace sold handmade Valentine’s Day cards, pins and pillows. The ECLetters booth hosted items with graceful calligraphy lettering. One vendor sold mitten-like gloves made specifically for runners.
Considering the cold weather, my eyes were drawn to the assortment of sherpa jackets, pullovers and scarves being sold by Cozy Shack. They even sold scrunchies, and since scrunchies have recently seen a rise in popularity (at least on the Hopkins campus) I was tempted to buy one. I did not, but my friend did.
I did buy a Lavender Honey body scrub from a La’Tonya Anderson who owns a business called True Esscents by LA. She sold handcrafted products for the skin, body and hair. Anderson’s business, like all the vendors at the market, was born from passion. She discovered her passion 14 years ago when she attend a camp for mothers of terminally ill children. Her son was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer at the time.
“While we were [at the camp], we were playing around with body butters like olive oil and shea butter. That was a healthy combination, but I kept playing with it and playing with it. It started as a hobby and blossomed into a full business,” she said.
Anderson set up stalls at previous markets in R. House. She is drawn to the diverse crowd, be it visitors who meander in after eating a meal or locals from the neighborhood.
I agree with Anderson. The crowd, like the items on sale, was varied and uncategorizable. There were small children, hip young adults and retirees.
Yes, it’s surprising that Poe’s Gothic poem was the inspiration for a decidedly non-Gothic Valentine’s Day market. But it seems appropriate that the legacy of the famous Baltimore native was a mechanism to connect the public with local Baltimore vendors.