James William Carling

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James William Carling (1857–9 July 1887) was a pavement artist from Liverpool, England.

Carling was born at 38 Addison Street, Liverpool in the Holy Cross parish in 1857. He was the son of extremely poor Irish parents. From an early age James was known as the "little drawer" or "THE LITTLE CHALKER" and used Liverpool's street pavements for his art and to beg for money. Carling attended Holy Cross School.

In 1871, James William Carling (then aged 14) travelled to America to join his elder brother Henry and to attempt to become as successful an artist as Henry. When in America, James supported himself as a sidewalk artist and Vaudeville caricaturist before devoting his talents to illustrating the poem "The Raven". The poem's author, Edgar Allan Poe, Carling felt, was the "greatest poet this world has ever seen". Carling's drawings, created in the 1880s, are a graphic visual representation of the images Poe constructed in his poem. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia displays 43 of his illustrations of "The Raven" in what is known as "The Raven Room".

James Carling returned to Liverpool in 1887 with intentions to further his artwork and career. He died the same year and is buried in a Pauper's Grave at Walton Park Cemetery.

James William Carling is an important figure in the history of British pavement art;[1] to date, (2012) he is the earliest and the first pavement artist to be fully documented, with his life history recorded from birth to death.[2] As a child, he created something from nothing in an epic struggle against the grinding poverty of Victorian England; only to rise above his circumstances, and eventually make a successful career as a travelling artist in the USA.

Carling's life and times are celebrated annually in his birth town of Liverpool, England, with The James Carling International Pavement Art Competition.[3] This takes place on Bold Street, the very street where, as James Carling puts it, "I not only could not draw in that street, I could not walk in it”[4]


From his unpublished Autobiography[5]

"People prone to look upon the surface (and even the best judges of character, keenest of observers never see the life below the lower classes when occupying a niche or two above the class they would seek to hear about) are in utter ignorance concerning the desperate lives of the ragged children around them. They imagine because their accents are rough and their habits typical of the boxing den that their poverty and neglect of person are attributable to their innate ignorance and their natural depravity—but let one of them state that it is not their vulgarity. Refine and tone the boisterous gamin, give him the chances that your delicate aristocrats have, and the boy that dips his head in the mud for ha’penniers is not only the equal of your Norman descended scions but by the law of the fittest and the rule of the future, his superior in theory as well as in practice, and I know it!
Alas for them, they have no champions; none have ever drawn the sword in defence of the prodigy in rags. His brain develops in an iron mask, no room nor show for the poverty stricken genius. Others with lesser minds usurp the place of the natural nobility and the bright sons of the streets cut off in a land where talents are smothered, sink down like the sun in the shadow of poverty and crime.
Yet they shall be heard from in the bye and bye. This narrative—a still small voice, may herald the thunders of a future race and I launch this book like an old bottle upon the waters—to read when I am gone, when I have fretted my busy hour and am seen no more.[6]


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