Poe Center’s ‘Whimsical Wonder’: A place to chill, learn or heal


Even though the holiday season is over, Poe Park Visitor Center’s “Whimsical Wonder” exhibition keeps excitement about winter alive.

Nestled in Poe Park, the famous park with the white farmhouse where poet Edgar Allan Poe lived from 1846 to 1849, “Whimsical Wonder” is in its fourth year and has become a staple in the center’s annual events. Since the exhibition is open to all ages, the theme of the show is to appeal to everyone’s inner child. 

Lucy Aponte serves as the visitor center’s community associate and is the brains behind the whimsical operation. The idea came about in 2013 when she saw how much traffic the center was receiving and realized it was missing a winter event. Inspired by the New York Botanical Garden’s annual holiday train show and the Bronx Zoo’s holiday lights, Aponte decided it was time for Poe Park to set its own tradition.

“[I thought], ‘we have to do something like that and we have to do something that we can [be] known for,’” she said.

Today, the exhibition is a success and boasts about 2,000 visitors per month. It has received reviews from media outlets outside the borough, such as Time Out New York. 

“The show has become popular and [people] know it’s going to happen every year, and I’m very glad about that,” Aponte said.

Although it regularly offers classroom space for residents to learn about art or even to exercise, the visitor center views itself primarily as a gallery. Photography, paintings and mixed media artworks are spaced out through the vast room of the visitor center, looking as if curators gave the pieces space to breathe. 

The call for artists goes out as early as August, when the center invites artists from the Bronx and  around the world to submit their work. A mix of these artists is featured in this year’s display.

Notable works this year include scenes of winter painted on rocks, photographs of a snowy No. 4 train pulling through a station, and a subtle video of ice moving in Iceland. Aponte has a few of her own wintery paintings on wine bottles, although she does not like to brag about it. 

Like many Bronx-based galleries and art spaces, the visitor center stresses its support for local artists, and Aponte says an art scene is alive and thriving in the borough.  

“A lot of people are surprised that they have this [gallery] here,” she said. “And they’re not sure if they can walk in because in many places, they can’t. If you’re not dressed right, you can’t go into [some other museums].”

Aponte recalls a recent school visit, during which a student asked her if any of the artists were still alive, prompting her to think that some children are not familiar with living, breathing artists around them. 

She encourages the visitor center to also serve as an educational space because the results of the experience may be surprising.

“A lot of people come here just to heal,” she said. “They may be going through so much. They come in here in an ambiance that is very healing, very soothing, very creative, and people who come in here… start to pick up art skills. They say, ‘Oh my God, I never thought I could do this.’”