Vampires and Elephants

Today would have been the birthday or author/illustrator Edward Gorey.

I first registered Gorey as the illustrator for a children’s mystery series that I liked and a little later as the creator of the wonderful openings of PBS’s old Masterpiece Mystery! series. (As an adult, his illustrations aged much better than the books themselves.)​

I remember the back of my Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats with his illustrations described Gorey as someone people assumed was English and dead, and that at that point he was neither. His work is both hard to describe and amazingly recognizable. Very small illustrations with lots of obelisks and sort of Victorian/Edwardian men, improbably architecture, and even more improbable creatures, all meticulously rendered in fine ink.

He illustrated hundreds of books for others, created his own press to publish his own, went freelance in the 1960s, and in the 1970s he did set design for a revival of Dracula that won two Tony awards. With the money from that production he purchased a house on Cape Cod and expanded his art collection.

If you’re vaguely in the area, visit the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. The museum, the only public institution to receive a bequest from his estate, is having an exhibit from Gorey’s personal art collection through May 6th of this year. Some of my favorite pieces (excluding his own of course) were the mid 19th century American folk art sandpaper drawings or paintings-black and white chalk on marble dusted paper gave more emphasis on light and shadow than from. Despite the darkness in the images, the textured paper leaves subtle twinkle in the background. (And I’d love to find paper like that to play with!)

This article in the Art to Art Palette Journal quite reasonably describes him as defying classification, and their article features one of my other favorite pieces in the exhibit, a flock of bats by Charles Burchfield.

I’d also suggest stopping by the Edward Gorey house when it reopens in April. They reset the house for a new exhibit each winter.

It’s a small house on the Cape, sometimes called the Elephant house because of its shaggy grey shingles (and his fondness for elephants). I was there this fall for their Cabinet of Curiosities exhibit. It displayed a small amount (which nearly filled the house) of the items he collected: from roadside finds to fine antiques and everything in between. “I’m inspired by practically anything visual or verbal—or even real life.” He even had a tassel collection which inspired his book Les Passementeries Horribles, a book with tassels stalking people.

The museum also becomes a search and find as you hunt down hidden references to the untimely demises of all of the Gashlycrumb Tinies.

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