Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stuffed Creatures Part 2: Edward Gorey Hand Made Dolls

In my posting from October 6, 2010, I began a discussion of stuffed creatures and toys which are based on the works of Edward Gorey. The second area we will explore are the bean bag animals made by Edward Gorey himself. These are the rarest and most valuable of the Gorey stuffed dolls. Mr. Gorey made dolls himself in very limited quantities - making the patterns, cutting the fabric, sewing and stuffing the dolls - usually while watching television in the evenings.

Edward Gorey almost always stuffed these creatures with rice. I once saw a short film on Mr. Gorey where he demonstrated how he would push the rice into the figures using a chopstick. Because he used a food staple to fill his creatures, they are susceptible to high humidity and to invasions by bugs or mice if they are not stored properly. I was told that after Mr. Gorey's death, a box of half eaten creatures was found in his home. I have discussed proper storage suggestions for these rare pieces in my posting from March 31, 2010.

There are five main creatures that Edward Gorey created himself: Figbash, Bats, Frogs, Elephants and Salamanders. I have heard that there he also made some fantasy creatures, but I have not seen any of these myself (some were reportedly in the box of half eaten dolls). Rarely sold during his lifetime, Mr. Gorey usually gave his creatures to friends and associates as gifts. The notable exception are the Figbash dolls.

Figbash - The most obtainable of all the creatures he created, a black Figbash doll originally accompanied each of the 26 lettered copies of The Raging Tide. Figbash dolls were next offered in black or white fabric for sale in the lobby at his theatrical shows which were performed near his home. Eventually, Gotham Book Mart was able to procure Figbash dolls in a variety of fabrics, which were offered for sale to collectors. I have several Figbash dolls in my collection (see my posting from March 31, 2010).

Bats - Created in shiny silver (and sometimes pink satin) fabric, bats were made for friends. Mr. Gorey created a handful of bat dolls to decorate one friend's Christmas tree, and it was rumored that he gave each cast member of Dracula a bat doll (I have not been able to confirm this story). I do not have a bat in my collection - the photo is from an auction listing.

Frogs - I have a wonderful Gorey frog in my collection. Like the commercially produced frogs (to be discussed in a later posting), these amphibians can lay splayed flat or sit up in a wonderfully lumpy way. The frogs have button eyes. I was told that Mr. Gorey created a frog out of holiday fabric for each cast member of his play Stumbling Christmas.

Elephants - I have yet to add one of these fantastically floppy pachyderms to my every expanding menagerie. The elephant in the photo was offered by Bromer Booksellers in their 2001 catalog. Elephants are fairly elusive and rarely become available. They are also the most three dimensional of all the Gorey-made dolls.

Salamanders - The rarest of the creatures (I believe), the salamander is practically an abstract animal bean bag. The example in my collection is made in a deliciously "mod" black and white dotted fabric which adds to the Rorschach quality of this toy. The tail is sewn in a twisted curly-cue and the head looks like a pair of pincers. This stuffed animal must have been particularly difficult to sew, turn inside out and then stuff with rice.


pursuit agent said...

I can't remember if you already wrote about it, but what about a Doubtful Guest doll? Were there multiples examples made by him? I just saw one at the Hawaii exhibition...

ampootozote said...

The Doubtful Guest doll is included in the third category: Commercially made dolls/toys (which is yet to come). Mr. Gorey did not make these dolls himself. I have previously done a posting on the Doubtful Guest dolls on October 20, 2008.

Susan said...

Great blog entry! I so enjoyed seeing your salamander and all the others, as well. You didn't mention anything about lizards, so I hope it's okay for me to send you a pic of mine, with some background info. (Check your email later today.) Thanks again for writing about these special pieces and have a Happy Halloween, too!

Rhissanna said...

This is wonderful! I didn't know about the dolls at all. It's a bugger about the rice filling, but that must make them wonderful pieces to hold. The elephant is a clever piece of design. Thank you for sharing; now I want to make bean bag dolls.