Saturday, November 23, 2019

Where is the Dragon?

For his entire career, Edward Gorey was an artist for hire who could, and often did, illustrate anything he was commissioned to undertake. If an author was fortunate enough to secure Mr. Gorey's professional services, the artistic and financial rewards could be considerable. Mr. Gorey was not however, the type of collaborator who would chat for hours with a client, if at all. Even so, authors would occasionally make special requests.
Such was the case with Florence Parry Heide with regard to the back cover image for Treehorn's Treasure (1981 Holiday House , New York). Throughout the book, the illustrations picture Treehorn's imaginings as full page thought bubbles. The original artwork intended for the back cover shows an elaborately rendered dragon floating in one of these bubbles while Treehorn himself blows a gum bubble. The printed version of the drawing shows only Treehorn blowing his gum bubble. Where did the dragon go? To unravel the mystery of the disappearing dragon, we turn to Malcolm Whyte, the collector who owns the original artwork.
Malcolm Whyte has collected and written about the works of Edward Gorey for many years and he recently shared his research into the backstory of this wonderful drawing. To unravel the "now you see it, now you don't" aspect of the artwork, Mr. Whyte was put in contact with Florence Parry Heide's children David and Judy by a mutual friend. Judy related that upon viewing the back cover illustration her mother "loathed" it as being too un-Gorey-like and too comical. Feeling strongly about this even though she knew "Edward Goery couldn't stand having people mess with his work or tell him what to do", Mrs. Heide contacted Mr. Gorey and requested the dragon be removed. After the book's publication, the original illustration was gifted to the author by Mr. Gorey in what might be considered a personal comment on her interference. The drawing was later gifted to Andreas Brown from whom it was acquired by Mr. Whyte as a gift for his wife. The Whyte's continue to appreciate and admire the drawing as the exceptional piece of art that it is.

How did this elaborate drawing get whittled down to the spare image adorning the back cover of the book? For such drastic changes to an image, Edward Gorey would typically either redraw the entire piece, or glue pieces of paper over the parts to be removed and redraw on the art itself. Today the image would be altered in a matter of minutes by erasing the dragon on a computer, but in 1971 the process would have been done by hand as a cut and paste using a stat or film. On the original artwork, there are a series of four xeroxed border panels affixed to the surface of the drawing, indicating the new placement of the horizontal decorative border row on the wall. Were the xeroxes made and affixed by Edward Gorey himself? This is one mystery that may never be solved.

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