Thursday, August 26, 2021

Response Postcard Original Art


Edward Gorey received a fair amount of mail from admirers of his works looking for autographs and asking him with questions in the hopes of getting a personal reply by return post. Mr. Gorey felt an obligation to answer his fan mail but he really didn't have the time or interest to respond with a personal reply to every request. His solution to this mounting challenge was to create a postcard that he could quickly hand sign and mail back. 

The original artwork for this exceptional postcard was recently offered at Swann Auction Galleries in New York City and I was able to add this stunning piece of original artwork to my collection. Drawn on an 11 1/2" x 7 1/4" piece of paper, the image is 6 1/4" x 4 1/4" with crop marks in the margins. 

When creating artwork for a piece that would be reproduced with a full bleed ( the image would extend to the edge of the printed piece with no white margins), Edward Gorey would draw the image slightly larger than the final size and indicate how it was to be cropped. In this instance, the image was drawn 4% larger than the final postcard size of 4" x 6". The mastery and precision of Mr. Gorey's pen strokes is evident at the edges of the drawing. Without inking a border line to contain the image, each pen stroke stops at the precise edge of the drawing field. Since the image was intended to be trimmed, Mr. Gorey could have made the edge of the artwork ragged.

Edward Gorey dated the drawing in typical fashion, with a start and completion date. He must have decided to date the drawing upon finishing it because he doesn't seem to remember the exact day he started this piece of artwork. Dated "? ix 79 . 1 x 79", it is clear that he completed the drawing on October 1, 1979, and had been working on it in September of that year, but did not make a note of the day he began the piece.

I have a postcard in my collection that was signed, addressed and sent by Edward Gorey to a fan in April 1, 1999. Hope the recipient didn't think it was an April Fool's Day joke!!



Monday, August 16, 2021

Mystery! Parody

 The idea for this post came from an online chat group.

The PBS Masterpiece Theater program Mystery! began in 1980 and continued into the 2000's before changing into a new format. By the late 80's the program and its unique introductions became a firmly established cultural fixture. At the same time Edward Gorey also became something of a household name due in large part to the the animated sequence he created with Derek Lamb that opened each episode. After the animated sequence, a host would introduce the program in a set designed to look like an interior by Mr. Gorey. Host Vincent Price often begin his introductions by welcoming viewers to "Gorey Mansion". It can come as no surprise that the opening of the show was parodied on many television programs in the '80's & '90's.

One of the more unexpected programs to do a parody of Mystery! was Sesame Street, which produced an ongoing series of segments spoofing the show and its format. The segments were entitled Mysterious Theater! and each began with a title card spoofing the Gorey/Lamb animation. lists five segments of Mysterious Theater!, the first appearing in Season 20 (1989). 

All of the Mysterious Theater! segments featured were hosted by a Muppet named Vincent Twice, who always said his entire name twice. The segments also only spoofed the Sherlock Holmes stories with a clueless detective named Sherlock Hemlock and his dog Watson. Of course, Watson solves every mystery.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Stuffed Creatures Part 4: Great Gotham Sale

(To reference previous posts focusing on Edward Gorey's three dimensional creatures and beanbag animals, type "stuffed creatures" into the search engine.)

On June 30, 2021, Ashcroft and Moore Auctions hosted Gotham Gorey Squared, their second auction of items from The Gotham Book Mart's (GBM) remaining inventory. GBM closed in 2007 and the contents of the store went into hiding until recently coming to light. Ashcroft and Moore is one of several auction houses that has offered items from GBM's final inventory. 

Of special interest to collectors in this sale was a stunning collection of the various stuffed creatures that were completely hand made by Edward Gorey. These creatures were usually used as gifts to friends, but they would also occasionally be sold at his theatrical productions or through GBM.  Most of the creatures in this sale appear in quantity, but it should be remembered that each of these objects was hand made by Mr. Gorey himself and they are actually quite rare. Until this auction, these items have only rarely appeared on the secondary market.

Edward Gorey spent a lot of  time watching television and rather than just sit and stare at the screen, he multi-tasked and kept busy hand sewing these (and other) creatures while viewing programs. Mr. Gorey created stuffed Frogs in two basic styles - with splayed back legs, long front legs, and rounded toes (approximately 9.5" x 9.5"); and more streamlined version with short front legs and pointed toes (approximately 9" x 6"). There was no standard fabric color preference on the frogs, and most have small button eyes. 

This sale included one Figbash doll. Edward Gorey probably created more Figbash dolls than any other of his stuffed creatures, and they appear in a rainbow of fabric colors and patterns. While it was rare for Gotham to offer the other creatures for sale, Figbash dolls were usually available for purchase. According to the Gorey-made tags that Gotham included with these dolls, Figbash is presented "life sized" and is 6.5" x 19". With his long arms and short body, Figbash is supple and can be playfully draped in an infinite number of positions.

Salamanders are one of the more complex creatures Edward Gorey designed. Mr. Gorey stuffed his creatures with Uncle Ben's Rice - he claimed that this brand had the best pouring spout - and he used a chopstick to shove the rice into the nooks and crannies such as the salamander's curving tail. The salamanders are approximately 9" x 8" and tend to have less robustly colored fabrics. They tend to be well stuffed and are not as flexible as the frogs, which can be flopped and easily positioned into humorous attitudes. One of the salamanders has been created with a patriotic fabric that Mr. Gorey seemed to have a fondness for. He used this American flag motif often with other animals (but which were not part of this sale).

There was only one Alligator offered in this sale. At 10.5" x 5", it is one of the larger creatures created by Edward Gorey. Very few alligators are known.

The final set of creatures in this sale is one of the most perplexing. They are approximately 8" x 5" and appear in a variety of fabrics. Two of the pieces sold have eyes, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Over the years, this creature has been described both as The Doubtful Guest and as a Penguin, with no definitive answer as to what it actually is meant to be. I recall Andreas Brown calling them penguins on occasion and the answer can presumably be found in Lot #427. This creature, in black fabric, is accompanied by a hand written note by Edward Gorey that is titled "Oiseau funebre (or what you get when you ask for a penguin). The title translates into "Funeral Bird", and penguins are one of the few animals that are known to mourn and bury their dead when a chick or mate dies, often gathering in groups.

Who asked for a penguin? Was this the first of its kind to be created? Unfortunately, we may never know for sure, but since this was part of the GBM inventory and presumably came direct from Edward Gorey himself, it can be assumed that Mr. Brown may have been the original recipient of this rare bird and that this flock is indeed intended to be penguins. To cover all the bases, one collector I know has started referring to them as Penguin Guests!



Monday, July 12, 2021

All Strange Away Original Art


The June 24th Illustration Art Auction at Swann Galleries in NYC offered a spectacular selection of original illustration artwork by Edward Gorey. Perhaps the most unusual offering was the suite of art created for the book All Strange Away by Samuel Beckett.

All Strange Away (ASA) has been published many times over the years, with the first translation in English printed in 1964. In 1976 Andreas Brown chose to publish the story under his Gotham Book Mart imprint and commissioned Edward Gorey to illustrate the volume. Mr. Gorey is on record as stating that he did not collaborate with authors whose work he illustrated and ASA is an object lesson in how to publish a beautifully produced book with virtually no collaboration between any of the parties involved. 

Orchestrated by Mr. Brown, the text was pre-existing, so permission to publish the story was acquired through Mr. Beckett's literary agent. Mr. Gorey was sent the text and created 16 images which were sent directly to Ronald Gordon at The Oliphant Press where the book was being created. Mr. Gorey did not specify how or in what order the images were to be used. Mr. Gordon read the text, looked at the artwork, and decided what the book would look like and how the illustrations would appear in the volume without input from any of the other parties. This creative detachment was eminently appropriate to the author, illustrator, and subject matter of the book.

Edward Gorey created a suite of 16 illustrations for ASA that are neither drawings nor collage but bear the hallmarks of both. Obtaining an old book with engraved illustrations, Mr. Gorey searched for images, zeroing in and cutting out 1.25" squares from the pages of the book. He then modified each image by hand, adding pen & ink shading and line work to enhance or change each postage stamp sized picture. The images were then carefully pasted down on three boards and sent to the publisher. Apart from indicating the top on each page, there were no notations to guide Mr. Gordon as to which illustration was intended for any specific part of the story. The final positioning of the images on the pages resembles an illustrated manuscript. For the cover of the book, a cropped portion of one of the images (shown above) was enlarged and printed in negative, transforming the image to look like a block print.

Considering the way these images were created, one could take the position that there was a second (unknown) illustrator who unwittingly collaborated on the illustrations for the book, but once again had no direct contact with anyone else involved. In the 1990's Edward Gorey embraced the use of clip art images in a series of postcards and broadsides using collage techniques but these later pieces did not include image modification.

Like many other illustrators, over the course of his career Edward Gorey freely employed paste-up techniques to "fix" his drawings. It was Mr. Gorey's common practice to glue pieces of paper onto the surface of his artwork so he could modify a drawing or change a title without redrawing the entire image. Unfortunately, when making these revisions Mr. Gorey often used a very unstable glue that quickly became brittle, turned brown, and let go of the pasted correction. He used this glue was used to affix the ASA images to the backing boards. When the art arrived at Swann only two squares remained affixed in their original positions. 

To photograph the art for auction, illustration specialist Christine Von Der Linn had to match the imprint of the discolored glue on the boards with the reverse image on the art pieces to indicate their proper positions and orientation. Permanently remounting the art to the boards has been left to the discretion of the collector who purchased this suite of artwork.

The original artwork discussed in the post is not in my personal collection. The limited edition book pictured was sold previously at Swann. All images have been provided by Christine Von Der Linn and Swann Galleries and are used with permission.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Auction News: Ashcroft and Moore


With two major auctions of Edward Gorey material following back to back, collectors have been all abuzz for the past two weeks. The Swann Auction on June 24th featured original artwork, while the June 30th Gotham Gorey Squared auction at Ashcroft and Moore Auctioneers was the followup auction to the April 1st sale of the late great Gotham Book Mart's remaining inventory. Live bidding on the 432 lots took almost eleven hours to complete, with spirited bidding on most pieces and only a few items failing to sell.

This sale also included items from the estate of Consuelo Joerns, a longtime personal friend of Edward Gorey's. Ms. Jorens and Mr. Gorey were frequent correspondents and the auction had eighteen lots of personal postcards and letters spanning decades between the two friends.

The auction began as a trip down memory lane for visitors to the famous bookstore. Photographs, prints, and paintings that once adorned the walls were sold before the much sought after Gorey selections came up. Books, original artwork, buttons, hand made stuffed animals, personal items, and a large selection of stage used props and set pieces are all finding their way into collections around the world.

To view all the pieces sold and what the final hammer price was (minus the additional buyer's premiums), visit the auctioneers website HERE.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Auction News - Swann Auctions

The Swann Auction Galleries June 24 Illustration Art Sale showcased an impressive array of original artworks by Edward Gorey. Six lots were offered with five resulting in sales (lot 185 Amphigorey: A Musicale. Three proscenium designs failed to meet its reserve). Four of the lots originated from The Oliphant Press printer's archives, while the remaining two lots came from a private collector. 

The lineup began as all art does, with a collection of concept sketches outlining The Disrespectful Summons (1971). The three pages of notes and loose drawings laid out the book visually by Mr. Gorey as he began to organize his thoughts. The lot exceeded its pre-sale estimate of $3000 - $4000, ending with a hammer price of $5000.00 (including buyer's premium).

Subsequent lots included finished artwork from two books, theatrical set designs and a Christmas themed image.  Lot 99 An Exchange of Gifts (1982) was a captivatingly charming image that did very well with a final hammer price of $10,000.00 (including buyer's premium). Framed like a brooch by strands of holly, the small girl and her dog are unwrapping gifts to one another. The dog received a doll in the likeness of the girl and the girl has a doll shaped like the dog. 

We will take a closer look at the three remaining lots that sold in future posts. Each of these three represent important pieces from Edward Gorey's artistic career.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

New Johnny Dixon Novels Coming


For followers of the John Belliars series of mystery books for young readers, Author Brad Stickland posted this message on the John Belliars Facebook page:

"Know all ye who enjoy mysteries: I have been asked to write some new Johnny Dixon novels. I'm about 40% through a first draft of the first novel, provisionally titled THE MAN WHO SUMMONED SHADOWS. I think I'm getting comfortable in good old Duston Heights once more. I'll do my best, my friends, so wish me luck.

(The artwork is by me, trying to imitate a certain great illustrator's traditional crosshatching)"

Brad Strickland is of course referring to Edward Gorey whose artwork graced 22 books in the Bellairs/Strickland series. Mr. Stickland was chosen to continue the popular book series after John Belliars passing.