Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Harvard Advocate Covers

It has long been stated that the cover of the September 1950 issue of The Harvard Advocate (HA) is the first Edward Gorey illustration to appear in a published work. However – while researching Mr. Gorey's periodical cover designs, I ran across the April 1, 2021 Ashcroft and Moore (A&M) auction listing for this particular magazine. The A&M auction sold the remnants of Andreas Brown's Gotham Book Mart inventory, and Lot 44 included a second, very seldom seen HA cover design by Mr. Gorey.

The September 1950 Registration issue is well documented and, while very rare, occasionally appears for sale. The 1950 Commencement issue is virtually unknown on the market. Looking at the titles of the two magazines, the natural assumption is that the registration issue was created/published first, and the commencement followed. Yet both are dated 1950; how can a publication that follows a single academic year have both issues published in the same calendar year? The answer lies within the magazines, on the Table of Contents pages. Fortunately, A&M scanned these pages and presented them as part of the auction listing.

The table of contents/information page in both copies states that the HA magazine was "Published six times a year in Sept., Nov., Dec., Feb., Mar., & May". The page in the Registration Issue clearly states that this is the September 1950 issue and is No. 1 (for the 1950/1951 academic year). The other issue does not specify the publication month, but says "COMMENCEMENT ISSUE, 1950, No. 6". This means it is the final issue of the 1949/1950 school year, and would have been published in May 1950; consequently making it the first published appearance of illustration work by Edward Gorey.

This is confirmed by the Volume numbers of CXXXIII in the Commencement, and CXXXIV in the Registration issues. It is also of interest that Edward Gorey is listed as Edward St. J. Gorey both issues.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Gorey Exhibition

The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco is presenting Gorey's Children, an ongoing exhibition or original artwork and limited edition prints by Edward Gorey. For more information on the museum and exhibit, go HERE.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Constructing and Painting an Edward Gorey Stage Set, Part 3 - Crosshatching Dracula

Edward Gorey's distinctive set designs for the 1973 Nantucket production of Dracula prompted an immediate discussion about transferring the show to Broadway. Whereas Edward Gorey's previous participation in set design had been in amateur and regional theater where he could be present, the construction and painting of the Broadway sets would be executed by a professional scene shop that was not under his personal day to day observation. This meant that his drawings needed to be precise and drawn to scale as the scene shop would construct the sets from the drawings and their notations.

On some of the drawings, Mr. Gorey added notes saying he did not know exactly what size something was supposed to be and hoped that would suffice. Today of course, texts and emails would be flying back and forth along with a snapshot showing the problem area(s), but this was a slower, more handmade time that relied on phone calls or sending actual artwork via couriers or through the mail.

The Nantucket Dracula sets had rooms and furnishings that were relatively life sized. For the New York stage at the Martin Beck Theater, the set would now be 30' across and 30' tall which required that the set components needed to be bigger and bolder while still taking the actors into consideration.

The sets for both productions were completely hand painted and one of the main stumbling blocks was enlarging Edward Gorey's distinctive drawing style to stage proportions while maintaining the integrity of the linework. Mr. Gorey combined three basic drawing styles for the sets to represent various materials and atmospheres - precise crosshatching, organic line work, and watercolor wash.

This bookcase set detail (Broadway production) illustrates all these techniques combined together. The "stone" column on the left is densely and precisely crosshatched, the wooden bookcase frame, section of paneling, and the books show several styles of organic line work, and the bell pull is watercolor washed so it looked like embroidered fabric. It should be noted that much of the set had a wash applied after the line work was completed to soften and tone the look of the set.

In the above photo, the top image is Edward Gorey's original artwork and the lower photo is the Broadway set with actor Raul Julia in the title role. The realized sets are masterfully painted and have the look and feel of the original artwork, but lack some of the spontaneity and density of Mr. Gorey's touch.

Producer John Wulp told Kevin McDermott (photographer, actor, producer, longtime Gotham Book Mart employee and friend of Edward Gorey) that the main stumbling block with the sets was to get the correct look for the crosshatching that Edward Gorey was famous for. After several unsuccessful attempts, a special tool was created that helped give the painted lines the correct look and feel. In the video below, my husband Bill and I have recreated the tool and filmed a short demonstration on how it would be used to paint the sets.


*Photographs showing Edward Gorey on the set of the original Broadway sets are by photographer Jack Mitchell. Photograph of Raul Julia on stage by Martha Swope (visit the New York Public Library Digital Collection for more photos - https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/search/index?utf8=%E2%9C%93&keywords=dracula+broadway). Set detail showing bookcase from Designing and Drawing for the Theater by Lynn Pecktal. Images of artwork from the Dracula Portfolio courtesy Russell Lehrer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Constructing and Painting a Stage Set, Part 2

Edward Gorey's earliest documented design for a stage set piece is a panel used as the 1940 Christmas Concert backdrop at the Francis Parker School. The "stained glass window" depicts three rotund monks, drinking wine that is being distributed by a flying Putto. It is amusing and telling that 15 year old Edward chose to depict the excesses of the holiday season for a Christmas concert backdrop, and that his teachers went along with the idea. Titled Cum Beatitudinibus Bacchi in pencil on the left side of the drawing, the title can be generally translated as With Blessed Wine.

The drawing has a grid drawn over the image that is ten squares wide and twenty squares high. The grid system is the simplest method of enlarging an image as each square can represent any measurement, so the artwork can be drawn at any size, gridded, and then enlarged or reduced in size.  

To enlarge this drawing, a 10 x 20 grid was drawn on the full size set piece. The artist, or team of artists (presumably Edward himself) then transfered what appears on the drawing to each corresponding grid square on the panel. In the school's yearbook photograph, the window appears to be about 10' tall, so in this instance each square would be be 6" x 6" and four squares together would be one square foot. 

After high school, Edward Gorey participated in other theatrical endeavors throughout college and beyond. Other than some poster and broadside designs, I have been unable to find any records of actual set designs until 1973 when he designed a production of Dracula at the Cyrus Pierce Theater in Nantucket. 

There are only three known surviving drawings of set pieces from the Nantucket production of Dracula - the drop curtain, proscenium arch, and the back wall of arches. While the artwork is very precisely rendered, there is no indication of scale on these drawings, so it is unclear if these pieces were drawn to an exact enlargement scale to fit the stage or, like the high school window design, a grid system was used to enlarge the artwork.

This production was produced by John Wulp and directed by Dennis Rosa, who seems to have had mixed memories of the production. Carol Verberg (author, friend, and producer of many Edward Gorey production on Cape Cod in the 1990's) related a chance encounter with Dennis Rosa on a bus in San Francisco some years after his collaborations with Mr. Gorey on Dracula.

Ms. Verberg relates that when asked about the Dracula sets, Mr. Rosa stated that "Edward didn't "design" the set for Dracula, he just did the drawings, which an under-credited underling transformed into a functioning 3-D set design."
We can take this statement with a dose of salt as John Wulp spoke highly of Edward Gorey's involvement in the production. No doubt, Mr. Gorey was not fluent in stage design and needed to work with and be coached by an experienced set designer/constructor. 

Some years ago, I chatted with John Wulp over the phone about the Dracula sets and asked why there are rugs on the stone floors in the Nantucket production but not in the Broadway incarnation. He said that they made the Gorey-designed rugs out of painted canvas and put them down, but that the actors were constantly being tripped up by them, so they decided to leave the floor bare. In the photo above, you can see that the rug is rather thin and does not lay flat.
Next post: More on painting the Dracula sets.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Constructing and Painting an Edward Gorey Theater Set, Part 1


Designing and Drawing for the Theatre by Lynn Pecktal (McGraw-Hill, 1995) is a textbook on the practical application of professional set design and construction, focusing on the New York theater scene. The book is an worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in how theatrical sets are conceived and executed. The book is also a time capsule of the time period and includes in depth interviews with several award winning stage designers.

The 1976 Broadway production of Dracula is featured with several double page spreads and additional spot illustrations showing the technical aspects involved in creating the sets for the production. Pecktal was scenery supervisor for the show. Unfortunately, Edward Gorey was not interviewed, but the photographs of the set being constructed offer a backstage view of the production. 

Viewing the information in this book got me ruminating on the process of transferring Mr. Gorey's scale drawings into functioning three dimensional theater sets. This began an informal search to collect stories from individuals who were directly involved in Gorey-designed stage productions. Forthcoming posts will explore how Edward Gorey's set designs were transferred from page to stage.

I would like to acknowledge fellow Gorey collector and enthusiast Todd Camp for bringing Designing and Drawing for the Theatre to my attention through one of his informative Instagram posts on Gorey ephemera.


Friday, June 10, 2022

Gorey Original Artworks

There have been a couple interesting pieces of original art by Edward Gorey to come onto the market recently. The June 9th Illustration Art Auction at Swann Auction Galleries in New York City featured an unusual piece titled A Song and A Poem for A. The artwork was created as a cover illustration in 1973 for a limited edition, staple bound book of poetry by Richard Elliott. 

The image is a variation on a children's cut and paste toy where a box can be created by cutting out and pasting it together using the indicated flaps. Throughout his career, Edward Gorey created drawings with missing figures. This piece takes the concept a step further by providing the figures and objects to cut and paste into position on the box. While it is hard to imagine anyone actually cutting up the cover of the booklet, the viewer is engaged by visualizing the process, just as one is engaged with the writer by reading and reflecting on their poems.

During a virtual bookfair in April, The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust released an early piece of artwork. Promoted on their social media platforms, this piece was sold to benefit the mission statement of the Trust. A most unusual piece, the art is a blend of modern art and traditional New England imagery. Life, death, mourning and the afterlife are represented poetically in this image.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Bellairs Archive, Part 4 - The Figure in the Shadows

The House With A Clock In Its Walls was published in the summer of 1973 and was a success for author John Bellairs and Dial Publishing. The publisher was eager for a second book from the author and Mr. Bellairs was busy writing two manuscripts for consideration, the first being a sequel to House and the other a stand alone story for teens. The success of House meant that the stand alone story eventually was set aside and The Figure In The Shadows, which was intended as the central book in The Lewis Trilogy, became the priority project. Anxious to repeat the success of the first book, Dial retained Edward Gorey to illustrate this title.

A Halloween deadline was agreed upon for the author to submit a completed manuscript. A letter dated September 23, 1973 to the editor begins:

By April 1974, the manuscript had been completed and had been forwarded to Edward Gorey. There was now a new editor working on the Bellairs' project as Mrs. Gavril was on maternity leave. On April 25, 1974, Senior Editor Regina Hayes wrote with ominous news concerning the Gorey illustrations:

The June 14th report from Dial:

And finally, on August 27th Dial sent this to the author:

John Bellairs reply a few weeks later:
Victoria Chess did submit examples of her work for consideration, but Dial was not overly enthusiastic with her samples. This, coupled with the fact that Ms. Chess was currently living in Lebanon which would have complicated the logistics, eliminated her from the project. By the end of September illustrator Mercer Mayer was engaged to illustrate Figure.

Why didn't Edward Gorey come through with the illustrations for this book? While there is no first hand explanation in the Bellairs Archive, there are several factors that would have certainly influenced his decision to withdraw from the project. 

1973 had been an exceptionally prolific year for Edward Gorey wherein he published six of his own books, completed illustration projects for other authors, wrote movie reviews for The Soho Weekly News, and designed the sets and costumes for a production of Dracula in Nantucket that would move to Broadway in 1977 on the strength of his designs. 

A large portion of Edward Gorey's time and energy in 1974 was taken up with two major exhibitions of his work. The Graham Gallery in New York City exhibited new works by Edward Gorey, showing forty-six pieces created expressly for the show. This was Mr. Gorey's first fine art gallery show. He would participate in only two other gallery shows of his art (also at Graham), but these shows would feature far fewer new works and be filled in with art he created for his books.

Mr. Gorey also agreed to the first major retrospective exhibition of his works. The exhibition was titled Phantasmagorey and was mounted at Yale University. 

All of these factors came together making 1974 a year where Edward Gorey did not publish a book of his own* and he took on very few illustration projects. Some illustration projects fell to the wayside and The Figure In The Shadows was one of those projects. 

*CATEGOR Y has a publication date of 1974, but only due to printing/binding delays. All of the prep work for this title was completed in 1973.