Friday, January 15, 2021

Mr. Earbrass Plays Croquet

 

I have the good fortune to be married to a man who loves to make special gifts for special occasions. For our 41st anniversary this past November, I received a hand made Mr. Earbrass figure. Recreating a scene from The Unstrung Harp, Edward Gorey's first published work, the intrepid Mr. Earbrass is braving the elements to complete a forgotten game of croquet. The collaged figure is amazingly detailed and everything from his head, hands and feet to his croquet mallet are hand made to scale. In the book, Mr. Earbrass is wearing a fur coat during his attempt to finish his game, but Bill decided to swap out his clothing for his traveling costume shown later in the book. Using bits of fabric with appropriately sized patterns, Mr. Earbrass is stylishly attired to brave the elements.

Bill has always enjoyed creating vintage style toys, and Mr. Earbrass is not just a figurine, he is also a Räuchermännchen, or incense smoker toy. Räuchermännchen were first made around 1850 in the Ore Mountains, a region that forms the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. They usually feature pipe smoking figures in traditional costume and remain popular holiday decorations.

Lifting off the top half of Mr. Earbrass, a metal tray is positioned to accept an incense cone. When lit and the top half of his body replaced, smoke gently emanates from Mr. Earbrass' mouth so that you can see his breath as if he were outside breathing in the chilly air. Here is a video of Mr. Earbrass out in the cold, playing croquet.


 

 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Edward Bradford

 

The world of Edward Gorey has lost a staunch and cherished friend. It is with much sadness that we say goodbye to Edward Bradford, a fellow collector, board member of The Edward Gorey House, and Mr. Gorey's official bibliographer who passed on December 26, 2020.

Over many decades, Edward Bradford amassed a staggering Gorey collection that included examples of almost everything produced by the prolific artist. Mr. Bradford was frequently seen attending auctions, book shops and fairs in New York City on his quest for rare (and ephemeral) Gorey items. Recently, the Library of Congress acquired this impressive collection and has plans to publish Mr. Bradford's long anticipated Edward Gorey bibliography in conjunction with Rutgers University. His small volume, F is for Fantods gives us a preview of the upcoming bibliography.

Edward Bradford was an invaluable resource to every Gorey collector and dealer he knew. Generous with his time and knowledge, Mr. Bradford excelled at helping others figure out Gorey conundrums.

Photo of Edward Bradford outside the 2010/11 Elegant Enigmas exhibition in Boston courtesy of Jonas Ploeger.


Friday, December 18, 2020

1979 Graham Gallery Christmas Exhibit - Artist R. O. Blechman


In 1979 Edward Gorey was invited by the Graham Gallery in New York City to be one of four artists included in a Christmastime group exhibition. The show opened on December 19, 1979  and was on display through January 5, 1980. Mr. Gorey had participated in two previous group shows at Graham (1974 & 1975) both of which he produced a quantity of new works specifically for the exhibitions. For this exhibition, Mr. Gorey sold preexisting works (notably, original artwork from his book The Broken Spoke) and included pieces that had not sold at the two previous Graham exhibitions.

I have been trying to locate a list for the 1975 and 1979 shows at Graham without success. Sadly, the gallery is no longer in operation and information relating to what was exhibited by any of the artists is elusive. I was therefore delighted when a piece of original artwork by R.O. Blechman from the 1979 Graham show appeared at Swann Auction Galleries this past summer and I was able to add it to my collection. The piece was consigned by the artist himself, who at this time is 90 years old. Included with the artwork is an announcement card from the show that was signed by all four artists, including Edward Gorey.

This delicately executed piece is related to the image Mr. Blechman created for the invitation. Fluttering in a vertical line are a series of ribbons entwined with holly, forming a line of dollar signs in a subtle comment on the holiday season. The artwork, drawn in red ink, is only 3/4" x 4" on a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" piece of thin paper.

Oscar Robert Blechman (professionally known as R. O. Blechman) is an animation artist & director, illustrator, writer, and cartoonist whose works have been seen by millions of people and has had retrospectives in The Museum of Modern Art, among others. In 2018, Mr. Blechman was interviewed about his long career in this article: artofthespot.com/ro-blechman.html

 Here is a lovely Christmas greeting created in 1966 by Mr. Blechman for CBS.


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Alison Lurie

 

Author Alison Lurie passed away on December 3, 2020 at the age of 94. Ms. Lurie was a close friend of Edward Gorey since they met at the Mandrake Bookshop in 1949. Ms. Lurie and her children inspired several of Mr. Gorey's books including The Beastly Baby and The Doubtful Guest, which is dedicated to her using her married name (Alison Bishop). 

In 2008, Alison Lurie discussed her relationship with Edward Gorey during an event at The Edward Gorey House. A transcript of her interesting and informative talk is reproduced here: https://www.goreyography.com/north/north.htm



Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Enormous Wood, An Unfinished Tale

 Over his long career, Edward Gorey began and then abandoned many book projects. Fortunately for fans and scholars of his work, Mr. Gorey did not discard these partially completed stories, but instead filed them away for possible completion at a later date. One such project is The Enormous Wood, a story Mr. Gorey was working on in 1963. The Enormous Wood is a tale about a sister and brother who are told to go out for a walk by their mother, who was feeling unwell. Unfortunately, the weather becomes threatening as the children head for the Enormous Wood, a place they had never been before. That is as far as the story progressed when it was set aside for possible future completion.

For The Enormous Wood, Edward Gorey left behind five pieces of artwork, three of which are finished drawings and two that remain incomplete. To date, a complete manuscript for the story has not been located but The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust is in the process of sorting and organizing the archives, so there is hope that it will turn up. (See Post Update Below)

The Enormous Wood has two unique features, the combination of which may have led to this tale remaining unfinished:

1) This story is told from a first person perspective. The signature style of Edward Gorey's writing is one of detachment and moral instruction. The actions and situations are described to the reader, but the stories are not narrated by a recognizable personality within the story itself. The reader can learn from the character's actions, but remains a detached bystander who is discouraged to have empathy with the protagonists. This makes the misfortunes of the characters humorous rather than disturbing since the reader is distanced from personal interaction with the parties involved. The Enormous Wood is a tale told by the girl, referring to herself as "I" and using "We" when describing her brother and herself.

2) The artwork for The Enormous Wood is unlike anything Edward Gorey created for his other books. The drawings for The Enormous Wood are created as two page spreads; with each turn of the page a new visual vista would open up and immediately strike the viewer with a sense of movement and danger. In a typical Gorey book the pace of the reader is reflective, each turn of the page revealing a single page vignette where the reader must pause before moving on. (Note: Mr. Gorey originally disliked the idea of the Amphigorey anthology because multiple pages from the books would be shown  at the same time, and not be experienced as originally intended.) 

These double page drawings are unique in that they have a sense of perspective that depicts the passage of time, and movement, showing the characters as they travel through the scene. If the artwork is viewed as individual pages, as per his usual style, the drawings become less threatening. Viewed as a single page drawing the "We left the house." side shows two children outside on a blustery rainy day. The text also makes the drawing less threatening.

The "We started walking..." side is far less ominous when viewed as a single image. When viewed together as a two page scene, the children are literally being overwhelmed by the storm which grows darker and larger from left to right as they become smaller. The children are shown at two distinct points in time within a single drawing. The darkness of the steps and lightness of the sky on the left represent the solid safety they are leaving while the upward tilt of the darkness on the right indicates the oppressive danger the children are heading towards. Viewed as single pages, the image(s) lose the sweeping movement of oncoming doom.

The other drawings from the book follow the same progression, with the right side plunging the children into further peril. The surviving fragments of this story are intriguing and it is disappointing that The Enormous Wood will never be completed. 

Thanks to the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust for the use of the image. 

Post Update: After posting this information I was contacted by actor/producer/photographer Kevin McDermott who appeared in the 1985 Edward Gorey production of Tinned Lettuce at NYU. He informed me that The Enormous Wood was used in the show with the new title The White Stone. As can be seen from my program, actors portrayed the wood itself in the play.

Carol Verburg, theatrical producer and author of two books on Edward Gorey's theatrical works on Cape Cod, also confirmed that The White Stone was performed as part of Useful Urns, Mr. Gorey's 1990 summer entertainment with the Provincetown Theater Company.

As presented on stage, it becomes obvious why Edward Gorey set the story aside in 1963 in book form. The complete tale is one of fratricide, and calmly told using the first person perspective it is a grisly affair. Revisiting the story as a theatrical piece 20 years later, Mr. Gorey added a narrator (dressed as a twin of the girl) and the tale was over in six minutes. I saw the production of Tinned Lettuce at NYU and honestly do not remember this story as standing out as being particularly shocking, so it did not have the disturbing quality (with me at any rate) that it would have had in book form.



Monday, November 2, 2020

Upcoming Book Auction

 


On November 13, Leslie Hindman Auctions in Chicago will auction the Edward Gorey collection of Thomas J. Barrett. The collection contains many limited edition and first edition books signed by Mr. Gorey. This auction represents the diligence of a true Gorey collector to acquire very fine examples over the span of years. Fewer auction houses are selling large Edward Gorey book collections these days, so this is an excellent opportunity to fill in gaps with beautiful books. There is also a selection of limited edition etchings included in the sale.

For more information on the sale and to bid, go here: https://hindmanauctions.com/auctions/800-fine-books-and-manuscripts?page=1&layout=grid&per=50




Saturday, October 17, 2020

Auction News - Gogol Cover Painting

 

At the end of August, Nate Sanders Auctions in Los Angeles sold two original watercolor paintings by Edward Gorey. The first piece was an unpublished work from the early 1950's (see my post from August 30, 2020). The second painting is the preliminary cover art sketch for Tales of Good and Evil by Nicolai V. Gogol, published by Anchor Books in 1957. This piece sold for over $16,000.00 (including buyer's premium).

At first glance, the original artwork (above) and the printed book cover (below) appear to be the same piece of artwork, but they are two versions of the same cover design. This initial confusion is a testament to how thorough and precise Edward Gorey could be when mapping out his ideas and then redrawing/painting them for the final piece.

In the original artwork, the watercolor washes are expressively painted with bold brush strokes. The line quality of the crosshatched areas appears conversational and casual, applied with a lightness that attests to the quick movement of the pen strokes. The typography is completely indicated and correct but has a loose, carefree appearance, some of it even looking like a scribble. Even though the scene depicted is menacing and the landscape treacherous, the original art has a freshness and openness that draws one into the piece.

The final artwork, as shown on the book cover, is more controlled than the sketch. All the elements are precisely intact, but the line work has been tightened up and the watercolor washes appear intentionally less expressive. Even though the final image is more technically coherent, it lacks some of the carefree freshness of the sketch. The lightness of strong horizontal path with the horse and sleigh gives the impression that the paperback book cover has been folded. The precision of the final version highlights the tension in the scene, making the playfulness of the woman more acute and her fate more disturbing. Hopefully, the Femme Fatale with her exposed flesh and open shouldered ball gown will soon be returning indoors. Everyone else in the scene is considerably muffled up against the elements.