Monday, October 30, 2023

A Gorey/Bellairs Discovery

Sometimes treasures are hidden in plain sight and it only takes the curiosity of an astute observer to properly identify them. Such was the case with a piece of original artwork by Edward Gorey that is on display at the F. Brooke Whiting Museum in Cumberland, Maryland.

F. Brooke Whiting (Dec. 5, 1918 - July 27, 1998) earned a Master's degree in Library Science in 1957 and
served for thirty-two years as Curator of Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts for UCLA. Mr. Whiting maintained his family home in Cumberland and was a long time member of the Allegany County Historical Society. Together with his partner Wesley Griswold, Mr. Whiting traveled the world collecting remarkable furniture and objects of interest. Mr. Whiting eventually donated his home and collections to the Historical Society along with an endowment to maintain the house as a museum.

Amongst his many interests, Brooke Whiting collected original illustration art, and his collection includes pieces by such notable artists as Maurice Sendak and Tasha Tudor. On display in the house is a piece by Edward Gorey that caught the attention of museum volunteer Bill Dunlap, an artist and illustrator in his own right. 

The art was labeled: Edward Gorey, Front and Back Cover, The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs

Intrigued to learn more about the artwork, Bill Dunlap did an online search and found that the art on display did not match the published cover for the book listed but rather looked like the cover for Mr. Bellairs The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb.

The image was similar, but not an exact match for the published cover. The people and building on the left hand side had were in different positions and there were elements missing that appear on the published cover. Finding references to the Bellairs series on my Goreyana blog, Mr. Dunlap contacted me to see if I could shed any light on the curious differences. After a brief examination of the image, it was obvious that the museum owned a rare preliminary painting for the finished cover. 

Edward Gorey often created expressively detailed preliminary sketches for color book cover illustrations. This allowed him to quickly work out the general layout and details of an image. Mr. Gorey produced 22 cover designs for the Bellairs series, the last of which he completed just before he died in April 2000. Of these 22 cover designs, this is the third full color preliminary art to come to my attention. The other two are color sketches for The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, 1984 and The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost, 1985 (this piece is in my collection).

Comparing these preliminary works, the Lamp From the Warlock's Tomb art is the most highly finished of the three sketches and it is easy to see how it could be mistaken for the final artwork. It is always exciting to learn of a piece of a previously unknown original art by Edward Gorey, especially one that was not intended for publication. 

To learn more about the F. Brooke Whiting House and Museum, visit their website:

Images for this posting courtesy of the Albany County Historical Society, Swann Auction Galleries, and by Irwin Terry.


Jean said...

Oh wow, what a fun discovery!

WhoAreYou said...

Fascinating discovery and two of my favorites books and illustrations.