The work of Edward Gorey has often been described as “macabre,” a word that his friend Alexander Theroux claims the noted author and artist didn’t like. While I would agree that it’s an appropriate word, Gorey’s drawings are something more – odd, whimsical, humorous, magical, mysterious, gloomy, eccentric – all rolled up in delightful pen-and-ink sketches.
I was first introduced to Gorey’s work as a kid in the 1980s watching the long-running “Mystery!” series on PBS with my mom. The opening sequence was a wonderful animation featuring his work – a winking tombstone, a game of croquet in the rain, a blooming urn, a fainting lady losing her scarf. (You can see a version of the animation on PBS’s site).
Gorey passed away in 2000, but a collection of his work lives on at the Library. A gift from Gorey collector and enthusiast Glen Emil, the collection came to the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division in December 2014 with quiet fanfare – probably how the artist himself would have wanted.
Emil began collecting Gorey-related material in 1979, which later became the foundation for the online portal Goreography.com. He donated the items to the Library in an effort to keep the collection “as a single unit, a testament to the appeal and popularity of Edward Gorey’s talent and his unremitting commitment to artistic expression in the literary world.”
Gorey created more than 100 works, including “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” “The Doubtful Guest” and “The Wuggly Ump”; designed sets and costumes for theater productions from Cape Cod to Broadway, including Broadway’s “Dracula” for which he won a Tony; a remarkable number of illustrations in publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times; and illustrations in books by a wide array of authors from Charles Dickens to Edward Lear, Samuel Beckett, John Updike, Virginia Woolf, H.G. Wells, Florence Heide and many others.
The gift of the Goreyography.com collection introduced 802 items related to the American author and artist to the Library. This breaks down to 467 books, 89 periodicals, 92 posters and theater-related materials, 147 items of ephemera and seven works of art. There are also 25 items that can be described as reference documents: digitally recorded media programs and inter-office memos and communiqués. The collection is open to researchers and is accessible through the Rare Book and Special Collections Division Reading Room.
The collection is divided into three sections: works by Gorey, works with contributions by Gorey and, well, everything else.
Of the primary works by Gorey, items of note include two titles published and sold with original and unique artwork: “The Sopping Thursday” (1970) lettered edition with pen and ink artwork, and “Amphigorey” (1972), a numbered and signed copy with pen and ink with watercolor artwork. These are unique in that they are the only two primary section books that have original artwork that Gorey produced for sale.
According to Emil, the section containing Gorey’s contributions are some of his most popular and memorable work. “This is where Gorey’s impact upon the publishing industry is most obvious.” Most contributions were works for hire, but memorable examples include the John Bellairs and Brad Strickland gothic mystery novels for young adults, Anchor paperback designs from 1953 to about 1960, Marvin Kaye compilations for Doubleday, and mysterious stories by women writers edited by Seon Manley and Gogo Lewis for William Morrow.
The “everything else” section is probably the most fun and diverse of Gorey-related material. It includes original art, ephemera like dolls and theatrical promotion material. The Library now also has two limited copperplate etchings: “Dancing Elephant” (no. 34 of 75 and signed) and “Figbash” (no. 15 of 50 and signed).
“Part of Gorey’s charm is that he was a mysterious man,” said Emil. “He loved to say ‘What you see is what you get’ when asked what it all meant. He didn’t divulge meanings into his work and loved that people were engaged.”