04 December 2010

Fur Coats on Sale, Size Extra Large

I remember being surprised to read in my teens that Edward Gorey was a “cult figure.” That was probably around the time WGBH commissioned him to create the animated opening credits for Mystery.

That news came years after I’d read Amphigorey or some of Gorey’s smaller books from (as I recall) the library of the college where my father taught. They appeared to be in comics form, so they had to be okay for little kids, right? I also spotted Gorey’s distinctive art on the covers of John Bellairs’s novels.

Sure, I’d realized early on that Gorey’s sense of humor wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, and his sense of taste not to everyone’s humor. But the notion that he had inspired a cult—i.e., a small set of people who feel superior for admiring Edward Gorey—struck me as odd. Wasn’t he just another illustrator who’d always been around?

I puzzled over that moment when I heard from associates of Bloomsbury Auctions that it will sell some items from Gorey’s estate. The auction house’s press release says:

Edward Gorey was one of the most conspicuous eccentrics in New York City of the latter 2oth Century. His strange, meticulous and often hilariously macabre drawings drew a cult [there’s that word] following around the world until the 1977 Tony Award-winning revival of Dracula (that he designed) put Gorey himself in the spotlight. For nearly two decades he could be spotted almost every night at Lincoln Center while New York City Ballet was in town by his opulent beard, tennis shoes and an enormous fur coat. . . .

In the 1980s, Gorey had a change of heart. He became an advocate for animal rights and put his fur coats in storage. He never wore them again.
Bloomsbury Auctions will offer fourteen of Gorey’s coats and other personal effects and collected items on Thursday, 9 December. Some of the proceeds will go to the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust to benefit animal welfare. Here’s the online catalogue, or visit Monica Edinger’s posting.


Monica Edinger said...

I first encountered Gorey's little books in high school and it was a cultish sort of thing-- like being a Frank Zappa fan. My friends and I passed them around as we did offbeat albums. This was years before they were compiled in Amphigorey et al. The books came from the Gotham Book Mart, a cultish sort of place too. He definitely was not a regular illustrator at that time.

J. L. Bell said...

Amphigorey came out in 1972, when I was still in early elementary school, though I may not have seen it for a couple more years. I had no clue that Gorey wasn’t in the mainstream as much as, say, Richard Scarry, whose work was also being collected in monumental volumes.

Monica Edinger said...

So while he was more mainstream by the time you came across his being marked as a "cult figure" I can only say that it feels an apt moniker for what he was in the late 60s when I was in high school. When one of my arty subgroup brought in "The Hapless Child" we were smitten and did what we could to track down more of those little books. That wasn't easy and I think the search for these small press and small edition books was part of the fun and cult-aspect of him at that time. We did "feel superior" for appreciating and admiring this non-mainstream artist, but that was what we did then being snarky, arty, and full-of-ourselves teens. (I used a quote from don marquise's archy and mehitabel for my year book quote, feeling might superior that no one except me knew that book.)

J. L. Bell said...

My yearbook quote is from that well known author Oliver Herford, so I was also snarky, arty, and full of myself. I suppose my friends and I might have had our own “cult” figures we thought that only we appreciated. Can’t remember them now.

I think the big difference between a “cult” artist and one who just has a very small audience is the attitude of that audience, some combination of fervency and smugness. It does demonstrate that the artist has succeeded in making an effect.

As I say, I was exposed to Edward Gorey at a relatively early age, and therefore grew up thinking of him as a normal part of the picture-book world. Well, maybe not normal, but published, anthologized, and in libraries. Hence my surprise to later discover that he was such a rare bird.