Edward Gorey Lights Up the Dark Corners

By Kara Miller

le Chien d'arrêt. © 2011 The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust

May 2, 2011

BOSTON -- When I was little, my mother would say that "A is for apple, B is for bear." Artist Edward Gorey, apparently, taught the alphabet somewhat differently.

B is for Basil assaulted by bears.
© 2011 The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust

His 1963 book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies: Or, After the Outing, explains that "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears." At my house, by contrast, the bears leaned more towards Teddy than grizzly.

But Gorey's lovely, dark drawings -- carefully inked with his signature fine lines -- motor right through the alphabet, heaping calamities on one unfortunate child after the other: "U is for Una who slipped down a drain. V is for Victor squashed under a train."

Gashlycrumb is one of more than 180 original Gorey drawings on display at the Athenaeum, in a show organized by the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA and already presented there, in San Antonio, and Orlando.

Gorey’s works are an alternate universe, but one definitely at home in the exhibit hall: massive columns and purple walls form a backdrop for the delicate drawings, with their drolly sinister content: animals who show up for dinner parties, men wearing bowlers and long Victorian skirts, and titles like The Fatal Lozenge andThe Blue Aspic.

What the viewer learns is that Gorey’s vision -- familiar to many from his designs for the WGBH series Masterpiece Mystery!-- was long in the making. After an auspicious start as a child artist and a stint in the military, Gorey arrived at Harvard and began tucking his letters home to his mother in Chicago into intricately-painted envelopes. Beautiful, but also macabre: one features a man about to be strangled.

Staring out from their display cases in the Athenaeum, these rare Harvard envelopes -- like so much in Gorey's 100 books, stage designs, and illustrations--immerses brilliance in darkness.

"Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey," Through June 4, 2011, Boston Athenaeum, 10-1/2 Beacon Street, Boston, MA. Admission $5. Click here for more information.

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