Three new acquisitions have recently enriched the archives of the Edward Gorey House. Without the funding mechanism to purchase Edward’s increasingly valuable works, we rely on the generosity of friends, strangers, and those jaded collectors trying to unclutter their lives. Frequently the Edward Gorey House is turned to during such times. Consequently, we are regularly blessed with generous donations of unique Gorey ephemera—like the items showcased below.
The Dwindling Party
One July arrival was a pristine and virtually intact copy of Gorey’s pop-up book The Dwindling Party. While we’ve had half a dozen samples of this pop-up book in our stacks for some time, one would need to put all of them together to produce one single working copy. The sad truth about pop-up books is that they are not built for longevity—unless you never open them. And who would ever do that?
Published by Random House in 1982, The Dwindling Party is a laminated hardcover book of moveable paper constructs. Gorey was constantly expanding the boundaries of a book—both in its content and in its physical properties. Trap doors, rotating tabs, pop-up monsters and a breathtaking unfolding gazebo (not actual size) all illustrate the tale of the rapidly diminishing MacFizzet family among the grounds of Hickyacket Hall.
The Dwindling Party owes more than a passing nod to Gorey’s own The Evil Garden (1965) and is the tour de force to a body of nontraditionally formatted late-career books that include The Tunnel Calamity accordion book (1984), The Helpless Doorknob shuffled story cards (1989), The Dripping Faucet cut-apart flip book (1989) and several unfinished works like The Haunted Blancmange cut-out book (featured in our 2020 Exhibit), The Mourning Fan (see below) and The Totem Pole Book (notes and sketches for which were found among the material for our 2020 Exhibit, but are not currently on display).
The Mourning Fan
Also arriving at our door in mid-July, a gorgeous reworking of Gorey’s The Mourning Fan a miniature book newly created by book bindery artist Patrice Miller and available from her Aredian Press in Dallas Texas.
The Mourning Fan, or, Meanwhile and Elsewhere is a little-known work by Gorey that until now had only appeared in the literary omnibus Antaeus (1990). The story consists of thirty quatrains, each accompanied by a small fan-shaped drawing. Intended as his third miniature book, The Mourning Fan was never published as a stand-alone book during Gorey’s lifetime.
Mourning fans were a standard 19th century accessory to a family death—black fabric or paper fans to accompany a family’s funerary clothing. A popular mourning accessory to go with the bunting and floral boughs that filled the decease’s living room (along with the deceased) for viewings. It seems like a logical device for Edward to turn to: macabre, fragile, dark and allowing any number of narratives to unfold and spread.
This fan-shaped book that was gifted to the House by the artist is lined with ink-colored velvet book cloth and hand-beaded Venice lace over boards. As designed by Patrice, The Mourning Fan rests in an enclosure covered with black Harmatan goatskin and black lokta handprinted with vintage Indian woodblocks. The box lid is foil-stamped with title art resembling a 19th century decorative book cover. The modified clamshell's interior is lined with black duchess silk, black moire book cloth, Venice lace and a wooly mammoth ivory medallion. The styling as a memento mori is Miller’s macabre tribute to Gorey, whose work she returns to frequently in numerous interpretive artist bindings—in fact, slowly but surely, Patrice is interpreting the entire canon of Gorey’s books.
Letterpress printed by Friedrich Kerksieck’s Small Fires Press in New Orleans on Mohawk Superfine text weight paper, the text curves nicely against the arc of the page. Several lettered editions of The Mourning Fan are still available from Miller’s Aredian Press. For information about purchasing one, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.aredian.co (note the “co” rather than “com”). A number of Miller’s rebound Gorey works have been on display at the Edward Gorey House for several seasons. The House perennially plans an exhibit of Gorey’s Book Arts. It has been a runner-up subject for the last few years that always seems to get tabled for other, louder opportunities. Nonetheless, a Books Arts Exhibit seems destined to happen either in 2021 or 22. This as yet untitled exhibit would focus on Gorey’s more nontraditional books incorporating the above acquisitions and others in the House’s collection, including some 19th Century books from his own library that obviously inspired him, as well as original artwork obtained from the Charitable Trust—again, all reflecting the boundaries that a book can be stretched to.
In June the House received an unusual collection of stuffed animals created by Gorey in 1992. Edward’s late-career fabric arts is yet another category that begs for closer examination and exhibit. Edward’s sewn and stuffed creatures, while frequently available through Gotham Book Mart in New York, had a tendency to stay regional—never traveling far from their point of origin (the point of origin being Edward’s House). A case in point, Patriotic Bunnies is comprised of five (approx. 3” x 2” x 6”)) rabbits meticulously hand-sewn in stars and striped material and filled with (probably) Uncle Ben’s Rice. We do not know if Edward gave them this name—in fact, they could just as easily be construed as patriotic two-headed Figbashes, but ambiguity is a hallmark of all of Edward’s works across every medium he dabbled in.
The Bunnies were offered to the House by a Cambridge family whose mother who had won them in a silent auction and a bit of collaborative sleuthing was required to establish authenticity. The donor suspected their mother had picked up somewhere in the upper Cape where she previously lived and a printed card accompanying the dolls indicated they were Patriotic Bunnies by Edward Gorey and part of a “Fine Art Silent Auction” with a closing date of September 7, 1992. Several other artists works were listed as being part of the silent auction, though maddeningly, the card did not say for what organization. One of the other artists on the card, the painter William R. Davis, was finally tracked down. Mr. Davis impressively recalled through the fog of almost three decades that the auction was a benefit for the Cahoon Art Museum in Barnstable. Communications with the current Director of the Cahoon, Sarah Johnston, eventually involved the previous director, Rosemary Rapp, whose memory was equally impressive: she confirmed the bunnies were silent auction items held at the Cotuit Center for the Arts (then located in a garage) as a fundraiser for the Cahoon Museum. She recalled that Jamie Wolff, Director of the Cotuit Garage, persuaded Edward to contribute work to the event. By that time a year-round resident of the Cape, Edward rarely if ever said no to a request from any local arts organization. This is several years before Edward started creating regular theatrical works with Cotuit and, in fact, might have been his first collaboration with that organization and with Mr. Wolff.
Equal to the joy of receiving works of art like these is the opportunity to pass Sherlock Holmes-like emails among a circle of interested parties. Discussions of authenticity involved the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, archivist/collector Andrew Alpern, Gorey Scholar Karen Wilkin and the House’s best guesses. In the end there was little doubt left as to the provenance of the Bunnies—an unbroken chain of ownership was established—from their creation in the House to their return to the House 28 years later. The verbal trails and connections that flesh out a piece of art gives that work a living resonance and ties together many people who live (or lived) to create, to share, or to preserve art. That is a mission, not just of the Edward Gorey House, but of all museums great and small.
The House extends very special thank you(s) to Ruth Carey and all the family of Selma R. Pastor; to Patrice Miller and Aredian Press; and to Audrey C. Soffa. Additional material for this story was filched from Irwin Terry’s blog Goreyana. http://goreyana.blogspot.com/. (Thank you as always, Irwin.)