Gallery hosts Edward Gorey art and events

October 20th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Campus News

illustration of theater-goers by Edward Gorey

Illustration from The Blue Aspic by Edward Gorey

On the 10th anniversary of Edward Gorey’s death, the University of Hawaiʻi Art Gallery on the UH Mānoa campus pays homage to his elegant, enigmatic and eerie work in the exhibition Musings of Mystery and Alphabets of Agony: The Work of Edward Gorey.

The exhibition, which runs through Dec. 10, 2010, showcases the John A. Carollo–Edward Gorey Collection from the UH Mānoa Library’s Special Research Collections.

The exhibition features a selection of more than 700 of the 1,500-plus Edward Gorey books, prints, posters, note cards, handmade toys and other curious objects collected by John Carollo, Honolulu composer and dedicated Goreyphile. It also includes rarely seen original drawings and personal items on loan from the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and the Edward Gorey House.

About the exhibition

Illustration of a character making the letter P by Edward Gorey from Figbash Acrobate

Prolific artist Edward Gorey invented a gothic world of Victorian/Edwardian interiors and remote landscapes with stylishly dressed characters entangled in provocative and humorous tales of mystery, peril and bizarre twists of fate. His mischievous children, incredible creatures and nonsensical plots and parody amuse and delight readers around the world.

The University of Hawaiʻi Art Gallery staff brings Gorey’s life and imaginary world alive in a Gorey-esque environment that includes a library and reading room with signature architectural elements and characters.

Art and items are organized according to themes, including mystery and murder, creatures and objects, children’s books and menaced children, Gorey alphabets and poetical play, surrealism, theater and ballet and fine art.

In deference to Gorey’s iconic alphabet book The Gashlycrumb Tinies, the exhibit offers a scavenger hunt for the 26 young characters subject to unlucky and disastrous circumstances.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see such as vast range of Gorey’s works,” says Gallery Director Lisa Yoshihara. “The exhibition will please Gorey fans with an interpretative look to his intellect and artistic talents and introduce a whole new generation to this internationally acclaimed American genius. Many will find his mixture of whimsy and mystery darkly humorous, his word craft incredible and his elegantly drawn depictions just divine.”


About Edward Gorey

Illustration of a character making the letter S by Edward Gorey from Figbash Acrobate

Set designer, typographer, playwright, graphic designer and toymaker Edward St. John Gorey was a prolific artist whose archive contains more than 10,000 images. He wrote more than 100 books and illustrated more than 80 by other authors from Samuel Beckett to H. G. Wells.

Born in Chicago in 1925, Gorey was a child prodigy, teaching himself to read before age 4, completing Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Bram Stoker’s Dracula by age 7, skipping two grades and posting impressive exam scores at age 16, says Andreas Brown, co-trustee of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust.

Drawing from toddlerhood, Gorey took a few classes at the Art Institute of Chicago but was mainly self-taught. After a short stint in the Army, he earned a BA in French at Harvard and went to work for Doubleday, designing covers for books from Stoic Philosophy to Tom Jones.

He won a Tony Award for his costumes for the 1978 Broadway production of Dracula. A fan of Agatha Christie, he drew the animated introduction to the long-running PBS television series Mystery!. His whimsically illustrated version of T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a perennial best seller.

A voracious reader, Gorey amassed a library of more than 25,000 books from Jane Austen novels to Asian history and religion. He read some books repeatedly, making notations in the margins, Brown told guests attending the Sept. 26 opening reception for the UH exhibition. Lady Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji was a favorite.

“Much about Gorey is about language and communication and complication,” says Brown, who, as president and owner of cultural landmark Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan, developed a professional relationship with Gorey that grew into friendship. Gorey was interested in the history of communication from the days of medieval troubadours (hinted at in the title of his first book, The Unstrung Harp), Brown says.

“He was a surrealist, I suppose. Philosophically he was a Daoist.” His work is superficially amusing, “but if you plumb the depths, there is a lot there,” Brown suggests, deconstructing the title of Gorey’s popular The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

line drawing of girl falling down stairs with the caption A is for Amy who fell down the stairs

From The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey; click to enlarge

“Gash” has a literal meaning that fits the violent ends awaiting the book’s characters, but it also is an archaic reference to the refuse cut away from food. Likewise, “crumbs” can refer to the society’s undesirables (opposite of the “upper crust”), and “tinies” is a Victorian English reference to children under age 5.

The book is in the tradition of cautionary tales and horrific bedtime stories of the Brothers Grimm, Brown says. “Gorey insisted it was not macabre,” though he admitted the graphic after-the-fact depiction of Kate’s end by axe may have been over the top.

Gorey’s works may be metaphorical and multi-layered, but interpretation is strictly up to the reader, says Brown. Asked what a book or image is about, Gorey would respond, “What you see is what you get.”

Brown describes Gorey as shy, unassuming and unpretentious. He could complete a fairly complex pen-and-ink crosshatch drawing in half a day. He enjoyed black and white silent films, never missed a performance of George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, frequented weekend yard sales, followed television pop-culture and put on puppet shows at home. He never married, and he left his entire estate, estimated at $10 million, in charitable trust for animal welfare.


About the John Carollo–Edward Gorey collection

John Carollo and Andreas Brown at the Edward Gorey exhibit

Collector John Carollo and Andreas Brown, co-trustee of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust.

When he was 19 or 20, John A. Carollo walked into Wallace Books in Oil City, Penn. He leafed through a first edition paperback copy of Amphigorey, bought it and took it home. Sitting at the kitchen table mesmerized, he didn’t put the compendium down until he had finished all 15 books.

The stories about abducted or abandoned children appealed to him, Carollo says, because he was abandoned by his biological parents and spent four and a half years in an orphanage in Italy before being adopted.

Carollo grew up studying classical piano and singing in the church choir. He began composing his first works for piano while attending college in California. In a San Diego bookstore, he saw Gorey’s book The Loathsome Couple. It was a signed 1st edition with information about Gotham Book Mart and contact information for owner Andreas Brown. Correspondence with Brown led Carollo into collecting.

After earning a master’s degree in psychology, Carollo moved to Honolulu, where he worked in mental health services for the state. He continued composition lessons with University of Hawaiʻi music instructor Robert Wehrman, eventually deciding to focus on composing full time.

Meanwhile, his collection grew to include more than 100 books and other items, including a Russian raccoon fur coat once owned and worn by Gorey. (Commissioned to draw advertisements for Ben Kahn furrier, Gorey depicted men in long fur coats in his publications; the image became iconic.)

The humid Kailua climate wasn’t kind to his collection of more than 100 books, however. During a tour of the Preservation Department at UH Mānoa’s Hamilton Library, Carollo was impressed with the facilities and the staff’s collection procedures, preservation techniques and sense of purpose. In 1998, he donated the first books in what is now a collection of 130 books and 650 posters, prints and other ephemera on extended loan.

The collection is a “gold mine of wonderful things,” he told a Ka Leo O Hawaiʻi newspaper columnist in 2003. He hopes it serves as inspiration for art students.


The student role

Illustration of a character forming the letter N by Edward Gorey from Figbash Acrobate

Not only is the Gorey exhibition a wonderful opportunity for the community, it’s a hands-on learning experience for students.

Undergraduate art major Brady Evans became interested in doing museum work after taking Gallery Director Lisa Yoshihara’s spring 2009 Exhibition Design and Gallery Management class. Siena Kubo, a freshman at nearby Mid Pacific Institute, inquired about working at the gallery after visiting previous exhibitions with her parents.

“Both Brady and Siena were involved in all phases of the exhibition research—collections management and selection of artifacts at the preservation department at Hamilton, the design phase, construction of props and murals and the final installation,” says Yoshihara.

A shared interest in the art of Manga and drawing made their involvement particularly appropriate for the Edward Gorey project, she says.

Two graduate assistants also worked on the project—Brian Lo on installation and exhibition design and Shannon Leitch in curatorial activities.

“In total we had about 55 students and previous students and alumni volunteers working on the exhibition,” Yoshihara says.


Calendar of Gorey-related events

Illustration of a character making the letter E by Edward Gorey from Figbash Acrobate

The Edward Gorey exhibit continues through Dec. 10 at the University of Hawaiʻi Art Gallery on the UH Mānoa campus. Gallery hours are 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays, noon–5 p.m. Sunday.

Free gallery tours are offered every Sunday through Dec. 5. Tours on Oct. 17, Oct. 31, Nov. 14 and Nov. 28 will be led by collector John Carollo. Tours on Oct. 10, Oct. 24, Nov. 7, Nov. 21 and Dec. 5 will be led by Gallery Director Lisa Yoshihara, humanities scholar Joseph Stanton or UH Art Gallery staff.

A plethora of related events are listed below. Check the gallery’s events webpage for new events and detailed information.

Saturday, Oct., 9—Story time and book making demonstration
10:30 a.m., Kapolei Public Library
An Edward Gorey children’s story time followed by a book making activity led by Shannon Leitch, curatorial graduate assistant, UH Art Gallery, for ages 10 and up accompanied by an adult.

Sunday, Oct. 10—Screening of Murder on the Orient Express
3:30 p.m., Art Auditorium, UH Mānoa
1974 film of the Agatha Christie mystery directed by Sidney Lumet.

Thursday, Oct. 14 - Lecture and book making activity
6:30 p.m., Hawaiʻi State Library, 478 S. King Street
UH Art Gallery Director Lisa Yoshihara discusses Unleashing Creativity with Alphabets of Nonsense and Creatures of Imagination, and gallery curatorial graduate assistant Shannon Leitch demonstrates how to make a simple book.

Sunday, Oct. 17—Screening of The Lady Vanishes
3:30 p.m., Art Auditorium, UH Mānoa
1938 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock with Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave.

Monday, Oct., 18—Create a simple book activity
6 p.m., Kalihi-Pālama Public Library
Demonstration by Shannon Leitch, curatorial graduate assistant, UH Art Gallery, for ages 10 and up accompanied by an adult.

Wednesday, Oct., 20—Create a simple book activity
3 p.m., Liliha Public Library
Demonstration by Shannon Leitch, curatorial graduate assistant, UH Art Gallery, for ages 10 and up accompanied by an adult.

Friday, Oct. 22—Special performance by the Mānoa Readers/Theatre Ensemble
7:30 p.m., Orvis Auditorium, UH Mānoa
Curious and enigmatic interpretations from the writings of Edward Gorey—“Ascending Peculiarities, Wuggly Umps, Nosebleeds and Other Happenings: The Sublime, Absurd and Mystical Mr. Gorey,” directed by Tim Slaughter, UH Mānoa Outreach College.

Saturday, Oct. 23—Book fair
11:30 a.m., Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Ala Moana
Make a Gorey inspired postcard to invite friends and family to the Haunted Mystery Halloween Soirée on Oct. 31 and make a ring to accessorize a costume. Book purchases benefit the UH Mānoa Library.

Sunday, Oct. 24—Screening of Dracula
3:30 p.m., Art Auditorium, UH Mānoa
1986 film directed by John Badhan with Laurence Olivier.

Saturday, Oct. 30—Book fair
Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Ala Moana
Presentation by Professor of American Studies Joseph Stanton on “The Dangerous Alphabets of Edward Gorey” by UH Mānoa at 2 p.m. Book purchases benefit the UH Mānoa Library.

Sunday, Oct. 31—Halloween event
Art Building, UH Mānoa
Miss D. Awdrey-Gore presents: An Edward Gorey Haunted Mystery Family Soirée, with food by Papa Lucks available 11:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. and educational art activities noon–5 p.m. Also—

  • Costume parade and contest for children at 2:30 p.m.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas film screening at 3:30 p.m.
  • Mānoa Readers/Theatre Ensemble performance at 5:15 p.m.
  • Costume parade and contest for adults at 5:45 p.m.
  • The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert film screening at 6:15 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 4—Looking for Edward Gorey panel discussion
7 p.m., Art Auditorium, UH Mānoa
Rick Jones, director and curator of the Edward Gorey House; collector John A. Carollo; and humanities scholar Joseph Stanton discuss life in Cape Cod, the legacy of Gorey’s museum, a director’s personal friendship, the passion of a lifetime collector and the interpretation of a scholar.

Saturday, Nov. 6—Musings Over Manga: Exploring Edward Gorey’s Techniques Through Comics
11:30 a.m., Hawaiʻi State Library First Floor Reading Room, 478 S. King Street
Demonstration by Brady Evans, exhibition intern, and sketch-along for ages 10 and up.

Saturday, Nov. 13—Reading and craft activity
10:30 a.m., Hawaiʻi State Library Edna Allyn Room, 478 S. King Street
Reading and craft activity by UH Art Gallery staff and friends for pre-schoolers through age 7.

Saturday, Nov. 20—A Strange and Untimely Alphabet Revealed Through Line: Drawing Inspiration from Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies demonstration
12:45 p.m., Hawaiʻi State Library First Floor Reading Room, 478 S. King Street
Construct an alphabet book and draw Gorey-esque figures using crosshatching, a demonstration by Shannon Leitch, UH Art Gallery curatorial graduate assistant, for ages 10 and up.

Saturday, Nov. 27—An Edward Gorey children’s storytime
10:30 a.m., Kailua Public Library
Reading and craft activity by UH Art Gallery staff and friends.

Thursday, Dec. 9—Form, Light and Crosshatching demonstration
6:30 p.m., Hawaiʻi State Library First Floor Reading Room, 478 S. King Street
Draw a character using crosshatching with James Kuroda, senior exhibit specialist, Hawaiʻi State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, for ages 10 and up.


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