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Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey opens Norton Museum of Art summer season
The top of the Zagava Tree / Was frequently where they had tea from The Osbick Bird, 1970. Pen and Ink, 4 x 5 in. The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust©2010 The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust.

WEST PALM BEACH, FL.- The Norton Museum of Art opens it s summer exhibition schedule on the evening of June 7, 2012 with Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey. Gorey is among the rare breed of artist whose work is as much beloved by children as it is by adults.

The exhibition includes more than 150 drawings that Gorey, who died in 2000 at 75, created for many of his books, including The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Unstrung Harp, The Gilded Bat, among others. An illuminating array of sketchbooks, illustrated envelopes, book-cover ideas, and theatrical costume designs are also included in the exhibition. The exhibition, which is organized by the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA, runs through Sept. 2, 2012.

Mention the name of the late artist and illustrator and adjectives such as ghoulish, gothic, and well, gory, often come to mind. But that’s not even half the story says noted art historian, curator, and author Karen Wilkin who was also a friend of the artist, and has worked diligently to set the Gorey story straight. She is the author, or co-author of three books about the artist, including Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey (2009), which also serves as the catalog for the exhibition. Wilkin is scheduled to present an exhibition lecture at 6:30 p.m. June 7 during the Museum’s popular weekly Art After Dark series.

On June 14 at Art After Dark, exhibition-related activities include a Gorey illustration workshop, Gorey storytelling, a Gorey Curator’s Conversation led by Tim Wride, William and Sarah Ross Soter curator of Photography, and, in the realm of the eerie, a demonstration by mentalist/mind-reader Brent Gregory.

One thing Wilkin hopes the exhibition accomplishes is “Lay to rest how people talk about [Gorey] as being macabre and eerie.” She attributes the enduring popularity of books such as The Gashlycrumb Tinies, published in 1963, which features the alphabetical, diverse, and sometimes diabolical demise of children as one of the reasons Gorey is mischaracterized, misunderstood, and pigeonholed as ghoulish. A book illustrating such misfortune as, “E is for Ernest who choked on a peach. F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech,” could do that to a reputation. His family name didn’t help either, but growing up Gorey had little bearing on his work, she says.

Books, films (of the silent sort), TV shows, art, and artists did, however, influence his work, including the absurdist theatrical works of Ionesco, and the comedy of Buster Keaton.

While Wilkin doesn’t dispute the macabre aspect to Gorey’s oeuvre—Gorey himself described his work as “whimsically macabre”—it’s only part of the equation. A close look at the exhibition also will reveal the witty, slapstick sensibility of much of his work as well as the mind of a Renaissance man.

Aside from illustrating books—his own and those by others—Gorey’s medium was also the Broadway stage, TV, and through his influence, film and literature, too. His was nominated for a pair of Tony Awards for Best Set Design and Best Costume Design (winning that one) for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula, spreading his reputation well beyond the world of books. His popularity expanded even more in 1980 when the hit series PBS Mystery!, later Masterpiece Mystery, used his work for its opening theme. The films of Tim Burton—Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, for example—and the tales of Lemony Snickett (A Series of Unfortunate Events) owe more than a little ‘macabre whimsy” to Gorey’s work.

So, even if you’ve never heard of Edward Gorey, you’ve probably come across him in one way or another. And younger generations continue to discover and embrace the artist’s work. Take Siobhan Magnus, for example: the 2010 American Idol contestant was not shy about revealing the tattoo on her right shoulder portraying a scene from—what else?—The Gashlycrumb Tinies!

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