Masterpieces and mysteries

Edward Gorey’s iconic work at the Vineyard Haven library.


If you’re up for some quirky, superlative drawing, hightail it over to the Vineyard Haven library for its exhibition of Edward Gorey’s art. Gorey is best known for his darkly Gothic and immensely amusing animated introductions to PBS’s long-running Mystery! Tall, overly dramatic figures stalk, lightning strikes, tombstones crumble, bats fly, women in distress swoon in these introductions.

While the 12 theater and musical production posters at the library aren’t dark or macabre, his visual style and humorous bent remain the same. The poster announcing his exhibit “Work Stoppage” has two cats operating some obscure machine. He renders the bizarre contraption in his typical dense, linear style, creating a visual texture that contrasts to the more delicate line drawing in the rest of the composition.

In the poster advertising the publication of Cape Cod author Alexander Thoreaux’s book “The Lollipop Trollops and Other Poems,” Gorey wryly draws two wild-haired, nearly naked “trollops” holding their lollipops in strategic locations.

Books were a big part of Gorey’s life; he taught himself to read at age 3. According to the Edward Gorey House website, over the course of his life, Gorey wrote and illustrated at least 100 books, illustrated about 300 for other authors, and accumulated some 25,000 books for himself, many of which he read more than once. 

Gorey was sensitive to his subject matter, as we see in the lyrical banners and flying trumpeters for the Cape and Islands Chamber Music Festival poster. And you have to chuckle at the flexed foot and up-turned toes of the violinist.

While Gorey’s a nationally known illustrator, our intimate exhibition is tied to this neck of the woods, as the posters promote local events. Gorey first came to the Cape with his family in the summers. In 1979, he bought a 200-year-old sea captain’s home on the Yarmouth Port Common, and according to the website, became even more active with his small experimental plays, continued to publish widely, exhibit his art, and create etchings while simultaneously keeping up with a grueling workload of commercial projects. 

Amusingly, Gorey, who was animal-crazy from earliest years, left his estate to the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, which he established for the welfare of all living creatures, including not only cats, dogs, whales, and birds, but also bats, insects, and, yep … invertebrates. After Gorey’s death, his Cape Cod home was converted into the Edward Gorey House, a museum whose profits and programs help benefit animal rights and literacy causes.

We owe the Vineyard Haven library’s program planner, Anne McDonough, a debt of gratitude for her enthusiasm. She saw the exhibit at the Eldridge library in Chatham while she was there for a meeting. She followed up with the Sturgis Library in Barnstable, which holds the collection, and McDonough led the charge for the show to end up here. Watching people come and go to see the show, McDonough says that it is pulling in viewers of all ages, and “It’s really nice that fans are coming out of the woodwork.”

McDonough also mentioned that people like to get tattoos of Gorey’s drawings, because their linear style translates well. You never know. After visiting the exhibit, you might be so inspired yourself.

The Edward Gorey exhibition at Vineyard Haven library runs through the end of March. For more information on Gorey, see