Doing the Steps: Edward Gorey and the Dance of Art

A centuries-old sea captain’s home in Yarmouth Port became the final dwelling place for a quirky, but reclusive artist when he moved from New York in the 80s. It was there that he spent his remaining 14 years of life with his curious assortments of oddities, over 26,000 books, and most importantly his “people” as he endearingly referred to them, his cats. Edward Gorey’s work as an author, illustrator, and designer spanned nearly 50 years, earning him a Tony Award for Best Costume Design for his work on the Broadway revival of Dracula, and a cult following for his exquisitely gothic style of illustration and macabre surrealism.

“I must say, I don’t always understand Ted’s books, but I do like them.”Edward Gorey’s mother, Helen

In 1953 Edward Gorey self-published his first book, The Unstrung Harp, thus beginning a cascade of literary nonsense with distinctive pen and ink lines depicting the delightfully dreadful in over a hundred more books, and by the time of his death, several more unpublished manuscripts stashed neatly, (and haphazardly), around his home. His work became the inspiration for Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events, Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline for which Gaiman lamented was written after Edwards’s death, thereby missing its chance for his illustration. Edward himself wrote his books using both his given name and its anagrams, such as Ogdred Weary, Raddory Gewe, and D. Awdrey-Gore. As private as he was popular, Gorey preferred to avoid the spotlight. Very much an animal lover and advocate, he usually had up to 6 cats, the perfect number according to him. Before he died he established The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust to manage his legacy and estate, and to support his favorite animal welfare organizations locally and afar. The upstairs of the house continues to be occupied by cats, keeping the spirit of the home authentically charmed.

Today, 22 years after his death, The Edward Gorey House stands as an archive for his admired collections of rocks, trinkets, books, and the grotesque. Cheese graters are casually displayed with skulls. A preserved Belgian waffle and a mosaic of checks from his favorite dining spot, Jack’s Outback II, are framed together on the kitchen wall. Handmade puppets and dolls adorn the rooms and halls amongst his characters and illustrations. One hapless child’s legs and feet protrude from a rug. A collection of old matches is stacked on the mantle. A bottle of lye on the windowsill.

Past year’s exhibits have included He wrote it all down Zealously: Edward Gorey’s Interesting Lists in 2020, and Hapless Children: Drawings from Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood in 2021. This year’s Exhibit is Doing the Steps: Edward Gorey and the Dance of Art, which shares with us the influence Edward’s passionate infatuation with the New York City Ballet had on his art and life.

 “Gorey once said that he could visualize that progression of ballets in his head, like a movie he could play forward or backward, decades of form and movement and story—literally, at his fingertips.”

The Edward Gorey House is open from early April through the end of December each year.

8 Strawberry Lane • Yarmouth Port, MA 02675

508-362-3909 • edwardgoreyhouse@verizon.net

Click here to see house visiting hours, tour times, and admission info. Reservations are encouraged due to limited capacity. Admission is free for members.

This blog is funded through the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

(Britt Skinner is a freelance writer.)

Artists mark 10 years of sand sculpting, with more to come

We’ve witnessed starfish and sailing ships, motorcycles and mermaids, cartoon characters and even a country western singer – all in the name of ephemeral artwork carved from mountains of sand. The specialists at Fitzysnowman Studios – aka Sean Fitzpatrick and his wife, Tracey – have stacked, packed and carved thousands of tons of sand during the past 10 years, while crafting hundreds of whimsical creations for Yarmouth’s iconic Sand Sculpture Trail.

As the artists embark on the trail’s 11th season, they’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of the public arts project that has become such a cherished summertime spectacle.

The 2021 trail includes a giant octopus at the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on Route 28; a replica of Gammon Lighthouse at Strawberry Lane; and a lobster sitting in an Adirondack chair, eating a tub full of clams while drinking a martini. Ever cognizant of not spoiling a surprise, the artists didn’t want to reveal much more about this year’s creations, other than to say one of the sculptures will feature Grogu, the Baby Yoda character from Disney’s “The Mandalorian.”

A RACE TO THE FINISH

Sean Fitzpatrick begins the six-week process of building some 30 multi-ton sand sculptures every May, finishing in late June and ensuring that the completed Yarmouth Sand Sculpture Trail is ready for viewing before July, when Cape Cod’s tourism season kicks into high gear.

The ideas are hatched during conversations with the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce and participating business owners, who co-sponsor the trail. After planning and sketching, the hard work begins – one sculpture at a time.

First, the sand is trucked to one of the sites and dumped in a pile, Fitzpatrick said. Then the artists begin shoveling it into flat forms to create the sculpture’s base – watering the sand and packing it down every few inches to ensure that all the air pockets are eliminated.

“It really is physics,” Fitzpatrick said. The artists use sharp sand, which packs down tighter than the stuff you find on the beach. When you look at beach sand under a microscope, you’ll see bits of shells, organic material, and granules that have been rounded by erosion from wind and waves, Fitzpatrick said. But the sand used in Fitzysnowman sculptures has “crisp, beautiful edges that stack and pack together,” the artist explained.

Once compacted, the sand is surprisingly strong, and allows for greater detail when carving, he said. The finished sculpture is then sprayed with a coating of water and Elmer’s glue, which seals out the rain and helps it to last all summer long. Two years ago, the sculptures stood up to midsummer tornadoes that packed 110mph winds.

The Yarmouth Sand Sculpture Trail’s largest pieces take multiple days to create, Fitzpatrick said. The biggest one, located at the Route 28 Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, uses roughly 15 tons of sand. It takes a single day to shovel the sand and compact it, followed by three days of carving. Two other large sculptures – located at Strawberry Lane in Yarmouth Port and at the Route 6 Visitor Center – use roughly 5 tons of sand each and take two days to create – a half-day for packing and a day-and-a-half for carving. Other sculptures at local businesses are finished in a single day. They each use roughly 3 tons of sand, which takes two or three hours to shovel and pack, leaving about 6 hours for carving, Fitzpatrick said.

Once the process begins, the artists work six days per week to meet their June deadline. There are a few extra days built into the schedule to compensate for stormy weather, Fitzpatrick said.

SPECTATORS MAKE SCULPTING A JOY

Last year’s trail was reduced in scope due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, featuring just 17 sculptures. This year, 32 sculptures will be returning. Fans are coming back, too.

“It’s awesome,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s nothing better about this job than the people I get to meet when they come by and say thank you,” he said. “That is just the best.”

Fitzysnowman Studios, located in Saugus, also creates snow and ice sculptures, 3D murals, and elaborate pumpkin carvings.

Each year, the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce runs a photo contest in conjunction with the Sand Sculpture Trail, awarding prizes to those who contribute the best photos. Find entry instructions and additional info on the YCC website.

The Yarmouth Chamber also provides a map of the Sand Sculpture Trail which is printed and distributed to YCC Visitor Centers and is available on the website in mid-June. The trail is partially funded by the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

Cape Cod’s Sand Sculpture Trail is back again

Yarmouth’s popular Sand Sculpture Trail is back again this summer, with an assortment of new creations by world-famous street artist and sand sculptor Sean and Tracy Fitzpatrick of Fitzysnowman Studios.

This year’s project was scaled back to 17 sculptures, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But the attractions are all located outdoors, making them safe for viewing, snapping selfies, and admiring the family-friendly themes – as long as you practice safe social distancing.

Viewing the sculptures is a passive thing that people can do at their leisure, said Fitzpatrick in a cellphone interview from the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce (YCC) headquarters, where he was wrapping up a 10-ton rendering of a girl and her grandpa boating on Bass River. “From a safety standpoint, there couldn’t be a safer activity on Cape Cod,” he said.  

The Yarmouth sand sculptures are created one at a time, typically in a single day. Work usually begins in late May and continues throughout the month of June. This year’s final creation is expected to be finished on June 26, Fitzpatrick said. Completed sculptures are already standing at many public locations, including the YCC offices on Route 28 in West Yarmouth and at Strawberry Lane in Yarmouth Port.

Each massive sculpture is built with finely ground quarried sand, which has sharp edges and stacks like sugar cubes, Fitzpatrick said. Beach sand, by comparison doesn’t stick together as well because it is often rounded by wave-action and includes bits of oddly shaped seashells, he explained.

As Fitzysnowman Studio artists work, they moisten the sand and pack it down to remove air, creating a remarkably strong structure. Finally, the finished creations are sprayed with a mix of water and Elmer’s Glue, which seals the exteriors and makes them resistant to erosion by rain and wind.

How strong are they? Last year’s 33 sand sculptures survived the 110 mph winds wrought by two tornadoes that hit Cape Cod in July, tearing the roofs off buildings and leaving a path of destruction through Barnstable, Yarmouth and Harwich.

This spring’s weather has been perfect for building the sculptures, Fitzpatrick said, with lots of warm, sunny days and very little rain. As in previous summers, the artwork will remain on display through Columbus Day weekend, drawing interested residents and visitors to participating businesses throughout the summer season.

“We are so excited to be able to host this year’s Sand Sculpture Trail again in Yarmouth, given our current situation,” said Jenn Werner, Marketing, Communications, and Events Director for the Yarmouth Chamber. “This is a great activity that people can do safely.”

Werner noted that the Yarmouth Chamber’s popular photo contest will return this summer as well, running until Labor Day. Participants can enter up to three photos and compete for gift certificates from local businesses. Winners will be chosen in three categories: Most Creative Photo, Sand Sculpture Selfie, and Best Location Photo. Find entry instructions and more information on the photo contest at the YCC website.

The Yarmouth Chamber also provides a map of the Sand Sculpture Trail, which will be available at YCC Visitor Centers when they reopen. Meanwhile, you can download an online copy of the 2020 map here.

Local businesses participating in this year’s Yarmouth Sand Sculpture Trail include: Aiden By Best Western, Bass River Golf Course, Candy Co., Dunkin Donunts, Hearth ‘N Kettle, John G. Sears & Son, Just Picked Gifts, Kinlin Grover, Salty’s, Seafood Sam’s, Taylor Bray Farm, The Cove Resort, Today Real Estate, Yarmouth Town Hall and Wendy’s.

The project is partially funded by the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

Andy Tomolonis is a nonfiction author, travel writer and multimedia journalist.

Photo Credit: Serena Severini Photography