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A Groaning of Gargoyles and Grotesques

Steeped in the history of good and evil, these nightmare figures of protection and malevolence come out on Halloween. They're also K.B. Dixon's office mates.

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Photo of gargoyle by K.B. Dixon.
Gargoyle #1, 2023

STORY and PHOTOGRAPHS by K.B. DIXON


Originally there was a difference between “gargoyles” and “grotesques.” A gargoyle was a grotesque figure with an architectural purpose. It was an ornamental waterspout that protected buildings from rainwater damage. A grotesque had no such architectural purpose. This distinction lost its importance over time and is now pretty much the province of pedants. In addition to protecting the building from rainwater damage, the gargoyle with its fearsome mien was thought to protect the building from evil spirits by frightening them away. In the hands of gifted sculptors, they eventually became too frightening for their own good. They came to be understood not as protectors, but as malevolent presences themselves—as demons, as monsters.

These stylized nightmares acquired a special literary meaning in the twentieth century, offering a metaphorical representation of contemporary concerns to writers interested in the irrational, the abnormal, the bizarre, and the damaged—writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, and Nathaniel West.

They have also come to be part of Halloween. They decorate Haunted Houses from Portland to Poughkeepsie—most as monsters (bat-winged variations a particular favorite), but occasionally at the humbler fêtes of conservative “originalists” as protectors of the social order.

Sponsor

Oregon Cultural Trust

The gargoyles here are my office mates—symbolic allusions to menacing office mates everywhere. I have not given any of them names for fear of offending.

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Photo of three gargoyles by K.B. Dixon.
Trio, 2023

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Photo of gargoyle by K.B. Dixon.
Gargoyle #2, 2023

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Photo of gargoyle by K.B. Dixon.
Gargoyle #3, 2023

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Photo of gargoyle by K.B. Dixon.
Gargoyle #4, 2023

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Photo of two gargoyles by K.B. Dixon.
Duo, 2023

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Sponsor

All Classical Radio James Depreist

Photo of gargoyle by K.B. Dixon.
Gargoyle #5, 2023

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Photo of gargoyle by K.B. Dixon.
Gargoyle #6, 2023

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Photo of gargoyle sitting on a throne, by K.B. Dixon.
Gargoyle on Throne, 2023

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Photo of three gargoyles by K.B. Dixon.
Trio #2, 2023

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Photo Joe Cantrell

K.B. Dixon’s work has appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, and journals. His most recent collection of stories, Artifacts: Irregular Stories (Small, Medium, and Large), was published in Summer 2022. The recipient of an OAC Individual Artist Fellowship Award, he is the winner of both the Next Generation Indie Book Award and the Eric Hoffer Book Award. He is the author of seven novels: The Sum of His SyndromesAndrew (A to Z)A Painter’s LifeThe Ingram InterviewThe Photo AlbumNovel Ideas, and Notes as well as the essay collection Too True, Essays on Photography, and the short story collection, My Desk and I. Examples of his photographic work may be found in private collections, juried exhibitions, online galleries, and at K.B. Dixon Images.

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