Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo find comes as I happen to have had a rare and thoroughly enjoyable encounter with another Felix collector in Great Britain over an auction purchase yesterday (oh my yes, more to come on that), and since I have Felix on the brain it seems like a good day to share this acquisition. It seems he gave up Felix collecting in favor of having children (imagine!), but has held onto his collection until now – with one of his beloved toys soon to slip into the Pictorama haven for all things early Felix. More to come on Peter and the Dean’s Felix which will make an American debut in future weeks – and with a nod of grateful thanks to Kim who helped finance that purchase.
One interesting (and rather splendid) feature is that Peter and his wife seem to have photos of children with the dolls they are selling. Someone who shares my interest in the photos as well as the toys! A brother from another mother it seems. I show one of their other offerings below, this currently for sale on Facebook and a group holding a sale under the name 200 Years of Childhood which can be found here, or under Leanda Harwood Bears. As it happens, I own this Felix below (or a kissin’ cousin anyway) so he wasn’t in the running for me. You might remember an especially interesting post about how these off-model Felix toys were made in an East London factory as a way of employing indigent women. That post of mine can be found here.
Meanwhile onto this hotsy totsy photo postcard winged its way in the door earlier this week and Kim and I especially like Felix’s saucy mugging in the middle of the picture. He provides a good counterbalance to the two angelic looking little boys and a fluffy white cat toy, peering out behind the little boy on the left.
I wonder if that white cat is a stand-in for Kitty, Felix’s ongoing romantic interest. She, at least the early version of Kitty, was more of an actual cat than the anthropomorphic Felix. The feminists need to get a hold of Kitty and rework her a bit, since all she ever seemed to do was flounce away, agree to let Felix take her out or produce prodigious packs of kittens. To my knowledge no period dolls of her exist – there is a sort of awful thing from the 80’s or so we won’t discuss. There is a Daddy Kitty, a male white cat, who occasionally appears with a rifle to move Felix along.
These little boys are posed on a fluffy carpet and they (and their parents) may think they are the center of attention, but of course we know it is Felix, whose eyes are rolling comically to one side as he leans toward the little boy with the straight hair. It is as if the photographer and Felix are playing a joke on these folks, which comes to us decades later. Felix steals the show, upstaging these albeit cute kids. Of course, having said this, I would have loved to have been a child posing in a photo with Felix and have that relic, but I won’t hold the lapse against Mom and Dad.
On the back of this card, written in a loopy script it says, With Love & All Good wishes for a bright & Happy Xmas from Nelly Chas & Raymond. There is no date and this was not mailed. The card, which offers how additional copies could be acquired on the back, appears to be the product of Wakefield’s, 1 High Street & 21 The Mall, Ealing Broadway, W5 with a phone number. A quick search reveals that Wakefield’s was a noted Victorian photo studio and that Ealing seems to have been an area with a number of photography studios at the dawn of the 20th century. (A website devoted to researching this topic (What’s That Picture?) can be found here, but note that this fellow blogger appears to be focusing on earlier photographs, only up to WWI. (A not especially interesting modern building exists at the address now according to Google.) One interesting tidbit was that this, evidently very substantial, studio also had a branch in Brighton – which is, in my mind, definitely Felix photo territory.
A lovely way to send holiday greetings, but for us today a bit of a fall Felix frolic.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: The Halloween season is upon us and brief morning trips to run in the park have revealed some serious dedication to decorating for the holiday. I used to enjoy seeing the townhouses near the Met decorated for the season – some would really pull out all the stops and put on a show. I am less often over there now, but one townhouse near Carl Schurz Park is really throwing down the holiday gauntlet with this tableau of a chain of skeletons climbing down the front of the house from the attic!
The Mansion Diner, on the corner of 86th Street and York Avenue, has long dedicated themselves to decorating their entire building for the holiday. They were a little late getting them up this year and I wondered if, short handed, they would skip it, but the decorations appeared earlier this week.
It’s interesting that I only rarely had reason to frequent The Mansion pre-pandemic, but now it is a regular stop for breakfast sandwiches post run and frequent meetings with a Board member from work who lives around the corner. I spent the summer eating ice cream outside while talking with him about work, Frank Sinatra being piped out loudly for our listening pleasure.
But if part of your collecting gig is black cats this is a great time of year. I think I have mentioned that my collecting has blossomed thanks in part to an online dealer from the Midwest, Miss Molly (@missmollysantiques). My friendship (consumership?) started with purchasing a black cat jack-o-lantern head. (You can see that post here and the kitty below.) Overtime I have also purchased photos from her (the most recent of those can be found here). And she nicely gives me a heads up on cat items before posting them, but once in awhile it is the stuff around what she is posting that catches my eye and she sold me the wonderful Krak-R-Jak Biscuit box that sits on my desk. (That is a sort of oddly outrageously popular post that can be found here.) I have a rather spectacular Nestle chocolate tin box to share in a future post as well, but today we are talking Halloween.
The fact is my yen for these early paper mache cat JOL’s goes way back. I remember visiting a store in Cold Spring, New York that had a huge collection, but very expensive and utterly out of my reach. (Fall is a beautiful time to visit that area, an hour and a half or so up the Hudson, right on the water. It is a picture perfect little river town and Kim and I spent one night there for our “honeymoon” there, 21 years ago this past week.) I had resigned myself to never owning one, but the internet has become a great equalizer and prices are lower – and I spend more money!
All this to say, recently she came up with this cat jack-o-lantern and it entered my collection as my second such item. Like the first one I purchased, the paper inserts remain intact. It is hard for me to imagine safely putting a candle in these, but I guess that was the idea. There is no evidence of this on the inside, but there is a wire on the top for hanging it and that would have been jolly indeed.
He shows some signs of wear, especially the tips of the ears, which I guess if you were hitting the hundred year mark you would too. It is a common design and I assume it is a black cat sitting on a fence post, green eyes and red mouth glowing. His fur and whiskers are embossed. (The molds that these were made around must have been great – would love to see one of those.) He would be just the right combination of scary and wonderful. I get the vague idea that these are German in origin, although upon reflection, do the Germans even celebrate Halloween? It would seem that it is a recent development (according to Google), so perhaps these were German American companies? Anyone who knows how all that works give a shout and let me know.
Meanwhile, Halloween is the seasonal gateway to fall and then winter. I have already started eyeing warmer running togs and dreading those very cold mornings to come. Nonetheless, I think I probably have a few more Halloween collectible posts in me this season. More from Pictorama to come.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a first foray into Halloween post for this year – although clearly not all of my insect related bits and bobs are creepy crawlies, and of course there will be black cats to come. As it happens, today’s parade of insects started with butterflies. As Pictorama readers know, over the long pandemic siege I have entertained myself by following a series of jewelry dealers on Instagram. I mentioned these butterfly pins before as I considered a new passion for pins in general. (That post and a few others can be found here, here and here.)
While several dealers I buy from hail from the Midwest, a few are further afield and one of the first, and the one I probably still buy from most frequently, is a woman named Rachel whose handle and Etsy shop can be found @Wassail_Antiques and wassailantiques.com respectively. She lives in a thatched cottage (yes, really) in the English countryside, with husband and lovely pooch, and is a gifted professional photographer so her photos are extra alluring.
Rachel was nice enough to supply the photo above of the spider bracelet (above and below). For the rest you will have to put up with my ham handed efforts or snatches off IG posts. I do believe looking at her photos of the countryside help to assuage any unsatisfied travel lust I might feel.
I saw the butterflies on her IG page first. Rachel wrote that they were likely made by prisoners of war or as trench art (during WWI, I believe) as trinkets for loved ones and a way to pass the time. I have found some passing references to this practice online, but am a bit surprised more hasn’t been written about it. These pins nagged at my brain for awhile and then I grabbed up these two last April when, perhaps like the soldiers in question, I was feeling my own desperate need for the outdoors, the natural world and perhaps a more orderly world than I was encountering. I bought two with the idea of wearing them together. I have not managed to execute that vision yet as my days of jacket lapels still seem to remain in the future days. (Although I have cleaned out the closets and jackets now wait at the ready!)
The dragonfly on the other hand, is celluloid and of a more recent vintage. Another favorite dealer (@marsh.and.meadow and @marsh.and.meadow.overflow) was having a sale – I have written that these sales are always fast and furious and this was no exception, but I bought this little gem. This was before I purchased the World’s Fair bracelet from her – a recent post which can be found here – and I felt lucky to score this little fellow. Although he is plastic I really love him and I did manage to sport him on some sundresses this summer. I can imagine wearing all three together. These pins say spring and summer to me.
Heading into the season of the moment, Rachel revealed this lovely bracelet and I jumped on it. I have never seen anything like this bracelet and it has become an immediate favorite. (I am not alone – it had a moment in the sun in a piece in Tattler magazine before winging its way to me!) I have worn it to almost every one of my in-person appointments since it arrived. Although it is very seasonal for the moment I expect to continue wearing it beyond October 31.
After the purchase of the bracelet another spider found its way to me in the form of a necklace. (This one courtesy @witchyvintage.) I am having a bit of trouble with this one though, and although I like it and the chain, I must paw through my jewelry box for a chain that works better for it. (She also has vintage clothing and just put up a black velvet cape that seriously stopped me in my tracks – but I really am not leading a black velvet vintage cape life right now. Alas! For those with more interesting lives who wish to investigate her shop can also be found at witchyvintage.com.
I admit I continue a yen for them – Rachel has two lovely bug stickpins on her Etsy site I can barely control myself from purchasing. I am decidedly not fond of the insects I find in my home (the moths continue their prodigious march despite my best ongoing efforts, I am constantly undertaking their elimination, systematically and randomly), and am actually fairly squeamish in general about that aspect of the natural world so this trend intrigues me. Bees have long interested me with their diligence and organization and perhaps in a different world I might have kept hives, but in general I like my insects at arm’s length, or (I guess) made from beads, silver or even plastic.
Maybe I relate to their chrysalis state, waiting to emerge from my own cocoon. Or maybe it is just a new yen for the natural world after a long time mostly at home. I am not sure, but I will also mention that I find myself purchasing items with stars, moons and other celestial motifs! (I am wearing favorite pj’s with stars on them gratis The Gap right now as I write this.) More on those to come.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s an overcast fall morning and I am waiting for hot coffee to finish brewing so I can wallow around in a few mugs of it. Our windows are open as a nod to plaster from recent repairs to dry and as a result our shades are uncharacteristically wide open, also as an assist to the workmen and to keep them clean in the demolition and repair of the ceiling and wall around them. (Some posts devoted to the clean up post Hurricane Ida can be found here and here.)
October showed up last week and I still feel only a reluctant recognition of the fact. However, there is no stopping the march of the seasons and I no longer run in shorts and have even layered the occasional long-sleeve top. While I haven’t seen many leaves start to change yet, some trees have already lost theirs. There is a final hurrah of fall flowers in the park which I am grateful for and in the way that October has yesterday was downright hot in the sun, while today is gloomy and chilly.
Kim and I were married in October – our anniversary comes up this week. It was a freakishly warm and gloriously sunny Saturday, after a prior weekend when a tropical storm had raged here in New York. October turns this black cat collector’s mind to Halloween and some related posts are likely to come soon.
For those of you who follow the adventures of my work life, I can say that there are more days I wander in and out of the office and evenings at our jazz club, Dizzy’s. I have always been fond of Dizzy’s, but somehow it has really been a bit of a beacon from the past as I formulate a work vision of the future. Our concert season doesn’t commence here in New York until November which seemed like a long time ago until now it does not. But somehow a few hours of live music and dinner at Dizzy’s, overlooking Central Park and Columbus Circle, is comforting in a way I had not imagined. It is a bridge between the then time and now.
Otherwise, I largely trot around the city in a rotation of breakfast, lunch and drinks meetings related to work, largely seated outside. (My 3 mile morning run expanding to include daily walks to locales around Manhattan, now racking up as much as another 7 miles a day!) It will be interesting to see if these meetings move inside as it gets chillier or cease for the moment. My team joins me with a combination of trepidation and some enthusiasm. An October date for a full on return to the office has been pushed back, but for how long we are unsure. I understand the peevishness of my staff at the uncertainty, but remind them we are getting the job done and there is nowhere to go but forward.
Meanwhile, I have a rare post follow-up (last week’s post can be found here) and discoveries made post publication. I had penned my post on a cast iron puppy piggy bank I acquired earlier in the week and when Kim read it he informed me that the designer noted, Grace Gebbie Drayton, is actually of some commercial art and comics note.
Born in Philadelphia in 1878, her father an art publisher, she attended Drexel and the (then) Phildelphia School of Design for Women where she studied under Robert Henri. She married, and divorced, twice (she seemed to have a hard time getting much passed the decade mark with husbands) and Drayton is the moniker of husband number two.
Her significant claims on fame are the creation of the Campbell Soup Kids advertisements beginning in 1904 and a comic strip called Dolly Dimples. In reality she had several such comic strips, all with somewhat saccharine names, among them – Naughty Toodles, Dottie Dimple, Dimples, and The Pussycat Princess, some strips (The Adventures of Dolly Drake and Bobby Blake in Storyland and The Turr’ble Tales of Kaptin Kiddo) were written by her sister, Margaret Hayes and illustrated by Drake.
Cuteness seemed to be her professional beat although there is something about her bio which suggests it may have been less in evidence in her personal life. Drayton owns the title of first woman to be a cartoonist for Hearst. She specialized in round faced, chubby child characters and in addition to the comics and commercial work she illustrated children’s books. An abundance of her Campbell Soup Kids and Dolly Dimples work survives (the Dolly Dimples paper dolls proliferated), and Drayton’s work is in the collections of several museums here in the United States and Great Britain. Drayton died young at age 56 in 1936.
Kim had recognized the style of the bank even before knowing that Drayton had a hand in it. While researching her we turned up this nifty cat bank and doorstop variations, shown below. It is a bit less available than the pup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it (or a slight variation) doesn’t enter the Pictorama collection. More on that if it it comes to pass.
My bank had the rattle of a few coins in it and Kim was itching to see what they were. I was reluctant to unscrew the bank which shows no evidence that it has been apart in many decades. Much to my surprise Kim displayed his adeptness of a childhood skill which involves coaxing coins out of a bank through the deposit slot. Only a bit rusty, he had four wheat back pennies, and one Lincoln, out in no time. (I do wish I had taken a photo of this process!) Wheat backs were minted between 1909 and 1959. One of these is dated 1924, three are from the 1940’s and one is from 1975. As Kim cheerfully volunteered, this proves all of nothing, but somehow is still interesting. I am toying with the idea of putting them back in the bank, but Kim has the finders keepers on that one and he can decide.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama is generally and decidedly devoted to things feline – Felix finds, people posing with giant cat chairs, and photos of cats gone-by – but occasionally we wander into the dark side and we have a dog day. (For the canine lovers out there a few other posts can be found here and here.)
Even pre-pandemic, for decades really, Kim and I have had take-out on Friday night. We rarely have it during the week and frankly, although I eat out for work frequently, we rarely eat out at all. I generally cook (you can read more about my adventures in cooking, complete with recipes here and here) and find it healthier and less expensive (this is Manhattan!) to cook at home, and what’s more I like my own food. However, after a long hard week of work, signaling the start of the weekend, we have a date for take-out. There was a long stretch of Mexican take-out from an extended Korean family across the street and I would often meet Kim after my Friday evening work out at the gym.
During Covid days the Mexican take-out was shut (it had actually closed right before for renovations and did not reopen for eight or more months) and we supported local from dwindling choices in the form of pizza (our beloved Arturos on York and 85th which kept its tiny storefront open and feed the neighborhood throughout the leanest time here) and a somewhat swankier Mexican restaurant on 86th Street. However, at the suggestion of my trainer who is very fond of it, we tried a Vietnamese place, the aptly named Vietnaam, on 88th and Second that had shutdown except for take-out. We fell in love with their soups and dumplings and have become devotees ever since landing there most Fridays. A line streams out their door on weekends.
In addition to the treat of laksa and canh chua soup it means a lovely walk of several blocks which helps us separate our minds and begin the transition from the distraction of work as we start to reacquaint ourselves with the idea of time off. In the winter it means bundling up, but the promise of hot noodle soup spurs us on and it is a good respite for a week devoted largely to chair sitting at desks.
Recently, over a period of months, someone was decorating a tree just east of the restaurant. I documented the additions periodically on Instagram. Then, just as abruptly, it was all gone without a trace.
Over the past year or so an antique/junk store had the courage to open on First Avenue between 87th and 88th, right near where my favorite bakery used to be. (That Yorkville moment post can be found here.) I saw stuff being moved in and then, there it was lights on a ready for action on summer Friday, back in ’20. Take out in hand we wandered in for a quick inspection and the stock was an eclectic mix, skewing slightly higher end than I might have thought. Some research shows that it is actually called Spellman Gallery, and would probably not be pleased to be put in the category of antique/junk store, although I mean it with the greatest fondness and deep affection for both antiques and junk. They do sell art, some early photographs of interest, but the bits and bobs interest me most.
Although I’m unsure if we even went in again, I liked to look in the window. A few months back in February they had vintage newspaper dresses in the window which entertained me. And recently they launched a display of dog banks and door stops which garnered my attention. First one (nice!) cast iron door stop, but rapidly filled in with the others. Banks followed, a barking dog bank which made us curious about what the action might be. Now they had my full attention, wondering each Friday if there would be another addition – or would something have been sold and disappeared?
Over several weeks I enjoyed looking at this little fellow. Something about his cast iron cushion, the colors and his expression attracted me. I kept hoping he wouldn’t be sold and disappear. I appreciated the entire display and while I hated to be the one to break up the party, Saturday Kim and I looped around and wandered in to inquire about him. The store had grown pleasantly fuller since our initial visit. There was a large display of lovely early cooking bowls – yellow ware she called it when someone came into inquire. I own a few bowls of this type, given to me by a friend clearing out her attic, which I have used almost daily for years. I was shocked at the prices of them, but have no intention of taking mine out of daily rotation.
Our doggie was more dear than I think Kim or I anticipated, but when I started to hesitate Kim offered to substantially defray the cost and out of the shop window and home with us he came.
Our pup is a bank and he is not attached to his light blue metal cushion he is perched upon – the stored coins accessible through a screw in the bottom. (Unscrewing this would make him come apart in two halves.) He is very heavy and although his paint is chipped in a few places it does not affect his overall jolly appeal. It took us a few minutes to even find where coins go in at the back of his neck. One jingles alluringly in the bank, but I am not taking him apart to find out what it is!
He is the product of Hubley, the early manufacturer of cast iron bank and doorstop fame, founded in 1909, and his brethren and tracks about them were surprisingly easy to find online. I did fail however to find him precisely. The earliest version of this bank I found was back in 1914, another slight design change is evident in one from the ’30’s. Originally sold under the name Puppo in the teens and s/he was designed by Grace Gebbie Drayton. (On his light blue cushion it is a he for me but interestingly always referred to as she in the online listings and information.)
The later incarnation morphs into Fido on a Pillow; it is unclear if the earliest version sported the pillow or not. (The later version had Fido embossed on the collar, mine doesn’t.) Not surprisingly, the pillow was often lost and I read that it was also sold sans pillow, and a black and white version of the dog alone proliferates online in various states of condition. (I’ll just say, it is all about the pillow for me.) Somehow I place mine roughly in the 1920’s, looking at the arc of designs.
Having made a purchase from them I suspect I will wander back into the Spellman Gallery to poke around. Moreover however, I hope their window continues to entertain me on Fridays. Welcome to Yorkville Mr. Spellman.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write on this (chilly) October morning I have a large standing plastic Santa and suitcases wedged behind me, piles of dry cleaning around me, and a mini mountain of off-season clothing tucked into plastic bins within view. These bins are of course filled with clothing that, due to the pandemic and not traveling into the office – or even seeing much of anyone – I haven’t touched in two seasons. I did have a moment of thinking I should just get rid of all of it.
It should be noted that this tower of tubs is so beloved by Cookie, who now spends her day lounging on top of them, lording it over everyone else in the apartment how high up she is, that I have decided that when this is all over I need to buy her a tall cat tree. I dislike them and we have so little space, but it makes her excessively happy.
When I left Pictorama readers last week we were drying out Kim’s notes on our visit to the whorehouse museum in Butte, Montana by spreading them across our one room studio apartment. (That post about our trip to Butte and the story that came out of it can be found here. The beginning of this three part tale can be found here.) I failed to mention that, in addition to the clothes that were destroyed by the storm, the rest were damp from having sat in the water filled basement – so those also were spread out here and the combination giving the apartment a distinct musty smell. I bleached cleaned the locker and the objects that encountered the water and I thought I was done. However, a few days later the building required that everything be removed from the basement for the duration of “several weeks” while they put in new dry wall, paint, etc. And so we find ourselves more crammed than usual.
Ida also forced the hand of two leaks in our ceiling and we have the delight of spending the coming week intimately acquainted with workmen tearing out these sections of ceiling and making repairs. Sometimes I marvel at how much can really go on in our 600 square feet. I laugh when I look at tiny houses and think they have nothing on us here on 86th Street in Manhattan. Anyway, an industrial dehumidifier is on loan from the super and runs day and night. At first I was dumping gallons of water daily. It seems to be doing its job, decreasing amounts of water are disposed of twice a day, and it will disappear with the ceiling repairs. (Blackie loves the dehumidifier, Cookie hates it. It is loud.)
I am very aware that although annoying, our damages are nominal compare to that of others suffering from this and other recent storms. However, this apartment which is perched at the very top of an aging white brick building, which was erected in 1960, seems to attract leaking and flooding and pipe issues which we fight, repair and hold at bay ongoing. This is merely another in a long line of repairs, all of which we tell ourselves must be the ultimate one.
Still and all, as I pointed out last week, part of becoming intimate with the basement relegated possessions has had a silver lining. For me, it came in the form of a long forgotten oil painting. It is mine and by this I mean I painted it. I have shed much if not most of my artwork aside from my photographs which are tucked into boxes. However, a few favorite paintings are tucked under the bed and this one was in the basement. It is largely unscathed by the experience although I have cleaned it up a bit after its probably decades long sojourn in the basement.
I have painted since childhood. I learned to use oil paint in high school and I knew I had found my medium in paint. I love the smell, the texture, the colors and really just about everything associated with it. The stink of the paint, turpentine and linseed oil immediately relaxes me and takes my mind elsewhere, even if I just catch a whiff as I walk past the Art Student’s League on my way to work. I have also always drawn and I began life and figure drawing also in high school. In college and beyond this slowly morphed into a long series of self-portraits. This is one of the last I did, back in the apartment prior to this one where I had space to paint, and it shows me in bed with my beloved cat Otto who frequently slept on my pillow in that fashion. My other cat Zippy on top of me. I don’t smoke (never have) so the cigarette is just an addition to the composition.
Lack of space when making the move to this apartment meant that painting eventually gave way to photography – early process photography including daguerreotypes and platinum prints. But, as they say, that is another story.
I find that I have enjoyed looking at this painting, currently propped up against some boxes by the front door. One day Kim suggested, out of the blue, that we hang it. Funny, I had been thinking the same thing. Some rearranging of photos to be done, but we think we found a spot for it where a wooden mask from Bhutan currently resides.
Meanwhile, even before the contents of the locker migrated up to the apartment, one day Kim wandered out of the apartment and downstairs where he retrieved an entire box devoted to story boards for a film of one of his stories that was never made. It is dated 1983 and I share the first few pages here. It is made up of a compilation of a number of stories that appeared in various publications over the years (I remember one reprinted in his compilation Beyond the Pale, one about a potato headed boy) with the goal of tying them together into a Deitch flavored film.
This was in conjunction with Brian Yuzna, of sci-fi and horror film fame, during a fabled stint in North Carolina, in the pre-Pam days of yore when Kim lead a somewhat nomadic life down South, dotted with intervals in Los Angeles. It seems to have reached a zenith with Brian turning his hand to his film Re-Animator (Kim makes a small appearance at the end) and somehow Beatifica Somnambula never being finished. However, Kim regaled me with stories about props that were constructed, giant fiberglass potato head and others.
Oddly Kim had been mulling over a bit of business from this odyssey for a future story – not the upcoming book, but the one after that – so the rediscovery and chance to paw through the box of story boards was especially welcomed. I won’t spoil any future story surprises, but when you eventually read Tales of the Midnight Demon think of this post.
I guess all this to say that creatively what is made is never completely lost. I am mulling how in a small way I might start painting again, although paint covered cat paws immediately come to mind. While I will be (very) relieved to have our storage restored to us and maybe have the apartment back to a semblance of normal before Thanksgiving, I think I will bring Santa upstairs this year. Maybe instead of a Christmas tree, we’ll get that cat condo and decorate it this year.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today as promised, is a more Deitchian day than yesterday’s launch of this tale. I left yesterday’s readers hanging a bit at the point where, after Hurricane Ida, we found out that we had several feet of water in the basement of our high rise building in Manhattan, a basement where for decades we have kept a storage locker which (to some degree) alleviates life in a 600 square foot studio apartment. Hurricane Ida hit New York on a Wednesday night and Thursday dawned sunny.
We were banned from the basement which remained flooded, but the elevators made a cautious return online in the morning and I took a run and surveyed Carl Schurz Park and the East River Esplanade. Aside from several feet of water remaining in some of the lower spots, the park was okay and a clean up of broken branches and opening of storm drains was underway. The actual Esplanade, along the water, was washed clean by the rain and river water and to my surprise no detritus remained. Such flooding where I grew up resulted in everything from garbage to fish washed ashore. (Boats broken free of their moorings and would be found high and dry would await neighbors claiming them and even a mattress had to be removed from the yard after Hurricane Sandy.)
Since Kim and I were on the last leg of our vacation we had decided to head over to Dizzy’s, Isaiah Thompson was playing in a quartet of recent Juilliard grads I know from work and it was Kim’s first time back at the club since our recent reopening about ten days before. We walked across Central Park and skirted some areas that remained flooded, including Bethesda Fountain. As we walked a thought occurred to me and I asked Kim pseudo-casually, “So, um, were your notes for the Butte, Montana Details magazine story in the basement locker?” Kim said no, he didn’t think so. I thought otherwise, but nothing we could do about it right now.
The set was great that night and the waiter who knew me well from my many nights at Dizzy’s was happy to see me and Dizzy’s was starting to feel like home again. At the end of the evening I came back to the table to find him and Kim talking with Kim regaling him with the story of our trip to Butte. (Kim still sports a straw cowboy hat from a K-Mart in Butte and he was wearing it that night.) Somehow Butte, Montana was in the air. (I wrote about that trip to Dizzy’s and our vacation here.)
It was late Friday afternoon before we were allowed our first go at our locker. Puddles were still all around and an industrial fan was blowing. A cough of water spilled out when we opened the doors of the locker and a sort of river smell was everywhere. When we say water we use the term lightly because in addition to water from the East River and rain run off in New York City you are also being treated to sewerage.
The winter coats had gotten some of the worst of it, one was already molding which I threw out. The others I would ask the dry cleaner if he would attempt to clean them. (Of course they were up to their ears in bags of clothing from my neighbors when I got there.) He agreed and a few bags of wet clothes that seemed like they might stand a chance went over to them, luckily just a few doors down from our building.
An industrial juicer, some old editing equipment and the remains of a lightbox of Kim’s were trash. A light-up standing Santa, a tree star and some other holiday decorations seemed largely intact. By this time reports of deaths across the tri-state area had already begun to pile up (they were to top out around 24) and being in our basement, with a watermark about four feet high brought home the horror that it must have been for people trapped. This made us philosophical, but far from cheerful, as we tied up bags of clothing that would not recover and piled up other soaked possessions alongside our neighbor’s for the trash.
Then there it was, a folder, now soaked, with Kim’s notes and photos from a trip to Butte, Montana to cover a story about a whorehouse museum which was closing there – one of the longest running whorehouses in the country, the Dumas Brothel, and also the last standing example of a whorehouse architecture imported from Amsterdam, way back in the 1890 (or so) when it was built and opened. We had made the trip back in about 2000 when Kim was hot off of two articles he’d written and illustrated for publications in Details magazine. These were, for lack of a better term, comics-journalism – a story for the magazine researched, written and illustrated as comics. The first was his visit to death row and about the execution of Ronald Fitzgerald. (Republished in the 2006 Best American Comics, this is the best way of seeing it now.) Kim’s story of visiting Fitzgerald and getting to know him, his story and family before attending his execution, had been well received by the magazine.
The result was the opportunity to pitch another assignment which turned out to be a story idea credited to my dad who had been talking about an early computer virus named Melissa in tribute to a stripper the engineer of the virus had known in Florida. That story was a fairly light-hearted romp through the stripper community of Florida with strippers who went by the name Melissa calling us at all hours of the night for weeks ongoing.
As Kim’s then girlfriend (now wife) I knew one thing and that was if the next story was going to be strippers I was going along for the ride this time so we purchased a ticket for me to Butte and off we went.
The basis of the story was that sex workers rights activist (and former prostitute) Norma Jean Almodovar was helping to spearhead an effort to save and restore this nascent whorehouse museum, much to the displeasure of this down at the heels city which seemed just as glad to ignore or bury this particular chapter of their history. For better or worse, Norma Jean’s idea was to re-route some of the biker traffic heading to Sturgis for their summer rally for an evening outdoor concert to raise money for the museum. It was hard for me to keep my fundraising hat off when we arrived just in time for a meeting about how this would roll out. I always say about fundraising, especially around events, don’t try this at home, it is harder than it looks and you can easily lose more than you can make. Which, long story short, is pretty much what happened.
We toured the actual building which was fascinating. Based on the brothel buildings of Amsterdam, it was three floors (and a basement) around a skylight atrium. Each room had a sort of “display” window where the woman would advertise her wares and the cribs were somewhat larger and had more light with each floor. Newbies would start in the basement cribs (dark and claustrophobic, complete with tunnels to downtown so that one could transverse in bad weather, but perhaps also without being seen entering and leaving the establishment) and work their way up. The had been a robbery recently and some of the artifacts of the museum had disappeared, but in reality the actual structure was what was fascinating.
While there we met interesting long time residents for background on Butte, including a doctor a waitress told us about, out on the edge of town. He’d treated miners back in the day and was retired now. We visited a guy who was known as the Santa Claus of Walkerville (a nearby suburb) who gathered toys throughout the year for needy children. (I had my photo taken with him which sadly I cannot locate for you right now.) Despite the summer heat he happily put on one of his Santa suits for the photo. We also met some folks holding a tent revival meeting in opposition to the whorehouse museum and frankly they also seemed like really nice people too.
The edges of Butte end abruptly into mountains and wilderness, almost like a cartoon town in the desert. Butte had (has?) a mall strip highway of big box stores and restaurants, but the original downtown with its buildings pristinely intact also remained. Among the surviving original businesses were a few bars and a Chinese restaurant where we ate one night. Much like the brothel (a few blocks away) the restaurant was said to have tunnels under it to other parts of town. Inside the restaurant each table was its own private booth which would have had curtains over the open side, affording privacy which would have allowed other activity within. (The New York Times just published a very charming article on this restaurant which can be found here.)
Our trip ended with engaging with some of the bikers in a bar while trying to get our hands around this rally and directions for getting there. I have a license but don’t drive although I did on this trip. We had an SUV and all I can say is that it was a good thing that for most of the driving I had plenty of open space around me. However, I did park the car at the rally on the grass as directed and got it stuck – it was a kindly biker who got behind the wheel and got us out.
Frankly they were all giving Kim a sort of sideways look and I was trying to do the helpless girl thing. (Kim was wearing an old shirt that belonged to a long deceased relative which had drawings of dogs on it and just when I thought we were cooked one of the bikers exclaimed that he LOVED THAT SHIRT and that he had greyhound rescues of his own.)
To cut to the chase – almost no one showed up at the concert/rally and they lost their shirts as predicted. Kim could see the story slipping away and by the time we were back he was ready to pitch a story with a lot of heart that addressed Butte’s history and remaining spirit and unique qualities. Details (sporting a new editor, soon to be replaced by yet another), wanted more of an ironic hatchet job and when Kim demurred the story was killed. The notes assembled and found their way, along with the photos and roughs, to a folder in our basement where they were now wet, but luckily we had gotten there in time and by placing them all around our apartment (along with the surviving damp but not entirely wet clothing from numerous bins where I store the off-season clothing). The notes, roughs and photos dried out fairly quickly. Further into the locker excavation we found the much more finished roughs I am sharing here – luckily those had been tucked onto a shelf at the top.
What else came out of the locker? More to come on that in my final installment, with more Deitchian discoveries and other artifacts next week.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Some on-going Pictorama readers may have figured out that I am an Aquarian, a February girl, my birthday tucked in next to Lincoln’s and a kissin’ cousin to Valentine’s Day; amethyst is my birthstone and I am a water sign. Although I do not go deeply into astrology I have given a lot of thought to my relationship to water which has informed much of my life although sometimes I wouldn’t say I actually have an affinity for it as this story bears out.
I grew up on a river, close to the Atlantic ocean, and these days we live with a view of the East River where I run most mornings now. (IG followers see my running journals, @deitchstudio or Pams-Pictorama, where I share some of the views of the water as well as my slow progress, impeded in part by falling and breaking a few fingers on Memorial Day. I have written about my endeavor to start running over the past year which can be found here, here and here. Reconnecting with the life of the waterfront has been wonderful over this past pandemic year and I appreciate it as much as the much needed exercise.)
I was taught to swim as a tiny toddler, in a pool in Sea Bright, New Jersey (a neighboring beach town I have devoted a few posts to which can be read here and here) and I took to it reasonably well. I have never been a great swimmer, unlike my sister Loren who was all swim teams and life saving, however I was at the beach and in the ocean and pools constantly between the ages of about six and twenty, so I guess I did it well enough to stay afloat and get where I was going.
Living on the river as we did floods were a constant part of our lives. At first we had an adorable little house on a narrow spit of land in Sea Bright where the river ran hard and fast into the bay on one side and the ocean was on the other. Without the sea wall the walk from one to the other would have taken ten minutes. It is a cottage that lives on in my imagination, a nifty little mail order home from Sears, it was sea sunlit and smelled of salt and sand.
We only spent summer weekends there so I was not subjected to the ongoing floods of suffered by year round residents, threatened as it was by both sides when tides rose. When I considered moving back there as an adult my parents were loathe to have me deal with the flooding, which while endurable as a summer beach cottage would have been more problematic 365 days a year, so instead I settled in Manhattan.
While still a tot my family moved full time to the shore and our first house in Rumson was on the (aptly named) Waterman Avenue. Just around the bend from the Sea Bright-Rumson draw bridge, we lived on a fast moving part of the water as it merged into the bay, teeming with boat traffic in the summer. Our view was of downtown Sea Bright across the river and the ocean just beyond and we were within walking distance of the beach. (My adult dream life takes me back there occasionally, enduring hurricanes and even tidal waves.)
Each year fall and early winter would bring hurricanes and quickly we learned about the days we would be picked up from school early, the car would be parked on higher ground where it would be safe and we would prepare for the high tides around us at home with streets that turned into ponds or sometimes raging rivers. (Sadly, I believe a hurricane did pre-empt Halloween one year.) Occasionally we kids would be left with my mom’s parents in Long Branch, an inland part of the neighboring town where my mother grew up, but she would generally return to Rumson to weather the storm and keep an eye on things. She recently described one of those evenings spent in bed on the second floor of that little house with the walls quaking with water and wind.
Generally those storms were a lark, the flood days, at least for us kids. My mom would put on her waist-high waders if she had to go out when the squall calmed, but the water had not yet receded. (Dad was usually at work in the city or traveling for his job at ABC News – it was the family joke that he missed just about every major flood we had.) Sometimes the flooding was just annoying, occasionally it was significant and memorable, but mostly it was just part of the fabric of my childhood, accepted as part of the way things were – the same as having cats and dogs and a green Plymouth station wagon.
Eventually we moved to a larger house several blocks away, but perched on an inlet of the river which was further protected by a small island between the mouth of our “pond” (which went by both names Oyster Bay and Polly’s Pond – I never could find out who Polly was and the oysters were sadly long gone when we got there). The natural barriers and somewhat higher land meant not just calmer waters, but less flooding on a regular basis. Hurricanes still meant flooded streets, but even water in the yard was less common.
Although flooding impeded daily life less, we weathered a few significant and memorable storms in that house. My parents were ultimately dislodged from that home by Hurricane Sandy and the shifts in water tables which brought the first water into the house we ever had – even then it only filled the garage, but destroyed the water heater and even warped the wooden floors with so much dampness under them. With the advent of every hurricane we have, I offer ongoing gratitude that my mom, now alone, is tucked away, relatively far inland in a tiny home in neighboring Fair Haven.
All this to say, that history behind me, these days I live on the 16th floor of a high rise building on the upper Eastside of Manhattan and while our river views mean we can get with some high force winds in a storm, in general flooding is not something we often consider. Living on the top floor of a building which is more than a half century old means that our water intrusion generally comes from above, or occasionally from aging pipes. (Our building was re-piped several years back – a true horror. I thought I had written about it, but alas I cannot find it as a link for your consideration.)
Kim and I have experienced leaks in almost every single possible area of our compact 600 square foot abode – water has come from under the kitchen sink, it has worn through pipes and leaked in the bathroom walls. On occasion it has poured from incorrectly installed pipes in the ceiling near the windows and onto our books. As I write today, the ceiling near the windows sags from another mistake in design after the re-piping fiesta and the wall under it is soggy as well, all pending repair in the foreseeable future.
Most notably, a new front has opened over my current work at home desk set-up as a result of the recent Hurricane Ida. As it turns out, after a lifetime of preparing conscientiously for storms and fretting about them, when one finally came along to bite me, there was no real warning or preparation. Normally a storm that has hit land and traveled over it for several days means no more than some stormy days by the time it arrives. A storm that has gone back out to sea can pick up speed again and be a threat, but Ida, while she packed a wallop when she hit New Orleans and Texas, didn’t seem to be a threat as she winded her way through the Midwest and up to the greater New York area.
As the somewhat desultory rain of the day turned harder into the evening, I became aware that the wind was blowing hard enough to make me glad that the building had installed new windows – although they could certainly still shatter in high winds. However, it was a call that I got from my doorman at 10:00 at night that worried me. Our building basement had several feet of water in it already and the elevators were not functioning. We were not to go to the basement and be aware that the stairs on the first floor would be slippery.
Morning dawned and the news was appalling. The death toll climbed steadily throughout the day – people trapped in basement apartments and in raging flash floods. Horrible stories. Meanwhile, several feet of water remained in the building basement although the elevators came back online in the morning. (We were told that the water simply poured in from the windows and the street.) It was several days before we were allowed to begin investigation of the storage locker we keep down there, shifting seasonal clothes kept in bins, household items that have gone out of vogue or use for a time and not much but some artwork.
As it happens, we found some interesting stuff and I will devote tomorrow’s post to what we found (art by both Kim and me) and rescued from that rapidly molding enclave.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This bracelet came up on Instagram recently – a photo on the site of @Marsh.and.Meadow, aka Heather and her young daughter Opal (clearly a budding collector of discerning taste), acquired on an antiques road trip recently. Let me say that as someone who does not drive (or have access to a car) the idea of a trip driving through the mid-West looking for antiques is sort of heavenly. There is an alternate universe where I too get to do this on a regular basis. (In that world we also live in a house which we fill with interesting stuff of course.)
I spotted this bracelet and I really wanted it. The sales at Heather’s site are amazingly fast and furious and if my internet is having even the tiniest slowdown I am not in the running. In the long run this probably saves me a lot of money and generally I am philosophical about it. However, on this occasion I broke my rule and got her to break hers and sell me the bracelet in advance.
The bracelet is slightly larger than a child’s size and just fits my wrist. As an aside I will mention that everyone on IG seems to be tiny – a world of people smaller than me. Endless rings that tempt, siting atop ring fingers in photos that it turns out I can barely wear on my pinky, vintage clothing from tiny people in earlier times that I won’t even attempt. Again, this saves me a lot of money in the end – how many pinky rings can you own – but occasionally frustrates me at a towering 5’9″ with appendages that match.
The Trylon and Perisphere are featured on the bracelet and you take it on and off with a hook from one side of the emblem. The sun is rising behind them and a tree grows to one side, a building of classical design behind it, a lot going on in that tiny scene. The gold tone is worn on the inside of the bracelet, but the outer rim is ornate and in good shape. My reaction is that I would have been simply gob-smacked to have acquired this in 1939 as part of my visit to the Fair. I have to assume that in its day it was a bit rarified and somehow I imagine that I never would have been able to own it back then, making it ever more appealing.
I have never run across this bracelet before, although I am sure they proliferated and that they are available. (A quick search on Google shows an abundance of other styles of bracelets – charm bracelets appearing to be the predominant, and one image of this style.) Somehow this one made its way out to the Midwest and now it has come back to New York City, its ancestral home.
Folks devote whole sites to the ’39 World’s Fair so I am largely thinking only of my own intersection with it. I was introduced to the Fair and its history by a former boyfriend who was fascinated by it. Under his tutelage I learned about it, watched films on it, learned to spot the occasional item related to it in our junk hunting, and of course visited the remains of it in Queens more than once. The latter is endlessly interesting, the hulking disintegrating remains of those temporary pavilions no one could bring themselves to demolish, the mosaic floors of some. I always look for them when driving to the airport – a last very New York view before departing.
My Dad, a native New Yorker, attended both the ’39 and ’64 World’s Fairs and frankly neither made much of an impression on him it seemed. (As I remember he seemed mystified as to why I would care.) Yet without question the ’39 Fair continues to capture the imagination of many. Our world of today and its technology has long outstripped the vision of 1939 so why does that now antiquated vision appeal? While there are other fairs of the past (the Chicago World’s Fair of ’33 and the Louisiana Exposition among them) the ’39 World’s Fair stands out. It was an event that sent ripples out into the decades to come in a way that could neither be anticipated, nor replicated.
When I think about the events during my life that will punctuate history I think of the creation of the internet and computers, but also of 9/11 and Covid. Designed by business leaders to help pull New York City out of the Depression, the ’39 World’s Fair was born on the cusp of the advent of WWII and they had no idea it that their creation would live in the imagination of history the way it did. I just read that there was very little actual science at the World of Tomorrow, mostly the smoke and mirrors of commerce and serving up hope for what would come next for a world beat up from years of the Depression. It is so interesting to me that folks held onto those trinkets which were a reminder that a new world was just around the corner.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother is not a collector, I inherited the gene from my dad and from his side of the family. His mother loved to attend auctions here in the city and stuffed their house with carpets, furniture and trinkets. She loved costume jewelry – in many ways I am her successor. My father was an accumulator as well, garage sales, auctions. He was a man who liked stuff. While there were no toy or photograph collectors, I’m sure Pictorama readers realize that this is the category I fit into – and at least in this way I take most decidedly after the paternal side of my family. (I most recently wrote about Dad’s passion for silver in a post here.)
My mom on the other hand is not especially interested in things. She can be discerning about what she likes and prefers, but generally speaking my mother just lived among the stuff my father accumulated without being especially engaged with it or the acquisition of it. This is not to say she didn’t enjoy a trip to an antique shop or flea market – she would pick up this or that. However, she does not possess a deep affection for the items of the world, nor the acquisition of them.
A scientist at heart my mother’s passion lies deeply embedded in the natural world. As a result I grew up with a cheerful allotment of pet cats, dogs and fish. (Two past posts addressing this roster of pets and my early life can be found here and here.) We had a vegetable garden which she planted and tended and we lived on a river where we enjoyed a passing parade of waterfowl and aquatic life. Her father was a devoted fisherman and repaired outboard motors and made fishing lures for extra money, so she knew the waters of the area well. Much of the idyll of my childhood I have shared with Pictorama readers was shaped by my mother’s views, knowledge and interests in the nature world of the seashore where we lived.
One Thanksgiving, several decades ago now, my mother noticed a flock of swans in the backyard and became intently interested in them. Before long she was feeding them as well as watching them, along with the geese and ducks which also made our river inlet home at the time. Eventually an injured one turned up and she found someone to help heal it. Slowly she became involved with a loose network of people who were knowledgeable and would help when an injured swan or goose would cross her path. I remember visiting my folks and finding that I was sharing the guest bathroom with an injured swan overnight. (He was a noisy neighbor that night!) Strangely (to my mind anyway) mute swans are an intensely political and controversial issue for people who live on or near the shore. Other than to acknowledge that it is, and that clearly my mom falls on the side of protecting this wildlife, it is not my intention to tackle that topic.
For today all this is to say that on that November afternoon my mother recognized and embraced her spirit animal and although she loves all birds (and in fact all animals) she is deeply and especially attached to swans. She has devoted much of her time and energy in subsequent years to caring for them and defending them with all the resources she could marshal. In recent years, no longer living on the water and now mostly confined to the house, I say she still wields a mighty phone and computer. Her now tiny yard remains a haven for song birds who attracted by and enjoy bird baths and feeders, as well as a garden designed to feed them and the insects. (I wrote a little about her gardening in a post here.)
While living on the waterfront those many years mom photographed the swans, along with geese, ducks, other birds and of course our cats. Those photos proliferated on the walls of the house and my father, the accumulator, brought her swan related items and in that way she became an inadvertent collector of swan stuff. However, when the time came to downsize into the house she lives in now she shed most of it without regret. I think she rather enjoys living a more pared down life.
Therefore, as her birthday approached this year, it was never my intention to purchase items of this sort for her. However, much like those first swans years ago, these presented themselves to me in recent weeks and I found myself purchasing first the pin and then the photo. The pin hails from the British jewelry dealer Mia (IG @therubyfoxes or therubyfoxes.com, my most recent past post of an acquisition from her can be found here) who told me that five flying swans is the symbol of the Nordic countries, swans of different types being the national birds of both Finland and Denmark. Although unmarked, esthetically it appears to be made in one of those countries. Mom was never much of a jewelry wearer and wears none now really, but I think she will like having this, perhaps on a piece of ribbon, pinned up near where she likes to sit most days.
Meanwhile, a week or so later when following a sale by my Halloween supplier, the Midwestern Miss Molly (IG @MissMollysAntiques who I gave a nod to just last week in a post here), I stumbled across this early photo of two swans and again I answered the call and purchased it for mom. There is something about the reflections in the water I think mom will especially like. Later today I will pick up a frame and tomorrow I head to Jersey to see mom, slightly in advance of her birthday later this month.
Sometimes when I run in the mornings I see geese or ducks here on the East River, flying by, and I email mom and tell her they were waving to her in tribute. It felt like these items also arrived on Instagram pointedly just in time for her birthday this year. Maybe although dad is gone, he is still finding a way to send a few swan items her way.