Towser, Me and Tom

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: My collection of men and cat photos seems to be burgeoning starting with this splendid image. (For a taste of earlier contributions to this sub-genre check out prior posts Army Cats and A Man and His Cat.) Although this has the appearance of a photo postcard, and is printed on a similar paper stock, it is smaller and does not have a postcard back – there are bits of black paper stuck to it where it was in an album. Nothing is written on the back, just that neat handwriting at the top, Sincere Regards from Towzer and Me To say nothing of Tom. I love the name Towzer and he is clearly a very good doggie here, perched on the man’s lap, all proud of himself – the sun over-exposed him a bit and Kim has done his best tweak in Photoshop to bring him out some. Meanwhile, Tom requires what I call the hand scrunchy, we’ve all done a version of it to keep kitty in the picture. The bright sun of that day has him bleached out too, but a nice looking striped fellow.

The gentleman (the Me in question) is an attractive and well dressed fellow. If you look carefully he has a nice tie pin as well as one on his lapel, good shoes. His hat is great and probably the first thing I noticed about the photo. Oddly the suit seems a bit large on him if you study it all a bit. The suit also seems a bit heavy for what is clearly a tropical climate, with that giant palm-like plant behind him. It is the sort of photo that leads me to speculation. Vacation or visit? Relocation? Rest cure?

If it is a visit, I must say I can never imagine traveling with my pets. Dogs seem a bit more sturdy about the whole thing – after all, especially here in NYC they are out on a leash several times a day so putting them in a carrier for a plane or hopping in a car seems possible although not without issue. Cats however, don’t seem built for it. For us transversing the two blocks on foot to the vet with screaming kit in carrier is a somewhat hair raising experience. The idea of putting the same cat in carrier and hopping in a car or (I can hardly even imagine) a train or plane, does not in anyway seem like a good start to a vacation. Perhaps it is just my kitties – they one and all have objected strenuously to the carrier and yowl like the end of the world is coming. However, I have friends who do it all the time, so perhaps felines will adapt if it becomes ritual? In all fairness, my kitties never get to go some place nice – really the vet is the extent of their travel. In fact, I am quite convinced that every time I leave the house in the morning that’s where they assume I go – and they feel very sorry for me indeed.

 

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Leaving the Met

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is one of those posts where I veer wildly off into an essay on my personal life (where the All Pam, All the Time comes from), so those of you who are in it for the toys and photos might want to pass this one by.

Much has been written in the press about The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently, and for the most part I guess I am not especially interested in commenting on that. Instead I thought I would take the opportunity to write a little bit about what kept me working at the Met for the better part of 30 years.

To dial back to the beginning of the story, after graduating college I had a vague idea about working my way through grad school in painting and drawing, and to this end I began cooking professionally here in New York. To collapse this part of the story, I was working for a young Jean-George Vongerichten at his first restaurant here in New York when diagnosed with arthritis in my hips and back. It would be years before a balance of meds and exercise would set things right and meanwhile, it was evident that I had chosen the wrong way to support myself. My good friend Frances (whose last name happened to be de Montebello) got me a job in the bookstore at the Met, as seasonal help – just something to do and make some money while figuring out what would come next.

Much to my surprise, the next months saw me, in rapid succession, hired away from the bookstore and into the Department of Ancient Near East; then hired into Human Resources Office, which we then called Personnel, as an assistant. Along that path I made fast friends among other aspiring artists in the bookstore, stockroom and eventually among the technicians, and even nascent curatorial staff. It seemed like something of the artist’s haven you are looking for after leaving the warm cocoon of college or art school – the grad school I never made it to. People always wanted to talk about art, invited me to participate in exhibitions, art jams and publications.

Some of those friendships and affiliations have lasted this long test of time, especially among those folks who are also still working there. One of two others from those earliest days I stay in touch with, despite having moved far and wide, and a few others – such as my friend Jennifer Pellman – sadly died young; or like another friend Drew Curtis, just slipped away from me. (Drew had a great story about how he had actually left home in Oklahoma to join the circus – his description of hosing down the elephants in the morning will always stay with me.) My more or less 30 year tenure at the Met meant I was always easy for folks to find if they came calling, sometimes even after decades. Still, even from my earliest days there, it was clear to me that this place was a community for artists and people who cared about art.

Surprisingly my casual approach to my career eventually landed me in the Development Office. With hard work (a work ethic instilled early on by my parents, and honed to a fine edge in my various incarnations as waitress, short order cook, house cleaner and chef) and the faith of those who supervised me, combined with some luck, and I continued to learn, grow and get promoted to something that almost equaled a living wage. Turns out I was good at this fundraising thing with its attention to detail and rewards for someone with good listening skills, patience and who likes people.

Curators were pretty much gods to us. I was trained to protect them at all costs as they are the talent of the Museum, and their time should be used judiciously. Of course at the highest end there was the Director, the President and our Vice President. They were to be shielded to the extent possible and never surprised under any circumstances if possible. There were many small things that I learned that stayed with me – always have a discreet pad and pen, even at events, so you can take notes for follow up; grace under pressure will get you through most things – never panic, and try not to allow yourself to be rushed. That’s when mistakes occur, when you are rushed.

A friend of mine who worked at the Met for about six years once said that it is the only place you’ll ever work where if you leave after ten years people will look at you and say, “I guess it just didn’t work out.” No one wanted to bother to learn your name until you had been there for several years, and therefore perhaps you were staying. Many alliances were forged at lunches in the staff cafeteria and the Amity diner on Madison. It sounds snobby and perhaps it was, but the end result was if you stayed and worked hard and actually cared, you found yourself working among a brilliant and interesting milieu.

Like family we fought hard as much as we played well together – there were some we thought were favored and others who were black sheep. As a part of the administrative staff we traveled along a slightly different path than the curators – frankly a lower rung. Had our own gossip and issues. However, together we all celebrated weddings, birthdays, the arrival of babies and attended funerals. I am always moved to tears when I think of how many people made the long trip to Long Branch, New Jersey for my sister’s funeral – and how a group of about six of my closest friends helped me decorate the vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown where our wedding was held.

Some of those people remain at the Met – others have also dispersed, but remain valued colleagues and friends. I find myself writing this three weeks after leaving the Museum, and two weeks into my new job with Jazz at Lincoln Center. While I already miss the warm arms of the Metropolitan family, being surrounded by the glorious art and all those wonderful people, I embrace the devoted earnestness of my new colleagues who believe that jazz, the great indigenous American art form, is also a path for living a creative and collaborative life. An organization which is having its own financial struggle as it strives to grow into a world-wide advocate and educator, the dedication of the staff is astounding. So, despite the distinctly exposed feeling of a chick who has flown out of the nest, I feel I have landed on the perch I was meant to. It’s a big challenge and there are already days when I just hope my skills are up to it, but deep down I know I am paying it forward now as I should be. Everything I learned at the Museum I will plow into helping Wynton Marsalis and the folks at Jazz realize their vision.

I am already using my ears more now these days than my eyes, but listening is an important thing to learn. These days I can’t help but feel Rich Conaty on my shoulder as well, always reminding me of the line he used to close his show with, remember that music saved the world – aloha!

 

 

Tiger Chase Tired with Play

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tiger Chase is a pretty great name for this striped fellow. A pity this photo postcard is a tad dark, which makes some of the detail, like his nicely dark striped tail, hard to see. There is a bit of string next to him, and I wonder if that is the instrument of play that has so tired him – a really intense game of string chase can do it, and of course he seems to be named for a fondness for chasing. This card came from Australia and with the rustic fence (you can just about see a sign that says Private in the lower right corner), and slightly out of focus stone building behind, it looks like a nice view of Australian countryside – timeless really. It is unused and nothing is written on the back, but it appears to be fairly old and the paper has a slightly brittle quality. Perhaps the Australians used different photo paper stock?

Of course, what we consider cat play is actually our felines sharpening and deploying their hunting and killing skills. Here at Deitch Studio, Blackie in particular seems to really lose it when playing certain games. We have one toy, a lucite rod with a bit of elastic string and an “insect” that looks like something you would fly fish with, that makes him so crazed that I hesitate to take it out. (Incidentally, when purchased the manufacturer insert suggests that the toy be put away where the cat cannot get to it – I thought this was an exaggeration, but no – left to his own devices Blackie would shred and consume it I’m afraid. He even snuck it out of the box when left on my desk one night.) Cookie mostly invents her own games – she picks high perches to jump on and off of, does laps around the apartment at high speed, and occasionally incites Blackie to riot.

When we found ourselves in a rare cat-less position several years ago, adopting Cookie and Blackie from the same litter as tiny kittens, the idea was that they would have each other to play with and keep each other company. I think I had visions of adorable cats, napping with paws around each other. However, I had not anticipated the reality that their primary form of play would be what I like to call kill the guy and that every night before bed I would hear the strangled cries of (usually) Cookie being assaulted by Blackie (after having pushed his buttons) and having to break it up. While I am mostly content to live in my dreamy, anthropomorphic cat world where there are seemingly endless, charming conga lines of kitties dancing and romping, I do realize that in their heart of hearts my little darlings, like Tiger Chase, dream dreams of being elegant killing machines, contentedly and endlessly chasing prey on the veldt or savannah of their imaginations.

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Cookie & Blackie as tiny kits, enjoying a rare moment on Kim’s desk! Pams-Pictorama.com

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Cookie here, ready for action! Pams-Pictorama.com

 

Butch

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: By now readers know that it is hard for me to pass up a photo of a puss with a spotty nose and this guy had the ultimate in spotted-kitty face decoration. Not only does he have a big black nose spot, but that black spot on his chin is very deftly placed and makes him a pretty handsome gentleman.

This dignified fellow is identified as the mascot of the Oregon Humane Society in Portland – Portland is a place I have often mentioned as a El Dorado of superb early photos. (Some Portland posts include, Felix on Parade and most recently, Cat’s Eye on Parade.) This one appears to date a bit later than most of my pics, but has that good Portland photo spirit nonetheless. I have always enjoyed stories about the felines in the work force and those working kits (and their kissin’ cousins the mascots) make up a sub-genre of cat photos and tales. From Old Tom the Post Office Cat to Tom the Fire Boat Cat I have uncovered great stories of kitties in the working world.

Then there are those cats we all know, who reside in shops, vet’s offices and like Butch, make a permanent home of a place that is meant to be a way station for animals. Those employed to catch mice (and, um, larger rodents) in the bodegas and deli’s of New York City, are acquired for self-evident reasons like the more glorified working friends mentioned above. While I have no doubt that they perform this service admirably they do not seem to enjoy an especially notable status. (I have been tempted to ask if I could adopt one or another at times if I felt they were particularly unloved, but that will be another story.) Other workaday cats, however, are clearly beloved – I think of an especially lovely if aloof calico who presided over the Alabaster bookstore in Union Square for many years. Perhaps it won’t surprise readers that a great cat is enough to entice me into repeated visits to an establishment. There is a lovely striped cat who flies below the radar in a health food store I frequent who I often catch snoozing by a space heater behind the counter.

The stories of Butch and those like him who somehow either endear themselves so thoroughly to the staff of an adoption agency, or in some cases are special, but not easily adoptable for some reason, are on my mind today. How strange it must be for them to be the resident kitty in a place where endless cats and other animals come and go, or stay briefly. Years ago my vet had several permanent residents – one I remember was a sweet, fat fellow, who had a respiratory issue that made him sound as if he was constantly saying, “Peep!” Another one I remember coming to sit with me and Otto or Zippy, whoever was screaming bloody murder in the cat carrier at the moment, as if to both investigate and offer a paw in comradeship to the visiting kitty. (Understandably, this didn’t go over so well with my guys.) The current vet has a few residents who all seem to be of sound body, but seem to keep mostly to themselves – although they might demand a chin rub or two while I am paying the bill.  I wonder about each of their stories. For now we’ll salute Butch and his comrades, as well as the fine work of the generations of human folk, who find homes for our footloose feline friends.

Sunnyside Follies

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I may never find out what the Sunnyside Follies of Barrington, New Hampshire was, but I am pleased to have this remnant. Even I have a little trouble imagining what this act might have consisted of – I would love to have seen it though! Four women with stuffed, beribboned toy cats and wearing cute little outfits which appear to sport scottie dogs upon close inspection, seems promising to me. (I admit to possibly being something of a minority audience however.)

This card was never mailed and there is nothing written on it so there is no indication of when this was made. From hair and outfits I am pegging it in the 1930’s. Barrington, New Hampshire appears to be a summer resort town – I am imagining it as the New Hampshire version of Catskill, New York in the same time period. Family camps on lakes – perhaps a WASP version of the upstate New York scene?

I am finishing up a week’s vacation between jobs as I write this – at home in Manhattan, what we might call a stay-cation these days. I have never been much of one for vacation travel, and Kim is even less likely than me to want to travel from home base when we take time off. For me this lack of vacation wayfaring may go back to my childhood. As I have mentioned, I grew up in a shore town in New Jersey within walking distance of the ocean. My father, employed his entire career by ABC News as a cameraman, traveled all over the country and the world for work. When he took his vacation (usually a month in the summer) he was also anxious to enjoy being home so we stayed put. Not a hardship, but I never got into the habit of going some place else to relax. My sister Loren did not have this limitation and was likely to take vacations to ski and even took a cruise or two. She was extremely fond of Italy, and traveled there frequently in the last several years of her life. I am sorry that she and I never figured out a trip there together although we talked about it.

My non-work travel has been to exotic places like Tibet, and I was lucky enough to do a fair amount of interesting domestic and international travel for the Museum as well – getting me to South America and Europe. However, I have never been one to travel to a resort (spa, beach or rent a house) for recreation. Perhaps being a pair of non-drivers has added to this travel inertia. For fun and relaxation we stay right here, denizens of Deitch Studio with each other and the kits. It is our slice of heaven and indeed good enough for us.

OMI in Blue

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Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: There’s nothing like the blue of a cyanotype to add a bit of visual pleasure to an image. These (notably cat-less) images caught my eye for their particular attractive strangeness. I have been unable to pin the term OMI down specifically. I assume it is a fraternity, no specific tracks can be found – at least not by the folks here at Pictorama. Omi is also German for grandmother, and there also seems to be a use of it to refer to a diminutive high-energy (reads as somewhat annoying) person. Since we know that our O.M.I. bunch resided in St. Petersburg, PA the German allusion may make sense and tie out to this fraternity of sorts.

Neither of these cards were mailed and there is no writing on them, nor indication of the year they were made. Both are on the slightly fragile seeming cardboard that cyanotypes generally are found to be. (They required a porous paper, more like water color paper than photos are usually printed on.) To back up a moment, cyanotypes are literally “blueprints” made with ammonium iron and potassium ferricyanide. Founded as a process for reproducing things all the way back in 1842, it eventually enjoyed a somewhat limited, but persistent, use as a photographic medium into the early 20th Century.

Most striking for me is the array of costumes in the O.M.I. Bunch card on top. Frat boys, cadet type uniforms, a baseball uniform – the guy in whatever that athletic outfit of shorts might be – and of course the little fellow. O.M.I. sashes are worn by several. There are generally looking pretty pleased with themselves, especially the little guy with the sash which reaches the ground on him.

While I am very entertained by our boys in the car ready for their Automobile Tour, they are harder to see and the image is a bit blurry down one side. The car is the star here and it is enormous in the way that cars were at the time – like ships of the road. There are 7 seated in and around the car, and then the eighth gentleman perched on top of the hood. (I’m willing to assume some of the gents in the back are actually standing on a running board on that side, but the car still promises to hold a mass of people.) Their sense of adventure, as well as some pomp and circumstance, invokes the early days of car travel – as described in my post about the juvenile novels from the teens, The Automobile Girls. (Found in the post, Grace Harlowe, the Automobile Girls, and the Moving Picture Girls Novels.) I have pretty much located three men from the first photo appearing in this one – large hat guy, be-sweatered collegiate, and cadet with hat. I wonder where they went on their tour – was it far?

For those of you for who crave more cyanotype, I stumbled across a splendid small book a few years ago which is still available, Ipswich Days, Arthur Wesley Dow and His Hometown (this the link to the Amazon listing). It is just as described, an intimate look at a small town, turn-of-the-century by one man, rendered in cyanotype. Very pleasant indeed.

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A Cat Named Boy

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card caught my eye recently and I decided he was a fine addition to the Pictorama collection. At four years he has achieved quite a solid citizen look indeed, and I have long been a sucker for a fat boy cat with a spotty nose. I am especially fond of his very white bib and paws – and he is a big fellow weighing in at 24 lbs! My goodness, quite the guy. The name and information appears painted on during the photo process. I don’t really understand how, but it is very neatly and decoratively done here. Often these applied on messages of this sort look like white pen, and are usually neat if not this pretty; however sometimes such writing is more of a scrawl. I am always a bit fascinated by this – did they print it themselves? Seems unlikely. Did they send the information along with the film to be printed? Was it a kit of sorts?

I have seen photo postcard cameras and imagine that postcards like these came from a mix of home executed or maybe occasionally by itinerant photographers. According to Wikipedia, Kodak introduced the 3A Folding Pocket Camera which took film that could then be printed on a postcard back and in ’07 they introduced a service called real photo postcards which enabled people to make postcards from any photo they took so this was certainly in place by the time this card was made. I assume some place in this process they allowed you the opportunity for a title and a few words.

This card was never used or written on, but we know from the front that it was done in 1911. Until I read the Wikipedia entry I didn’t realize that the term real photo postcards originated with Kodak. Interesting, they also state that it was more widely used by the public than in Kodak marketing. These cards are still called that today, sometimes by the abbreviation rppc.

As for Boy, I wonder about his name. It seems like a careless name for a prize kitty who was ultimately beloved enough to be memorialized on film in this way. You never know about cat names though. Sometimes they just materialize and stick and you don’t know for sure how or why. I remember thinking that back when we were naming Cookie and Blackie a few years ago. Giving them names seemed so arbitrary at first. (The person who rescued them had been calling them Thing 1 and Thing 2. Although we teased them with that for a bit, and it even seemed somewhat fitting to the little crazy furry aliens they seemed to be at first, I couldn’t warm to it.) Kim christened Blackie and I named Cookie. (She’s a smart Cookie for one thing, but I once knew a glorious fat Tuxedo named Cookie belonging to a friend and I was thinking of him at the time.) You know that ultimately you will get so used to calling the kits by those names, until the idea of them and the name merges, and you eventually can’t imagine them being called anything else.