The New Year

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I admit when the New York Times posed the question of if we were indeed not just starting a New Year, but perhaps a whole new decade I was a tad overwhelmed. Suddenly the teens have slipped away and we are launching ourselves into the ’20’s. How on earth did that happen? It was a busy decade – in fact it was a busy year – and it is almost hard to look at the stretch from where we started to where we ended and consider it all of a piece.

I start by sharing a New Year’s card today which I have purchased, but will not reach my mailbox until later in January. (Technically this bends if not actually breaks a Pictorama rule about having items in hand when I write about them, but we know about rules and how they are made to be broken. I claim that privilege today.) I love this somewhat ambiguous image of one cat welcoming the other two, senior and youngster into the New Year, gesturing to the road, a mysterious half-smile on his face. The scene is a snowy one, but the path is clear. The elder cat seems to be saying, “Oh yes, let’s head on into this year!” (Not sure why this is Bonne Annéel rather than Bonne Année. Please feel free to enlighten me if you know or get the reference.)

The French can be depended on for New Year’s cards and I believe the art on this postcard is by Maurice Boulanger – a French artist for whom there doesn’t seem to be much biographical information.  Boulanger’s cards were being produced as early as 1903 – or at least there are some postmarked that early according to one website I found which attempts to catalogue the several hundred cards that were produced. (The postmark on this one is obscured, shown below, addressed in this beautiful neat hand.) Working during the same time as Louis Wain and clearly influenced by him – his cats seem to belong to, if not the same universe, certainly a neighboring one of slightly more sane felines. This card is not signed by Boulanger, but certainly seems to emerge from his stable of kitties.

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Highlights of this decade for me include this blog which came into existence around the halfway mark of the decade, August of 2014. In the wee hours today Pictorama hit 125 subscribed readers – thank you readers! (And a special hello to new subscriber, Ver It’s Peculiar.) I never seem to have the right moment to thank you all for signing up; please know that I am always encouraged by it. A new reader is the very most cheerful thing to discover attached to a ping! on my iPad. For those of you who have meandered around the archive you know that there are more than 600 posts, virtually every Saturday and Sunday. Many of you show up directly from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well and your interest is no less appreciated!

One of the most significant changes during this decade is that back in 2010 I was still working at the Metropolitan Museum, leaving the Museum wasn’t even a gleam in my eye. 2017 saw that surprising change after thirty years, when I moved to Jazz at Lincoln Center to continue fundraising but overseeing it. I write about Jazz more than I did the Met. Working at the Met after so many years was like breathing – it was hard to take a step back until after I left. They were family to me however and always will be. (My post about leaving the Met can be found here and some of my posts about my work with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra can be found here and here.) They too have become family – I find that Kim and I have been slowly absorbed into that, albeit very different, clan.

Most notably, I lost Dad in the latter part of this decade, having lost my sister Loren in the previous one. The loss of loved ones creates its own relative time – all time gets divided into before and after. (I wrote about my last days with Dad here and a bit about my sister here.) Those are the markers that live large in our mind’s eye.

Meanwhile, a look back on posts of 2019 reminds me that this year kicked off with recreating my grandmother’s Poor Man’s Cake (I’m sort of itching to make it again – perhaps it is to be a New Year’s tradition for me – yum, that post is here), covered authors Edna Ferber to my continuing obsession with the ever prolific Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Too many posts for me to list for those!) Work took me to the west coast (post here), Johannesburg (here) and most recently, Wisconsin (here). We started renovation on the apartment (too many of those posts to list as well), and best of all Kim’s book Reincarnation Stories was published in October. (Today it is on the Best Comics of 2019 list published in the New York Times Book Review. At the time I write this it can be found here.) I wrote my own two-part, very biased wifely review of Kim’s book which can be found here and here. Some posts this year were good and were well received, some less so. Thank you to those of you who continue to read regardless.

Looking forward is more important than looking back and in that vein Kim is hard at work on his next book, How to Make Comics, even as he continues to do appearances for Reincarnation Stories. I am not really a hardcore resolution maker, but it is my hope and plan to continue, and complete, the work in the apartment, fulfilling a dream of creating a wall of built-in bookcases for increased storage.

I would like to travel a little less for work, but I am not entirely sure that is an attainable goal as I already know I will be in London and Paris with the orchestra in the spring, and maybe Florida and maybe a trip back to Madison, Wisconsin also loom this winter. I would also like to take more time for myself – spend more time with Kim and my mom, get back to a more orderly exercise routine. (I have never written about how beloved my exercise routine is to me, but it definitely keeps me sane as well as fit.) This job seems to require endless time so that will be among the challenges of 2020.

So, for now, a toast of the writerly glass to you all, and my Bonne Année wishes to all for 2020. See you on the other side!

 

 

 

 

Little Orphan Annie, Again

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers know that Little Orphan Annie has made a few appearances in posts recently and that with Kim reading his way through the strip that Deitch Studio has been immersing itself in many, if not all, things Orphan Annie. (And just between us, I doubt this is the last Annie post – such a marvel of marketing was that strip!)

While making another recent acquisition (see that post of a really splendid oilcloth Annie doll purchased to match a Sandy acquired a ways back here, and a ways back I wrote about an Olvatine mug I purchased – that post can be found here) I ran across this sheet music, however it wasn’t in full color. A few weeks of patience and the color version turned up in time for Kim to buy it for me for Christmas and here we are.

While this sheet music isn’t exactly rare, information about it and the music within does not abound. I have spent the morning down several rabbit holes resulting in a handful of interesting facts and tales to offer. Written and published by Ambrose J. Wyrick in 1925, the year the strip was born and like the strip it came out of Chicago. I could not find a recording of the tune, nor any mention of a record. (A later song, recorded by Coon Sander’s Nighthawks in 1928, with words by Gus Kahn and music by Joe Sanders, is all but a standard of the period still today. It can be heard here on Youtube.)

The sheet music sports a nice photo of Harold Gray. (Creator of Little Orphan Annie and noted that it is a Butler Photo Chicago – no relation, in 1925 my grandfather was just settling in NY as a young man whose name was changed to Butler at Ellis Island, no interest whatsoever in music, photography or Little Orphan Annie.)

In the lower right corner and a small insignia of a pig that proclaims, Oink! Grunts himself in person!) in the upper right, presumably drawn by Gray.

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Grunts the piglet was an early character in the strip. His origin story is found in dailies on March 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, 1925. He seems to stick around a bit, but as he didn’t ultimately make much of an impression on Kim, I assume the character doesn’t develop beyond a point and wains out of the strip.

Annie and a young Sandy grace the front, banging out said tune (I assume) on the piano, the strange doll character acting as page turner for her. Sandy is singing from his own copy of the music. The back of the music shows Ralph Olson and his Orchestra (A Jack Richardson Unit) plays Little Orphan Annie and other Wyrick Songs. Those other titles (Compositions of Merit) are shown in part there as well.

 

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Any legacy of Ambrose J. Wyrick has been largely purged by time, even on the vast internet of today. Not only could was I unable to find a recording or record of this tune, but barely a tidbit of information on Mr. Wyrick himself. It would seem he was as much performer as musician or publisher and he seemed to have a popular talk (ironically perhaps in retrospect) about music and business which he toured with – the published volume of the talk appears to be available for a sum. Only the poster below could be found, declaring his skill as, Distinguished Composer *Author*Actor*Orator*and Tenor…Attraction Extraordinaire. (This courtesy of the University of Iowa archive.)

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Oddly enough, I was also able to find his autograph for sale with a portrait of him, shown below. On the other side there was an autograph with a photograph reproduction of Preston Bradley, a fellow Chicagoan lecturer and clegyman.

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Today’s tooling around Youtube looking for this I ran into much Annie lore to be considered on its own. There are readings of the poem, Little Orphant Annie, a poem penned in 1885 by James Whitcomb Riley, and thought to be the inspiration on some level for the strip. The poem (which is pretty interesting) and its history can be found on Wikipedia here or one of the Youtube readings of it here – but I suggest the read over the listen myself. Youtube also turns up a truly ancient silent cartoon which is honestly not quite visible – we’ll hope that one day a better print turns up.

Finally, best of all perhaps, Kim turned me onto Chuck McCann (WPIX NY television host) doing Little Orphan Annie, in a dress with white disk eyes and all. An image of that, which speaks for itself, snatched below!

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This sheet music, little gem that it is, will be going up on the wall in a place of honor here at Deitch Studio. I include the music with the somewhat less than memorable lyrics in case anyone is ambitious enough to want to play the tune or is curious about the lyrics. (So keep your grit and fight for your own and soon You’ll find a Home Sweet Home…)

Meanwhile, as above, stay tuned for more Little Orphan Annie to come as I certainly have my eyes peeled.

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Very few people know this about me, but I am an absolutely sucker for cabinets and boxes. They are like catnip to me. I have always had a weakness for them. As a child it manifest itself mostly in the collection of boxes (wood preferred, in fact treasured), but I remember the acquisition of a grandfather clock case turned cabinet from my grandparents house considered a prize possession.

It stands in my apartment today, next to the front door, hosting an assortment of items including but not limited to: video tapes, dime novels, early film magazines, comics and Kim’s Eisner award. Perched (piled really) atop it are an Art Deco coffee service and two not-quite-functioning Felix clocks. (The photos included here are an unintentional view into the gentle chaos of Deitch Studio.)

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However, my feeling about smaller cabinets is a bit like some people saying there are no calories in what you eat standing up. In my mind, it is always fine to buy cabinets and boxes because they are storage – therefore the issue of space does not come into it for me. (Incidentally, I always find them to be affordable as well. Such practical items, after all…)

I have several cabinets I could write about – an absolutely lovely mirrored one on a shelf at the foot of our bed. I found it for just a few dollars at a street fair right after spotting the same one in a store that was beyond my means; then there is an Art Deco three drawer mirrored one. I cannot allow myself to look at them on ebay as a rule or we would quickly be backed out of the apartment. Those darling little white medical antique cases, cunning wooden cabinets with myriad drawers that come from stores – I would have them all in multiple. If we had a house it would be another matter, but in our one room it is an addiction I need to keep under control.

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I have an equal passion for wooden boxes and small piles of them can be found around the apartment. This wonderful recent addition was made by Kim’s brother Seth and sent to me. A nicely Felix-y one shown below.

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Wonderful cabinet finds are still, blissfully, bound to slip in occasionally as did this lovely one Kim bought me as an anniversary gift earlier this fall. We were making what may have been our final visit to Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village when I spotted it and we scooped it up. (I will miss that store so much when it closes in the next month or so. I wrote about that visit in a post that can be found here.) It has yet to find its permanent place of honor in our apartment – in part because temporarily perched on my drawing table the light hitting the wavy old glass and reflecting on the old mirror in back is so nice. I have yet to find an equally well lit corner for it.

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The mirrored back of this cabinet has a nifty little door that opens to place the treasured items appropriately on display. Obviously part of the appeal of display cabinets for me is a place to hold my treasured booty – odds and ends acquired and in need of a home where they are safe from prying paws and dust, but on display. I am still in the fantasizing stage about what will find a home in this one. Perhaps some things yet to be acquired even? I promise an update post when it has found its permanent home and is filled with Pictorama finds and goodies.

 

 

The Great Deitch Studio Card Reveal

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Ta Da! It’s that time of the year! With Thanksgiving running late it was a tight turnaround this year and apologies to anyone who hasn’t gotten theirs in the mail yet before I do the online reveal. (And that includes just about everyone at my office.) As some of you might know, the day after Thanksgiving is the day when I sit down and do the first go at the card. This year it pretty much fell together with that initial session and here we are.

Pictorama readers aren’t going to be surprised that the recently renovated kitchen played a role in the Deitch Studio pictorial summing up of the year. (Although I could have shown our window installation as an alternative. Cats installing new windows? Um, gives me vertigo to think about. Those recent renovation posts can be found herehere and here – just for starters.)

I have set Cookie and Blackie to stirring up a storm here. The kitties are very fond of the new kitchen (counters have been duly jumped upon, the floor rolled over and over on, and the cabinets duly sniffed and inspected) although disappointingly the new fridge is too high and narrow for Cookie climbing – she liked towering over everyone on the old one. Of course, in reality we rarely let the cats cook and discourage their use of the stove in general. (I don’t mind them using the microwave, but worry they will be careless and use aluminum in it. And Blackie was showing an unfortunate interest in jumping up on the stove early on which we needed to compel him not to do.)

Kim let me have my head on this one and the result is more Pam than usual in execution I think. Although he always neatens things up (especially lettering – I don’t do that properly at all) and the shading always makes things pleasantly Deitchien. (A phrase I may have coined earlier this year in my happily and totally biased spousal post reviewing Kim’s Reincarnation Stories which can be found here and here. Kim’s book is of course the other big news of the year – the cats could have been reading about themselves in it. Or complaining that they didn’t play a bigger role.) The cats’ expressions are a bit more Kim-ish than Pam too. He has given them a slightly maniacal mad scientist look – probably closer to their true expressions.

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From the opening of Reincarnation Stories.

 

As I believe everyone bemoaned this season, with Thanksgiving falling a bit late in the calendar the holiday season is a bit compressed. Kim inked quickly and the printer turned it around fast (a nod to Bill from Yorkville Copy, which no longer exists as a storefront – he comes from Westchester to pick up our original and copy, score and return annually), but that only left a week to get them in the mail. I hedged our bets by making it a New Year’s card.

As I write this part of my brain is taken up with the things that still need doing, the apartment is in a state of chaos, and I long to have a proper workout at the gym after an endless week of work related events. I know you, dear readers, are probably thinking much the same so thank you for spending a little time with Pam’s Pictorama today. A Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and of course every best wish for the New Year from all here, feline and otherwise, at Deitch Studio.

Felix Tallies

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased today’s item for purely aesthetic reasons – I like the design of this blocky, early Felix. His toothiness especially appeals to me and his orange nose and strange wings baffle me a bit. (On careful examination it is actually that he is sporting a very large bow.) He appears to be pointing into his mouth – feed the kitty! Felix is well drawn, but I find no copyright information on this and I suspect it is just an extremely good rip-off.

In addition to the bridge score the following is written on the back in tiny letters, Halloween Bridge party given by Ginny, Lillian, Lowthur & others. Oct. 19 – ’29. Five tricks. The player was Betty W. at table 1 couple 2. Their score totaled 1224 and I have no idea at all if that is good or bad. A very quick look at bridge scoring would lead me to believe it is good. This card was either kept and still exists almost 100 years later because of a high score or the charming Felix. (Most likely both?) However, I know less than nothing about the game of bridge and a quick look at it online made my head ache this early in the day.

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Among the small bits of information I have about bridge are that while it is still considered popular it was once wildly popular, and it was a social necessity to at least play adequately. (Those of us who watch films from the ’40’s or even read a certain kind of novel from that period know this.) I have also been informed that it is generally highly competitive and a poor partner or player will not be countenanced – despite whatever your relationship is to that person otherwise. However, I assume that it is a bit like tennis in that you would like to play with people slightly better than you so as to improve?

From what I read and have been told, I think your relationship to your bridge partner is at its best the ability to intuit each other. Part of me wonders if this lead to a lot of affairs among bridge partners – not to mention divorce amongst serious players whose spouses were not up to snuff or went off the game. Bridge is played competitively and for money by some I gather, although not a gambling game. A quick search tells me there are three public bridge clubs in Manhattan, but many, many private ones. I remember being told of two private clubs years ago by elderly friends who were devoted to the game. I can remember bridge columns published in the local newspaper when I was a kid.

We were not a bridge playing family – in fact aside from the occasional game of Parcheesie, Candyland, Go Fish or Monopoly as kids, we were not a game playing family at all. As the children of immigrants neither of my parents were raised in an atmosphere concerned with that layer of society. It is just as well, my limited exposure to games leads me to believe it is not a skill set that would be easily developed in me.

Meanwhile, Felix as an image and totem seems to have crossed over with the bridge craze, and although this is the only piece of Felix bridge ephemera I own, I feel as though I have seen other Felix bridge related items for sale over time. Perhaps other tally cards? Card holders? An internet search does not turn much up in this line, but Pictorama readers know I always have a weather eye cast.

Gentlemen with Cats and Chicken

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a break from the ramping up of holiday madness all around us and spending a little time with these fine fellows today. Men with cats has long been a favorite sub-genre of my card collecting. (A few earlier examples can be found here and here.) This card was never sent, but someone wrote what appears to be the name Robert Hersir. (On a whim I looked the name Hersir up and discovered it means Viking King.)

I like these guys, and not just because they were smart enough to immortalize their cats and chicken when having this photo taken. There’s something frank and fun about them – the rakish guy with his askew bow-tie in the middle especially. Hat thrown down in front of him, shiny button boots of a day gone by fashion thrust forward, young striped tabby cat in his arms, looking somewhat alarmed or at least admittedly peevish. He stares right out at us from his day, back in the early part of the last century.

My father would occasionally hold one of the cats in the manner of this man, and he would inform the cat that he or she was in “cat prison”. It is a term and strong arm approach I have sometimes adopted with my felines as well when grabbing them up and holding them hostage in this way. (Despite or even because of this, the cats adored my father. I can’t say mine seem to enjoy the experience as much.)

Our guy’s suit, like the kitty, is striped and the photographer gets credit too for the symmetry of the image and how well the image works. It appears to be a photo set when I examine it carefully, a much worn one though it must be said. It also leaves me wondering who takes their kitty and rooster to a photo studio? I can only imagine a world that was a slightly different (more interesting?) place back in that time. Oddly, this is not the first rooster booster pet photo in my collection. I wrote about roosters as pets in photos at least twice last year. (Those posts can be found here and here.)

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The chicken in question, held by a fairly natty fellow with a posy in his buttonhole, looks calmer than the cat. He is somewhat indistinct and it is a bit of a call on my part to say rooster rather than hen, but I believe it is a fellow fowl.

Our third gentleman, who sports a sort of sweet smile, has an almost imperceptible black cat curled up in his lap. Like my kitty Blackie might have, this kitty has made himself comfortable for lap petting during the duration of the session. No stress for him. This man and cat are perched on a small bench of sorts while the guy with the rooster seems to be squatting, but it is hard to tell. All three men wear suits, the paper collared shirts of their day and ties.

I hardly need to mention that the painted backdrop is stained, peeling and generally tatty beyond imagination. The floor covering appears to be much in the same state. It suits these guys fine, but I can’t exactly imagine who came in next. Hard to imagine newly weds or vacationing duos lining up after, but it seems a fitting setting for these guys and their pets.

 

We Are Very Comfortable

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Much like yesterday’s toy post, full access to my stuff has allowed for the first photo postcard post in quite awhile. For all of that this is a fairly recent purchase from ebay and it just entertained me. Cats lined up, each a variation on a striped tabby design, displaying varying degrees of contentedness on some sort of fur declaring, We are very comfortable in Colo. 

I will start by noting that the only time I have seen a cat encounter real fur was decades ago when an elderly friend wore a fur coat (equally elderly) to my apartment. My cat Otto made it clear that shredding that coat was now her new found life’s ambition. Ultimately the coat had to be closed in another room, protected from her mania, but I have never forgotten her enthusiastic reaction.

The card appears to have been made in the early somewhat homemade process where a stencil was applied for the shape of the image and the lettering done by hand. I assume it was produced on a small scale – wouldn’t make sense for it to have been a one-off. It was never mailed, nor is there any writing on it. I guess this was for the vacationer who wasn’t willing to commit to having a great time or wishing you were here. Were they available for sale, a small stack of them, at a homely hotel somewhere there?

Today I am packing (warm clothing) for a quick trip to Milwaukee this week. I wrote about another trip to Madison recently (available here), and the opportunity to travel through parts of this country that I have never visited before is one of the aspects of my job, following the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to strategic points on their tours. This is our Big Band Holiday tour, a favorite everywhere it goes, which will wend its way to Manhattan in about a week. I am so pleased that almost a hundred friends will join us for the concert followed by a reception. (My first shot at this tour was on the road by bus with the band through the Southeast and you can read about it here.)

Colorado is a state I have never explored – only changed planes in Denver. I have agreed to speak at an event there in August so I will see Denver then. This kind of travel brings my father to mind. His job as a camera man for ABC News meant driving across the country, up and down and across constantly in the early years of his job. (Over time local news bureaus shared more of their own coverage with the national affiliate and there was less of this domestic travel and more international and confined to the East coast.)

Like Wynton and the orchestra Dad drove or rode, in his case equipment loaded into a car or SUV rather than a bus, three or four person crew crammed in. Dad did a lot of the driving, in retrospect I am not sure why except it didn’t bother him to drive; he probably preferred it. Long rides in cars, not to mention heavy camera equipment and his height, eventually contributed to a long-life struggle with back problems and in later years his car was littered with back cushions and devices. Dad liked to eat good food and he could suggest restaurants in locations all over the country, from Newark to Pittsburgh, to St. Louis. He remembered them all – and remembered those places where none could be found.

So today I will pack my bag; I suspect it is never as spare and economic as his. (But in fairness he wasn’t a woman who will host events over the entire course of his visit.) And I will wonder if there is a restaurant in Milwaukee that has been there for decades that I really should be trying.