Comics

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today my mind is on comics – the ones of my childhood. Recently I realized that oddly enough, I have a distinct memory of my father reading me Peanuts, but no other strip – surely he didn’t literally only read that one and let the others go begging, but that is what I remember. I assume it started when I was very small and couldn’t read at all, but I do recall that as my nascent skills evolved, I was able to read along with him. Peanuts was a pretty easy read, although Nancy, as we all know, was the easiest and the first you could puzzle out on your own – often no words at all. (The miracle of story telling solely through pictures – the silent film of comics.)

However, for all of that, it is Peanuts that I associate with my Dad and Sunday morning childhood. (Saturday morning was Roadrunner cartoons, but we will discuss that another time perhaps.) I have chosen a Sunday strip from 1970 below, which would have put me at age six. It is one featuring Snoopy and Lucy and somehow I remember those as the ones he was partial to.

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As a career long cameraman for ABC News, my father traveled constantly and often for long periods, so I know it certainly wasn’t something we did every Sunday and, although I certainly remember my mother and father both reading me bedtime stories, I never remember Mom reading me comics from the paper, nor did I ask her to. Presumably my sister Loren was right in there as well, although I don’t remember that either, and perhaps with a two year age difference between us it mostly really was me alone, sitting on my Dad’s lap and looking at the comics. (Apologies to my brother Edward, but at almost seven years younger he was not yet in the picture.) Dad would read the strips and we would have a good chuckle. Perhaps at my insistence, in homage to the strip our first cat, a cow-spotty black and white one, was christened Snoopy.

Many years later, when I was launched into my first job at the Metropolitan Museum and living a commuting distance away from home, fax machines were suddenly in vogue. My father developed the habit of faxing me the strip Mutts. I had briefly met Patrick McDonnell in the mid-90’s (as well as the cat and dog who appear to have inspired the strip) and he seemed like an extraordinarily nice person. I loved the strip which was in its infancy. It did remind me just a bit of Peanuts and it was easy to see why it appealed to my father too, although I don’t think we ever discussed that aspect of it. I did not get a daily paper with comics and so, out of the blue, my father initiated a comprehensive campaign of faxing them to me, several on a page, a couple of times a week. I bought a few of the compilations and shared those with Dad, but I think he liked the dailiness of finding them in the paper and the self-appointed task of sending them.

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I was reminded of all of this recently when, on my trip to London in February, I found myself warming up and drying off in a comic book store near Leicester Square. After tending to the family business of checking on the Kim Deitch selection (yes, I do that in comic book stores Kim – you probably didn’t know that, but you do now) I found some Mutts and Peanuts compilations and was briefly tempted to buy one for Dad. After coming to my senses and realizing that they were of course more easily bought at home without stuffing them into and already bursting suitcase, I did not. However for a lovely moment I was transported back to those years of sharing comics with Dad.

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Friendly with Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For any Pictorama devotees who are less than enchanted with my collection of photos of people posing with outsized Felix the Cat dolls, the next several weeks may present something of a challenge. So sorry! While today’s post focuses on one that I have pulled off our wall and have owned for years, I have acquired two more that are winging their way toward me even as I type. Yes, pleasantly enough, I have a small wall devoted to these and frankly I have about as many I could hang and have not yet. I could cheerfully fill a room with them.

Frankly my appetite for these photo postcards remains utterly undiminished. Even I am a bit amazed that I remain as enchanted with acquiring each new one as I was by discovering my first. My reaction is the same every time – I love it and I’m amazed and gratified that it even still exists. That’s not to say some of these aren’t better than others – I especially love the one I am sharing today – but in the end each has its own charm for me. Each person, couple or group, frozen in time, the remembrance of lovely day gone by. Everyone with a different version of an over-sized Felix.

For one thing this is a well composed photo and not every wandering picture taker who bought a huge Felix (and still I ponder – where are those dolls?) knew how to put a photo together. This photographer certainly did, although some of it was luck. I love the composition in front of these columns – the striped dress on the one woman is somehow happily repeating that pattern. The bricks provide another pattern, as do the fabrics of their clothes and hats. I like the little slice of action behind the other woman and the long look behind them of other columns giving it great depth. It is my single regret that somehow it is the tiniest bit over-exposed and the one column disappears a bit at the top. We could use the tiniest bit of line there and over the white hat.

These women are dressed in lovely spring-summer costumes for their day out. White shoes and stockings! Pretty dresses and hats! It makes me want to go out and buy a spring dress. (Honesty compels me to confess it is not a hard inclination to create – this time of the year I positively yearn for spring dresses.) They are holding this enormous, slightly tipsy, lop-sided Felix up by the arms. He looks like he’s has a decided list to one side and his arms are very long indeed. Still, he has a great Felix face and large nicely pointy ears. Unlike some of these fellows, he’s in good shape and doesn’t look as if he has been dragged over hill and dale as much as some I have seen recorded. There is a mysterious form – shadow? – in the lower right corner and if you look carefully, bits of developer down at the bottom which has left some white spots. Although this is a very nice photo, those are a reminder that these were done in haste, somewhat sloppily, unlike a studio photo.

Anyway, I offer it to you today, on what is one of Manhattan’s first truly spring-like days. Cats dozing by an open window, winter on the run at long last. A visual reminder of another perfect spring day, somewhere in Great Britain past.

At One Year: Annual Exam

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is one of those posts that gets a disclaimer at the beginning. It’s a post absent of toys or early photos and it threatens to meander, but the editors here at Pictorama will try to keep that to a minimum. The calendar has finally turned the page to my one year anniversary at the new job and that is what is crowding into my mind today as I sit down with coffee and my daily green smoothie. I have written about my days at Jazz at Lincoln Center more than I had thought I would – I never really wrote about the Met while I was there, only after I left. (Leaving the Met was my tribute to the several decades I spent there.) But the challenge of the job and the people there have gotten under my skin in a way I had not imagined – the year has had moments of delight and actual grace, but has also pushed me way beyond what I imagined. The thing is, when you talk and think about testing yourself, you don’t really imagine yourself failing. And while I have not (yet anyway) failed, the very real possibility hangs in the balance still. This is not a neat tale of trial and success – it remains an almost daily and often dogged struggle.

Without getting too far into the weeds suffice it to say that the quandary is actually changing the way we raise money for the organization, to create an underlying structure that provides a stream of annual support, rather than relying on the extraordinary, mercurial, singular gifts that they have largely depended on previously. Of course, the lights have to be kept on in the meanwhile, and the change overall is a little bit like telling everyone that they are going on a practical, diet of green veggies and vigorous exercise. Or, as I have told them, like when a woman gives herself bangs or cuts her hair very short and has to grow it out. There is a long awkward phase you just have to accept. I believe they would like to think they are almost there after a year, pulling the front back into a ponytail at last, and I think we have barely gotten to the pinning it out of the way with bobby pins and barrette stage.

Meanwhile, if this sounds a bit bleak please understand that if the underlying aspects of my job are less than sexy, my success depends on creating magic around what we do. The orchestra brings that wonder to every concert, but somehow I need to summon it on demand. I am constructing the beautiful, jewel-box that I feel this band, and the broader message that it delivers through education and bringing the music to the widest public, deserves to be set in. While small, I want to show that they are the brightest gem, gleaming in the crown of the New York and international cultural world. I really believe they deserve that and I am deeply committed to giving it to them if I have it in me.

On a personal level, this has lead to many sleepless nights (as the newly inaugurated sleeping pills that have appeared next to the bed can attest) and having become more surgically attached to my phone than I thought possible. The successes have been relatively small – an office with just enough skeleton structure that we at least function and grind out the essentials for our donors and patrons; a few extremely elegant events where the addition of Wynton’s magic lifted them to a level I had not really hoped for. I have a staff that, while still occasionally openly suspicious of me (as well they should be) functions within the organization and delivers to our colleagues at least most of what is needed and expected. Some, but not all of their dread of my team is easing a bit within the organization, although they frankly continue to eye me and my crew warily.

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First dinner in our hall, November 2017

 

Slowly, I find that my untrained ear is improving. I found myself lost in a sax solo at the hairdresser the other day in the midst of music I would have ignored otherwise – something I was told was acid jazz from Finland? (I keep meaning to look it up.) While I suspect the complexities of what is actually happening between the musicians on our stage will remain something of a mystery to me that is okay too. I have come to realize that although expanding my horizons about what I like and listen to is great, I do not actually need to like everything.

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Backstage at the Benny Goodman concert.

 

The great moments have often come at unexpected times. Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks, sounding better than I have ever heard them at Dizzy’s last summer. The recreation of the 1939 Benny Goodman concert that the JLCO did this winter that Kim and I heard from a perch backstage that will remain one of the outstanding musical experiences of my first year. There was a moment in London, during a JLCO concert tribute to Leonard Bernstein, when I found myself utterly lost in a sax solo by Walter Blanding and found later when we spoke that we had indeed been thinking of the same exact thing while he was playing. I also remember Walter hugging me in Shanghai when he realized that I was there to fundraise for the band and Frank, our photographer, who quietly made sure the orchestra knew I was there and gently pushed me into their midst over breakfast at the hotel. I have enjoyed conversations and strategy discussions with Wynton that have stretched my mind, not just about what we are doing, but about approaching life at large. The organization demands a constant self-examination of the issues of race and gender which came entirely unexpected to me, but I have found interesting and challenging. I have the pleasure of working with Greg, who I see daily and with whom I share so much in common about life and music, and who battles much of what needs to be done with me daily. There has been just enough success to keep me in the game, but nowhere near enough to say the jury is in and I have won.

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Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks at Dizzy’s last July.

 

If I jumped off a cliff when I left the Met, it would be fair to say I am still in free fall, the war wages on still far from won. Unlike when I arrived and it all seemed cryptic, I now walk through the concert hall with a some authority, a hug for a stray band member I bump into. (May I just mention that there was much less hugging at the Met, almost none, and it is a very special thing about where I work now – it is heartfelt.) Today as we slide toward this year’s big gala, I know the participants and can now recite their giving and table positions in recent years, as well as the number of guests they are hosting, pretty much cold from memory. However, as I try to construct a budget for the coming year, I am still betting somewhat blindly that staying the course I have set will ultimately pay off. I am gambling on myself, as is the whole crew, and that what I believe is the right direction for us is and that I can be a part of a transformation for this organization and grow it into the world-wide profile I believe it deserves. The jury remains out for now – and I thank those readers who have stayed the course with me as I consider my journey so far.

 

 

Waxing and Wain-ing; the Conclusion of Our Story

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who have been following this tale, today I wrap up the Louis Wain story with this entry (for now anyway – I feel more collecting coming on in this area now that I have started, but more of that to follow) with an interesting tributary of his work, the ceramics. I am going to break a Pictorama ground rule today, and please know that none of the glorious items I am abundantly illustrating today’s post with is in my collection – they are pulled entirely from the internet, many from previous auction posts. A girl can dream however!

For some background, although I had not collected Louis Wain as such I had, of course, long been a fan of his whacky cat imagery, mostly via postcard reprints of his work at its height, made widely available in a reproduced postcard line I remember as being available in the 1980’s. While I did not collect them as such, I did purchase them for use (yes, I actually used to routinely send postcards in those days) and at one time certainly had a number of them lying around.

So when I met Kim and cat item collecting became a topic of conversation between us, I certainly knew who he was talking about when he intrigued and beguiled me with Louis Wain’s bio of descending into insanity, cat illustrations becoming wilder and more abstract over time. But then, being Kim, he topped it off with another amazing story. As Wain’s cats became less realistic, at one point they even became Cubist, executed in the form of sculptures or vases. And, furthermore, that many if not virtually all were lost in shipwreck! There was something about them being Czech. (He may have said that they were on the Lusitania when it was lost, but don’t hold me to that.)

Now folks, this was in the days before the internet and Google in the palm of our hands in the form of what we now think of as a phone. It was a marvelous story. My imagination raced crazily with mental images of what these might have looked like. Oh my! The tragedy of a splendid cat bounty that was never to be known! I fantasized that some day the wreck would be raised and somehow many of the objects recovered whole, auctioned and made public. (Made mine…) The story has lived vividly in my head for decades.

So finally, the other day as I began gathering information for the first two parts of this post, at long last I Googled both the story and the ceramics. I was not disappointed. To my great fascination, a fair number of these ceramics exist, and while very expensive, are collected today. In addition to cats, there are (sans explanation) dogs and pigs – and these do not disappoint. While I may have imagined these sculptures one degree more abstract, and for some reason not so brightly colored, I was pretty close with my mental image of them. They are however, if anything, better than I imagined.

 

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And, it turns out that the story of the shipwreck and loss of a significant shipment of them from England is also true – although not on the Lusitania and they were produced both in Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, in the teens. Fakes have evidently plagued the market at various times – meanwhile, I am sure I wouldn’t mind owning one of those either. One article I read said that had the shipment reached the United States (which, unlike Britain, had a discerning consumers who, even at the time, had a voracious appetite for these particular offbeat items) it might have staved off, or at least delayed, the impoverishment Wain suffered at the end of his life, ending sadly in asylums, but still producing cat drawings. It is all a very Deitchian tale, with only slight embellishment, and now you know one of the many reasons why being married to Kim Deitch is so much fun.

Meanwhile, those of you who know me are wondering by this time, how could price alone have swayed me from adding Louis Wain to my routine collecting? After all, I am the woman who has brought you my indulgences ranging from rare Aesop Fable dolls (Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) to Mickey Mouse toys the size of a toddler (Big Mickey) that I have crammed into our tiny apartment and paid admittedly obscene amounts of money for over time. At this point, I sheepishly admit that has been a foolish kernel of jealousy that has been at the root of it these many years.

I remind long-time Pictorama readers of an early post, Mine, all mine…at long last, where I gloried in obtaining a long sought after photo of the Aesop Fable dolls I adore. A copy of that photo had passed through Kim’s hands to a woman he lived with for a number of years and it gnawed gently at the back of my brain for years until I acquired my own copy. The same former girlfriend of Kim’s also collected Louis Wain items, primarily postcards. He mentioned this casually, early into our relationship, probably as a part of the broader Louis Wain tale. Kim had in fact purchased one or two of the original postcards for her as gifts over time. While admittedly, this seems a bit embarrassing and ridiculous as my adored Mr. Deitch and I are well into our second decade together, somehow I did not wish to have him associate her with my collecting. Then I guess I just never got around to lifting the prohibition and purchasing Louis Wain until this recent trip to London. Petty jealousy is like that and now I realize how silly that is – and will let the Louis Wain buying begin at long last.

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Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 2

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Back cover of Merry Times, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama: I pick up today with my tale of Louis Wain acquisition which was what the universe presented to me while I was on my recent business trip to London. For those of you who read London Fog, Chapter 1 and London Fog: Chapter 2 you know that I was slogging my way through London, trying to maximize my limited free time there, frequenting some old collecting haunts. Maddeningly much was closed due to the inclement weather and I was feeling quite out of luck. However, bookseller Natalie Kay Thatcher ultimately made the trip in and did open late that morning. Marchpane, the bookstore in question, is devoted to antiquarian children’s books. There was a time when I pursued that interest more vigorously, but always just following my nose to what I like (cats generally) and I have never learned much about the ways of old books – what makes them desirable or valuable. A recent gift (highlighted in Good Cats and Bad Cats) lead me back to buying books (Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball and The Robbers Squeak) and I was intrigued with the idea of what I might dig up at Marchpane on this wintery morning.

Yesterday’s readers know I had purchased my first-ever Louis Wain item in the form of an engraving taken from a broadsheet publication earlier in that morning. So when Natalie pulled out Merry Times illustrated by Louis Wain I realized that perhaps Louis Wain was going to be the theme for this trip. I believe she also had a Louis Wain Annual, but I quickly realized I was all about Merry Times. Like all Louis Wain items, it was intimidatingly expensive even for holiday Pam with pent-up toy money to burn in her pocket, but before I get into that let’s take a romp through Merry Times and see what was getting under my skin.

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The most interesting part of this book for me is the positively whack-a-doodle story first in the book, The Holiday Home, which is a bizarrely bleak tale (considering that I believe this volume is meant for children) about homeless cats at holiday time and an anthropomorphic wealthy cat who is out collecting funds for the poor cats. Sadly it points out the truth that people will frequently just leave a cat behind after a vacation some place, or move house without taking the pet – my mother was in the animal rescue end of things for years and as hard as it is to believe it frequently happens. This story, and others in the book, are a mix of anthropomorphic cats with regular cats and dogs. The human cats are the more take charge and the catty cats and dogs are either children or just animals. Most of the stories are jollier than this one, but others still have some dark overtones. Wain’s drawings are just starting to get stranger, but haven’t really achieved their later more pop-eyed appearance.

Meanwhile, I realize I have neglected to share some of the facts about this publication. While it was illustrated by Louis Wain, the writing is credited to Dorothy Black, Grace C. Floyd, Norman Gale & others. There is no copyright year marked and some quick research turns up that this is not the first printing from 1917, as originally noted by the seller, but a later 1925 reprint which notably has additional text and illustrations. Inscribed in wonderful childish writing on the inside cover in scratchy pencil is From Dorothy To Derick with love and kisses for a happy Xmas XXXXXX.

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Frontispiece for Merry Times, Pams-Pictorama.com collection. Evidently this is a key difference between the earlier and later editions of the book.

 

I am sharing a few of my other favorite illustrations from the book below. Sorry, I was not able to scan these – the spine of the book is too fragile. You will have to make due with photos taken on Kim’s desk. And for those of you careful readers who are still wondering why I have gone all these years, collecting cat items and until now never flipped for a Louis Wain item, I am afraid you will have to wait for the final installment of this story next week!

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Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 1

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have been working up to a big Louis Wain post for a few weeks since my trip to London. I alluded briefly to my Wain purchases in my posts London Fog, Chapter 1 and London Fog: Chapter 2, a trip that was toy poor but provided other buying opportunities, it also most notably broke a long held prejudice I secretly harbored against acquiring Louis Wain associated artifacts.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, Mr. Wain (1860-1939) is attributed with single-handedly introducing comic, anthropomorphic cat drawings into world-wide post-Victorian popularity. Started as a drawings and sketches of their cat to entertain his ailing wife, who it seems was dying of breast cancer, these drawings quickly captured public imagination and catapulted him into a career that was almost exclusively devoted to cats. Over time the cats became more pop-eyed and decidedly more human, the humor more pointed, occasionally a bit dark. I have, in prior posts (most specifically Kitten Class), referred to some Victorian cats advertising that likely pre-dates and may have even informed him, but it would seem that it took Mr. Wain to launch the cat as comic subject into popular conscience. One article I read said that there was a time in Great Britain when virtually every home had a Louis Wain print – not unlike the prints of dogs playing poker of a later, American era.

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Louis Wain painting not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection, card playing cats just for fun!

 

Wain was hugely prolific – the same article claims that at the height of his career he was probably churning out more than 1,500 cat drawings annually. Given this, there certainly isn’t a dearth of Louis Wain art available today. Still, despite the vast number of prints, postcards, books, drawings and even sculptures, his work in every and any form fetches a huge premium, which explains one of the reasons I have been reticent to join the fray on the collecting front. However, I too have of course, always been entertained by them and have been tempted over time.

Also famously, Louis Wain eventually descends into insanity, but continues drawing, and his cats get quirkier and more abstract until they become a color psychedelic almost unidentifiable design. He is eventually institutionalized, but keeps producing drawings although I am unclear on the dissemination and publication of these.

I begin my Louis Wain odyssey with the purchase of this early print illustration I am sharing today. I purchased it on that dreadful snowy Friday morning I was spending near Leicester Square in a romantic mews I have always enjoyed. I was already realizing that the extreme weather was going to have a seriously negative impact on my limited free time in London however. I had a few hours before an afternoon meeting and I started with a print store I have spent many hours in over the years. My memory was that at one time, in contrast to the nice and pricey matted objects in trays upstairs, that there used to be boxes with scraps of old prints and even the occasional book, in the basement. If it was that store, or a similar one nearby that has gone out of business I am unsure. Regardless, the proprietor had made his way to work that morning, and when I discovered this item in the basement (sans boxes of lower end items) I decided to break the self-imposed Wain ban and reward the seller for his efforts to open his shop by purchasing this item.

This clipping, a page from a large publication, is identified as Christmas Number of the Sporting and Dramatic News, December 3, 1892. I am told that his break through illustration was sold as a Christmas drawing in 1884 and that it was two more years after that before he illustrated his first children’s book. This would put this illustration eight years after that first illustration sold, but before he achieves his later best known, more broadly comic style.

With the title, What’s This? and identified as L. Wain he perfectly captures the curiosity of these kitties eyeing this insect. He has signed the image itself and there is another mark I cannot make out which I assume is the engraver’s. I like the limited use of color which gives this a bit of warm and brings out the image. However, most of all, I like the little claws emerging on each of the kits! Cats #3 and #4 (in line, left to right) are emerging toward full blown Louis Wain style. All eyes are on that bug which is slated to be a snack for one of these fellers if he doesn’t skitter fast! For comparison, below is a later painting of a similar theme I snatched off the internet. Cats and bugs have legs as a subject.

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Louis Wain painting, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection, spiders remained a theme!

 

The tale of my purchases, more about my antipathy toward buying Louis Wain memorabilia and other strange tributaries of this story to be continued in subsequent installments. Pictorama readers take note!

 

 

Grandpa Love Mickey

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: If you are roughly my age, you too may have photos of grandparents from this generation. My father’s parents were older than my mother’s and the few photos we have of them, one or two from this period, are comparatively formal. My father’s parents were immigrants from Russia and I do not believe there is a single photo of them which isn’t formal and posed. This is ironic considering that their son, my father, was a professional news camera man – trained to catch action. I have also seen a short reel of film taken by my dad of them, probably after acquiring the first camera of his trade, and it was equally posed – as if the idea or purpose of moving on film eluded them. The photo shown here, which is not of my relatives, both reminds me of them and is very unlike them.

It is an utterly foreign idea to imagine my grandfather even knowing who Mickey and Minnie Mouse were, let alone owning and scooping up stuffed ones to proudly hold in a photo. To my knowledge, my grandparents never owned a television and the question of whether or not they ever went to the movies is an interesting one, but my guess would be rarely at most. They were hard working people who owned and ran a dry goods store near their home in Mt. Vernon, New York. They were not unsophisticated by any means, but completely uninterested in popular culture from all memory. This did not result in a rebellious embrace of it by my father either, who seems to have been neutral on the subject, although interested in cinema – with a preference for foreign films. Still, when I was little he was good for cartoons with me on a Saturday morning, partial to Roadrunner and would read the Sunday comics to me until I was old enough to read them on my own.

The Mickey the man holds sports a hat and I feel like I almost know which model but I am not sure – maybe there is a railroad conductor? I have looked and could not find such a one online, but I have a memory of it. It is not the cowboy model, the hat is wrong. I like that Minnie seems to be smiling up at him. The men here have a strong family resemblance, but I am less sure about the woman. Is she a relative or spouse? This photo launches a series of stories and questions in my mind. Like so many photos in my collection, how odd that it got saved only because of the toys that were included.