The Elephant Eyes Have It

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today’s Pictorama is an odd item in a few ways. It was found, not purchased and it was Kim who encountered it on the street one day, not me. (Kim casually, somewhat unconsciously and occasionally, collects detritus – generally interesting metal bits and tiny plastic toys – off the street. These pile up in his pockets and eventually migrate to shelves in the apartment.) Elephants make up only the tiniest subset of collectibles and collected here at Deitch Studios (although for one you can see this nifty box Kim gave me here), but Kim and I have a soft spot for elephants, both real and toy. I for one have always wanted a good size elephant on wheels riding toy and keep a weather-eye out for the right one. Today’s item isn’t an especially old toy like most of the early 20th century items in the house, some starting to bump up toward the 100 year mark now. He began life as standard issue contemporary. I sometimes worry about the child who must have been sad to lose him.

For those of you who follow us on a variety of social media you might know that we went to the Prospect Park Zoo this summer, following our noses on an elephant that was or might have been story, research for a tale Kim is mulling over for his next book. This September, in his work that combines dance and music about animals called Spaces, Wynton Marsalis informed that elephants can be trained to dance in tandem, perhaps the only animals to do so. In another performance he also reminded that, while elephant hide is advertised to be tough, it is in reality very sensitive both to touch and the sun, and therefore that you might want to bring one some lotion if you had the chance to meet one.

This little fellow was found by Kim many years ago now. His is a simple and economical profile, but somehow has just enough elephant charm. One day I came home from work and much to my surprise, Kim had replaced the elephant’s casually applied on and missing features (shadows of his former eyes and toes can be seen if you look carefully) with painted on Deitchien new ones, making him a one-of-a-kind. He has subsequently taken up residence on a shelf, after sampling several other perches in the apartment. He is shown below in a page from Kim’s book Alias the Cat, sitting on his desk. That was probably shortly after Kim christened his new features.

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The one thing we all know about elephants is their great memories, repositories of much which of good and bad. They hold long grudges and deep affections, almost as if these were in proportion to their out-sized selves. I like to think this fellow is grateful to Kim for rescuing him from the streets of New York and supplying him with a fine new set of sporty features. For us he is a lucky elephant and are pleased that he is a member of the family here, contentedly spending his days amongst the kitties and toy cats.

 

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Doll House

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: I walked past this store yesterday while running some errands. I believe this establishment did a stint on Lexington Avenue, where I would occasionally admire the wares in the window. A number of years ago it moved to East 78th Street, oddly enough, in a storefront where I once bought high-end vintage clothing. I was pleased to see it hadn’t disappeared. While it isn’t a block I find myself on too often, when I do I like to take a few moments have a look in the window. (It is next to Orwasher’s Bakery and I have to tear myself aware from the temptation of the bread and bagels in their window – yesterday I was only saved by the line of people more or less going out the door!) However, I will say I have a complicated relationship with dollhouses.

I had a nice dollhouse when I was a kid – it was about the size and shape of the one top left, sort of a two story horizontal model. It was handmade, like these, but unlike the one indicated it was closed on three sides, with a cheerful exterior in some detail, although nothing like this intricate yellow number above. It was white with light blue trim.

I both loved it and was somewhat frustrated by it. For one thing, I wasn’t actually much of a doll playing child. (Barbies were the exception and they were a creative endeavor for me – I hope to consider those in a subsequent post.) I do not believe I actually had dolls which were the inhabitants of said house. Scale was issue – you have to sort of figure out what works in proportion to the size of your house and furnish and inhabit accordingly. I purchased furniture over time, but it was expensive and I was not good at making my own. Something about it was a bit intimidating, and I never embraced just playing with it. It somehow didn’t inspire creativity in me. I would set it up and marvel at the tiny pieces admiringly – periodically our cat Snoopy would crash into it, and decide it was a splendid place for napping and everything would need arranging again. (I was a bit annoyed, but never one to deny my cat any pleasure even then.) I would have loved to electrify it – to me that would have been the height of fascinating – have lights I could turn on and off, but although I saw such things I had no idea where to start with such a project.

The idea of miniature worlds continued to fascinate me. I went through a long terrarium stage as a child. I was stuffing dirt and plants in every container I could get my hands on with varying degrees of success. As an adult I have considered recreating some of those terrariums and photographing them. Climbing inside those little, interior worlds of my own creation and sharing my bird’s eye perspective. Kim and I talk occasionally and ongoing about the ideal miniature town, most likely to be given life through his drawings someday than anywhere else. It will have an elaborate train set up and jolly houses like the yellow mansion above. I briefly went through a stage of considering taking on a dollhouse again as an adult and approaching it more organically and creatively, making the furniture and shaping the interior less inhibited by the conventions of scale and reality. My own dollhouse was long given away however and the issue of space in a cramped apartment made it unattractive to pursue.

I was greatly under the spell of Rumer Godden’s book The Doll’s House which, if you are not familiar with it already, is a juvenile chapter book about the Doll family. It is a bit terrifying actually, with an awful, proud doll named Marchpane which is introduced into the lives of the happy Doll family – ending in the death of one of the celluloid dolls by melting! Oh my. I bought myself another copy of it a few years ago and can’t lay my hands on it right now, but found it almost every bit as frightening all over again when I read it. (In researching this I discovered she is also the author of the novel Black Narcissus, on which the somewhat creepy and alarming film with Deborah Kerr is based. Makes sense!)

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The sight of a great dollhouse, such as the Stettheimer one at the Museum of the City of New York which I think of as the ultimate version in some ways, still sets my heart racing and the wheels turning in my head. The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death created by Frances Glessner Lee is another such perfection, although her intention in creating them was forensic study rather than creativity or play. Fascinating! I realize that somehow my childhood dollhouse experience was somewhat stillborn and it still itches at the back of my brain. Perhaps this toy collector will have a chance to travel down that particular road still.

Touring Car

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I believe I have written a bit about my early days of toy collecting. The origin of my toy joy wasn’t cat related, not mohair or cartoon themed gems. My fascination was entirely fueled by motion and in that, I embraced wind-up mechanical toys and battery operated ones with impunity. The finicky nature of aging battery toys – not to mention keeping batteries on hand, but not stored in them where they corrode – made collecting them somewhat less attractive over time.

Early on though some immediately captured my imagination, and I believe that the first version I saw of this was older. If memory serves that version had Asian occupants. I spied it in an antique toy store, however it exceeded my thin budget at the time. The photo taking tourist, as I think of her, was the selling point for me. She turns and snaps photos, camera lighting up as do tiny headlights on the car. The memory of it lingered and I kept a weather eye out for it.

To my joy, this ultimately turned out to be a fairly common toy. I do not remember how I came to acquire my version except to say that I remember that it was new or at least new-ish when I acquired it, although without a box which seems odd now. There is no evident brand or maker’s name on it, nor country of origin. It’s unmarked state makes it hard to research so I am unable to discover if it had an early predecessor, as memory serves, or not. I acquired it in the pre-eBay days. Now that I think of it, this may have even been a gift, the thoughtful offering of a then paramour.

However, while I had trouble Googling it this morning, I did find one on eBay right away, same model, selling for less than $40. There are a few videos of it working on Youtube, some slight variations on this theme (two men in a car or the woman sporting a kerchief), but the woman’s flash doesn’t work in any of them, nor does it work in the one for sale, so clearly the best part of this toy (for me) is the weak design link.

Despite having spent the last decade or two on a shelf in my bedroom, mine has deteriorated with time. The fragile strings that hold the man’s arms have gone slack, there is corrosion in the battery box. So I am afraid that it’s operational days are behind us. While some toys were built to withstand time, others were ephemeral pleasures and I guess this one falls in that category. Still, there is a collector’s impulse itching to keep an eye out and see if I can’t find another that does indeed work…stay tuned.

…and the Hankies Have It

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Perhaps yesterday’s post about Dad’s handkerchiefs (which can be found here) was partially inspired by losing this lot of bizarre beauties on eBay this week. These are proclaimed as one-of-a-kind, but I sort of assume they were either from a kit of some kind or at least the design was something one could trace out of a magazine and work from. Still, they hail from Australia and my chances at purchasing another set are rather slim and about this I am a bit sad. Nonetheless, the photos are jolly and despite the fact that I rarely feature items I have not purchased, I was inspired to share them today.

These appear to be rather serious linen hankies, a bit heavier than I would be inclined to carry, although obviously I would have embraced these particular delightful items for their frolicsome Felix-ness. As a small child I was taught how to do simple embroidery – cross stitching on doilies if memory serves. (I feel old thinking about this suddenly – man, I can’t imagine anyone’s grandmother teaching them that today, or even owning doilies or embroidered tablecloths for that matter.)

While gifted in many creative ways I am the first to say that all aspects of sewing escape me. I believe I was able to complete a sort of nominal cross stitch project as outlined above, but I never graduated to anything as complex as these merry Felix renditions. Knitting completely mystifies me, despite adequate and dedicated teachers, and I never met a sewing machine I didn’t jam immediately. My sister Loren didn’t embroider or knit, but she sewed clothing well. I can, for the record, sew buttons on properly however.

Those who know me are aware I got the cooking genes (although again here, Loren was the baker in the family) as well as drawing, painting and, at one time sculpting, so no complaints. Interesting though to have, during my half century lifetime, seen the world abandon embroidered tablecloths and doilies on coffee and end tables. I read an article recently that posed that the utter failure of the antiques market was due to the fact that the kitchen has become the heart of entertaining and family time in the home. The loss of interest in the dining room and the living room as where you entertained eliminated a desire for a certain kind of furniture, silver service and the like. Kim and I live in a single room and the two of us can barely fit in our kitchen with the cats at the same time; therefore, I’m not sure I had fully become aware of this shift in contemporary home life. I can say however, send your antique toys my way if you tire of them, even in one room, I continue to acquire.

Handkerchiefs

Pam’s Pictorama Post: The only physical possessions of my father’s I brought home after he died are a series of white handkerchiefs. Dad was a devoted cotton handkerchief user. That was just a fact of him, like having greenish hazel eyes. I never thought about that never-ending line of handkerchiefs, for example when he started using them – why he preferred them to Kleenex. I wish now I had thought to ask, but as I said, they were just a fact of him. I think he would have found the question perplexing anyway, and he would have given me a look he reserved for those occasions when I would zip a question like that in out of left field – eyebrows raised and a shake of the head before probably saying he had no idea.

These handkerchiefs are not of a decorative, natty nature, peeping out from a suit pocket. These were practical and daily used, workaday hankies, always fresh and white though. I have no idea where he purchased them or how frequently. Presumably there was a very long line of them, the tatty ones ultimately pulled out by my laundry doing mother who also put herself in charge of thinning out all his worn out clothes with an eagle eye. (Dad was never very good at de-accessioning things. He was a keeper of all things – an accumulator in fact if left to his own devices.) I wouldn’t even know where to purchase such a thing, although I assume these days Mr. Google would accommodate me if I attempted it.

I brought dad some freshly laundered clothes from home shortly before he died and one of his handkerchiefs fell out when he went to put a shirt on. We both stared at it. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I hadn’t thought about them, those handkerchiefs, in a long time. It seemed incongruous to see it in his hospital bed. After he died I packed up those handkerchiefs that remained in his drawer and brought them home with me. I began carrying one, without the intention of using it, but just to have it like a lucky penny. Yet, like some heretofore unknown law of nature, if you carry a handkerchief, you will ultimately find yourself using it and I have.

This brings to mind a myriad of points about hygiene and maybe even the ecology of the disposable versus the washable, but frankly it doesn’t really matter. It seems a case can be made either way and I will leave it at that. Privately I think of them as my own stack of crying towels, a bit unkind perhaps, but there is some truth behind that. And I am learning that, after all, there are worse things than crying. Meanwhile, they are a talisman, albeit a practical one, tucked away in my handbag.

 

Advertising

Pam’s Pictorama Post: We at Pictorama and Deitch Studio interrupt this blog for an advertisement – and a Kim Deitch beaut no less, always a cause for celebration. I unveil for you my new Pictorama business card, appropriately drawn and penned by Mr. Deitch himself.

Yesterday I went looking for an early post and was reminded that the blog is now more than four years old, and with little exception, has published a minimum of two posts a week, Saturday and Sunday, every week since August 2014. Today’s post is number 499! Therefore, and considering we are on the cusp of Halloween (a black cat favorite holiday here at Pictorama) it seems like an auspicious time to post this.

Truthfully, I never did find what I was looking for yesterday, but was charmed anew by many of the photos and toys. As Kim once said, if he saw the stuff in his storage unit, he’d buy it all over again – I feel the same about my photos and the blog was originally conceived as a way of organizing them and easily sharing them. (I surpassed our ability to display the photos in our tiny apartment long ago, although the toys are generally on view and enjoyed daily.) Clearly I haven’t done so well on the organizing aspect or I would have found the post I was looking for – but I have had a lot more fun with the writing aspect of this than I originally considered.

Over time I have found myself talking about Pictorama to folks and decided that what I needed was a business card so they could find their way here more easily – although I do appear to be the only Pam’s Pictorama when Googled. However, increasing our readership is a part of our mandate – spreading entertaining early photos of cats, jolly antique toys and tales to as many folks as possible.

So I put in my request for a card with Mr. Deitch back in the spring, realizing that it would have to wait until after Reincarnation Stories, the new book, was completed and scanned. (No preferential treatment for the staff or wives here please know. We wait our turn.) As it happened, my card was deferred until after a Twink album cover – and even awaited a new story for the next book made its way into roughs before it was complete. I share it first with you, dear readers, today. And it was well worth waiting for – a big, jolly Halloween kitty, dancing kitties and Waldo behind the camera! Kitty is based on one of my earliest toy acquisitions of a stuffed Halloween cat, one that I found a purchased a matching partner to shortly after. I immortalized them in a Halloween post back in 2015 called Two of a Kind which can be found here. The card captures the spirit of Pictorama perfectly.

This week I will find my way to a printer and hopefully the next time you meet me in person I will be able to share one of these splendid cards with you. It is my plan to venture into the world well supplied with them henceforth.

 

 

Sis Sèmper Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Translated from the Latin, roughly, Always Felix. You may remember that aways back I purchased some hand colored images of Felix, shown below, which are similar in that they seem to have both a pre-printed yet hand-painted and drawn quality, leaving me wondering if the outline was somehow printed and then then black of Felix and the colors hand executed later. Both those cards and this one are on a lightweight paper – so although postcard size questionable that they were meant to stand up in the mail to begin with, this one has a torn top edge like it came from a book of some kind. I have seen additional versions of the cards below since I purchased my lot, although I have not acquired more. (Have to leave something out there for the other Felix collectors, right?) Today’s feature, and those below are all, not surprisingly, products of Great Britain and were purchased from sellers there.

Unlike those below, today’s drawing has an embossed quality to the outline of Felix – it was definitely printed, and although at first I thought the black was filled in by hand I am not so sure. The paper stock has wrinkled a bit around the printing area as the pressure and ink filled the paper. Nothing is written on the back.

 

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Obviously, my acquisition featured today was drawn with even more imagination than these other freehand beauties. A portly, gap toothed rendition, there is only something vaguely Felix-y about the pose, legs and tail. However, he has declared himself Felix and he is claimed by someone who has signed this work of art K. Behrens, 5-3-24. If off-model Felix is quite jaunty, giving us the thumbs up sign.

This Felix puts a smile on my face, which was probably the only real goal of K. Behrens in creating it. Still, there is something scratching away in my brain about this odd little tributary of homegrown and hand crafted Felix-iana. Perhaps just imagining a world where handmade Felix dolls and pictures were abundant – an Eden-like vision of a Felix filled world for the early 21st century Felix collector to contemplate.