Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I am sharing a photo postcard that just wandered in the door this week. It turned up in a search because of the black cat drawing in the upper left corner, but I think it is an image that those of us who were once art students find familiar and that is why I bought it. Although this postcard was never mailed, it is inscribed with “Daydreams” in a neat script and underlined on the back.
Our aspiring artist has his inspiration images pinned up along with what I assume is some of his own work. These drawings largely appear to be exercises in commercial art and perhaps that is how he ultimately made his living. His brushes, which looks a bit large for the art pursued here, are neatly sticking out of a jar. When I look very carefully I wonder if there aren’t two other photo postcards perched under the lamp, at least one that might be this same space depicted previously.
Our artist appears to be mulling, posed artfully and self-consciously, over a photograph of a woman and at his leisure, sitting back in his chair with his feet up. Very natty, our artist is wearing a tie and is neatly combed. The photo documents a space and time well despite the artifice.
There is something odd and somewhat wonky about the printing of this photo and I cannot help but wonder if his friend the aspiring (perhaps not yet entirely successful) photography student from down the hall attempted it. Recognizing that it hails from a time when a photo lit exclusively by a single bulb would have been challenging to execute (film being much slower), perhaps that is part of the issue. However, it is also printed poorly with dark edges from where it was not properly set for printing, an errant over-exposed corner in the upper right. Over decades it has solarized in the way that early prints sometimes do.
It reminds me of studio spaces in I had in college and later the areas I have devoted to drawing in various apartments – some favorite postcards or reproductions pinned up along with some recent work, a work lamp, brushes at the ready. He is neater than me, by far; I generally was covered in black pastel (a favorite medium) or really made a mess earlier with oil paint. My photography work of more recent vintage was executed elsewhere so no pets or humans would be injured by fumes or chemicals in our tiny abode. Kim says this photo reminds him of a young him as well, although I will add he seems a bit disparaging about the prospects of this young man.
My drawing table, alas, has been my work desk, as shown above, for the last two years and sees more action that way than it was for producing drawings. (I wrote about setting up that work space in an oddly popular post that can be found here.) It can’t be seen in the photo, but I do keep some photos around me at my desk as well, among them one I recently acquired of me and my sister as tiny tots, in a long forgotten yard somewhere.
Meanwhile, as I write I sit at the far end of Kim’s long work table as I type this. It is a personal idiosyncrasy that I write my blog sitting at our big computer, not my laptop. I think I have mentioned before that Kim’s work table is a long, wooden table that I think was designed more for dining than for drawing. We bought it at the 26th Street flea market from its maker years ago. The antique table I had assigned to Kim early on had fallen over from the daily use.
I guess Kim’s workspace is a glorified and professional version of this student one, with an enormous pile of finished pages at his right, some favorite books and his lucky dogs in front of him and our mutual collection of early photos lining the walls above. He is not, it should be noted, someone who likes his own work up on the wall around him. His workspace and my mine sit side-by-side these days and are pretty much central to our daily lives with the two cats, here at Deitch Studio.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I woke to this 12 degree morning, bright as a new penny, here in New York City this January day and had no idea what I wanted to share with you folks today. Coffee in hand, I wandered among my possessions and reached into a pile by my desk of somewhat unsorted photos and odd items that seemed to need a bit of consideration before posting. I pulled out this item which somehow Kim hadn’t even seen come into the house; given the intimate dimensions of Deitch Studio this is indeed unusual.
This scarf struck my fancy when I saw it and I bought it on a whim knowing it wasn’t not my usual side of the street. The pointy Felix-es around the boarder tickled me – I am a sucker for a pointy Felix as some Pictorama followers know – and I like the color combination.
However, when it arrived I was a tad disappointed overall. The fabric is a bit thin and the design is a bit odd – the text which appears to be an interview with Pat Sullivan, an idea I sort of like – is strangely and unevenly cut off by the center image. While I realize that once you wear it as a scarf it wouldn’t much matter it offends my sensibility as an object.
The scarf has a (rather conspicuous think) note that it is the product of Determined Productions, San Francisco worked into the boarder design and it was produced in 1989 as per (yet) another note on the boarder which give the copyright of Felix the Cat Productions, Inc. which (Google informs me) resides in nearby Hamburg, New Jersey. I guess I give it a B- grade.
There was a time when I wore a lot of scarves and my wardrobe boasted many. It helped that the Metropolitan Museum produced them and I was able to purchase them at a steep discount for myself and my family. (I had learned to tie them, after a fashion at least, during my college year living in London, brighting a small number of outfits with bright scarves of different colors and prints. Nothing fancy but a method or two that work for me anyway.) The offices at the Met were often cold and a scarf made practical sense – many people had the same idea and in winter would find us all wrapped in them and wool shawls from the store there as well.
My current offices (when and if I visit them which is still rarely) are also chilly in winter, but somehow I have fallen largely out of the scarf habit although they still reside in my closet, languishing with a lot of other unused office clothes at the moment, a sort of a time capsule despite a recent clean out. (My efforts in this area and further thoughts on various aspects of the potential return to the office can be found in a post here.) I tended to layer on jackets and sweaters instead. Here, working from my perch at home, I also just ten to add a layer although this apartment and especially that corner of it, tends to be warm.
Recently I was working from my mom’s house in New Jersey and assigned myself an unused upstairs room as my office. That room turns out to be quite chilly and as I had few items of clothing with me I did wrap myself in a big wool scarf I had with me for my afternoon of Zoom calls. Folks asked about it, never having much seen me in one and wondering where the heck I was that I was so cold. (A navy wool cardigan has been sourced as a permanent resident of the New Jersey branch of my operations, as a way of addressing this issue, but a scarf may still be required. I will be testing this out later this week anyway, but will arrive better prepared.)
The question of how daily work attire will emerge from this long hiatus of going to an office is unsure – as is the precise nature of said return. There are days when I think I should just toss everything (potentially piles of nicer trousers, tops and jackets) but the three pairs of nice jeans, two sweaters, two tops, maybe a jacket or two for “dressing up”, that are currently in rotation. They could rattle around in an otherwise empty closet with a lot of running tights and sweats. Meanwhile, a return to scarf wearing in the near term seems unlikely.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Just last week when I was writing about the (thrilling) acquisition of my new Dean’s Rag Eugene the Jeep toy (he is lovingly immortalized in a post that can be found here) I opined on the evident difficulty of toy companies in converting some characters from two dimensions to three. Krazy Kat is the most extreme example of this in my opinion – although don’t even get me started on his compatriot Ignatz as that is an odd design situation as well.
Perhaps there were other reasons why Krazy was never made into a toy which better represented his joyful, pudgy, sexually ambivalent embodiment. (Readers of the strip know that Krazy seemed to morph somewhat between male and female identity, but I do think it is fair to say Krazy is the first they I would have known.)
Most notably Krazy Kat never enjoyed the universal popularity of Felix or Mickey. British factories were not turning out off-model Krazy Kats on the East End of London. (The amazing story of those Felix dolls can be found here in one of the most interesting posts I ever researched!) Ratty looking Mickies proliferated. However, due to only a somewhat rarified audience for the strip there was less demand for toys and other collectible items. A handful of early cartoons exist (with an impressive executed Krazy) but it is a later (again utterly re-designed) Krazy who makes a series of nevertheless excellent cartoons which seem to have nothing to do with the strip, alas.
The toy these gentlemen in my photo have grasped between them is one of the few contemporaneously produced stuffed toys of Krazy Kat and while the face makes a sort of reasonable stab at him, the body is oddly flat – like he was squished by a roller into a space that is not quite three, but more than two dimensions.
And I have one of these dolls (of course I do!) which came in a variety of colors, but otherwise are identical in design. (I understand there were four sizes although mine at about 12.5″ is the most common as far as I can tell.) I wrote about the acquisition of it (a gift from Kim but with its own story), in a forerunner to this blog which was published in a book about Krazy Kat with illustrations by Kim. (The book is just called Krazy and was a catalogue for an exhibit. It seems utterly unavailable at the time of writing. I will perhaps share that in a future post in one form or another sometime.) These dolls tend to be quite dear and therefore sadly I have not ventured to collect them in the less available acid green, bright purple, black or orange colors and made of felt – although it would be jolly to have them all lined up together.
This doll was produced by Averill Manufacturing here in NYC (Union Square!) according to an ad on Mel Brinkrant’s site which can be found here. (His brief tale of acquiring his first one of these dolls is great and I recommend it.)
As an aside, Averill is a company that operated under several names and in addition to Krazy, produced some fairly dreadful looking large-eyed dolls although this Whistling Dan, below, caught my eye while I was looking. A whistling doll! Talk about what you always wanted for Christmas! (There was a Whistling Rufus and a Whistling Nell as well.) Wonder exactly how this worked?
Eventually a more rounded version of Krazy appears and I own one of those as well. (See below.) I cannot read the faded tag on the sole of his foot, nor can I find confirmation online that these were also made by Averill, but the design seems to have morphed from this earlier one.
I went much further down the toy rabbit hole than intended before turning our attention to the photo in question. It is a snap shot and only measures about 3″x4″ and bears the evidence of having been in a scrapbook, black paper clinging to the back. One can’t help but wonder what enticed these two gentlemen to pose as such, but I think if we look hard at the shadow of the photographer we will note that it is a woman and I will assume they complied at her behest. One of our fellows is neatly attired in nice trousers and sporting a tie, while the other is a bit grimy and looks like perhaps he was working in this yard before this was snapped. They look a tad sheepish about the whole affair.
The negative suffers from overexposure and the white shirts of the men melt into a white, cloudless sky, unintentionally somehow giving the impression that it was an oppressively hot summer day. Some light seems to also have sneaked into the side of the camera and exposed the film along the lower right corner, contributing to this affect. These dolls were produced starting back in the late teens (Mel’s ad appears in a 1916 magazine) so it is possible that she was using fairly early and primitive brownie and film.
Despite its evident flaws I had to have this jolly photo. Not only are photos of these dolls rare (I have only one other I can think of in my collection and it can be found here) but it has charm too. Kim said, and I agree, that Krazy looks like he is being reluctantly marched off somewhere by these gents, under citizens arrest, more than looking like a kid out for a stroll!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s toy acquisition is part of the loot from lightening striking multiple times at one online toy sale in Britain this fall. Within a few hours I had redistributed some hard earned cash to three dealers. One was a small purchase, a wonderful postcard though of a girl in hunting garb aiming at a Steiff teddy. (That post can be read here.)
Today’s Jeep came from a dealer whose toys seemed to skew more toward traditional bears and dolls than somewhat obscure comic characters. She was lovely however and I will hope there is a chance to do future business with her.
As it happens, I have always had a soft spot for the Jeep and frankly had no idea that Deans Rag Company produced one, but as soon as I saw this one I snatched it happily up. For those who have not read the original Segar Popeye strip, I say do yourself a favor and settle in with the full run and have a good old read. I originally read the dailies serially via a wonderful edition of hard cover books that our friends at Fantagraphics published years ago. (They have subsequently published the Sundays as well.) The full glory of Popeye in his native medium bears little resemblance to the somewhat limited range of the animated cartoon character of my childhood and it was one of the nicest rabbit holes I ever headed down in comics.
Among the discoveries, such as characters Ham Gravy and Castor Oil, was Eugene the Jeep. The Jeep, for those of you who have not encountered his mystical self, is a dog-like animal from Africa who can, (among other things) appear and disappear at will, walk on his hind legs, always tells the truth, and can utter the single word, Jeep! (Wikipedia has a rather cogent explanation of him and his back story which can be found here.) The Jeep represents a sort of the high point of that strip for me – a charming and mystical character which possesses somewhat limited if extraordinary powers.
The first mention of the Jeep appears in March of 1936, although he takes his place in the strip later in 1938. While researching this and the dates associated with it I had a moment of wondering how the first mention might have intersected with the introduction of Punjab into the Little Orphan Annie strip. The equally mystical Punjab was introduced into that strip almost exactly a year before in February of ’35. Makes me wonder if it inspired Segar or if there was something else afoot in the world that inspired both. I am not well versed enough in these things to say, but will perhaps pose the question to one of our better informed friends such as Bill Kartalopoulus, comics historian. Maybe it was just in the air. (The question of whether or not the army vehicle with this moniker has the strip as the origin remains somewhat unclear to me, but is definitely possible.)
Much like Krazy Kat, and even Felix to some extent, the relatively simple shape of this character seems to have inspired somewhat strangely inaccurate three dimensional recreations and I have looked for a splendid soft Jeep toy for a very long time. Kim has spoken of one that passed through his hands in the late 80’s which I have had trouble finding. I think it might be this model below, just spotted on eBay.
While the earnestness of this Dean’s Rag incarnation cannot be denied, down to the lucky four leaf clovers which decorate him, somehow he is a bit off kilter. He is about 7 inches in height. (I have not had a chance to dig really deep to see if he came in a number of sizes, although as a rule Deans character toys did. Having said that he does seem a tad rarified so there isn’t much online. Somewhere I have a CD which has the history of the Dean’s catalogue on it which will enlighten me if I can find it.) My example has a small tear on the neck and toward the tip of the tail. The only other example I can find has a worse tear at the tail with stuffing emerging – at first I thought it was a characteristic of the toy.
He has, as is necessary, the wonderful Dean’s Rag Book Company imprint on the soles of his feet. (For some reason those imprints fill me with great joy – if I were to come back in a future life as a vintage toy I would very much want to be a Deans Rag toy proudly sporting this indicia.)
As toy collector and seller Peter Woodcock pointed out in an email these small toys soiled and tore easily with handling and did not survive in large numbers. (Peter will emerge further as a subsequent character in the tale of this sale as he parted with something truly delightful which I purchased as well.) A quick look over at Mel Brinkrant’s collection shows a few pristine examples, as well as one or two other examples I must keep my eye out for – I can see the corner of another of the Deans Rag ones and I would say yes, it is larger. (For all things Mel and his beyond extraordinary collection you can go here. Talk about a happy rabbit hole!)
Researching this wonderful toy has reminded me that within these cramped four walls is a new volume of the pre-Popeye Thimble Theater strips. (It can be found here on Amazon.) I think I need to curl up with that oversized volume in bed for the remainder of the weekend. It is snowing gently outside and I cannot think of a better way to wile away this afternoon and evening.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo find comes as I happen to have had a rare and thoroughly enjoyable encounter with another Felix collector in Great Britain over an auction purchase yesterday (oh my yes, more to come on that), and since I have Felix on the brain it seems like a good day to share this acquisition. It seems he gave up Felix collecting in favor of having children (imagine!), but has held onto his collection until now – with one of his beloved toys soon to slip into the Pictorama haven for all things early Felix. More to come on Peter and the Dean’s Felix which will make an American debut in future weeks – and with a nod of grateful thanks to Kim who helped finance that purchase.
One interesting (and rather splendid) feature is that Peter and his wife seem to have photos of children with the dolls they are selling. Someone who shares my interest in the photos as well as the toys! A brother from another mother it seems. I show one of their other offerings below, this currently for sale on Facebook and a group holding a sale under the name 200 Years of Childhood which can be found here, or under Leanda Harwood Bears. As it happens, I own this Felix below (or a kissin’ cousin anyway) so he wasn’t in the running for me. You might remember an especially interesting post about how these off-model Felix toys were made in an East London factory as a way of employing indigent women. That post of mine can be found here.
Meanwhile onto this hotsy totsy photo postcard winged its way in the door earlier this week and Kim and I especially like Felix’s saucy mugging in the middle of the picture. He provides a good counterbalance to the two angelic looking little boys and a fluffy white cat toy, peering out behind the little boy on the left.
I wonder if that white cat is a stand-in for Kitty, Felix’s ongoing romantic interest. She, at least the early version of Kitty, was more of an actual cat than the anthropomorphic Felix. The feminists need to get a hold of Kitty and rework her a bit, since all she ever seemed to do was flounce away, agree to let Felix take her out or produce prodigious packs of kittens. To my knowledge no period dolls of her exist – there is a sort of awful thing from the 80’s or so we won’t discuss. There is a Daddy Kitty, a male white cat, who occasionally appears with a rifle to move Felix along.
These little boys are posed on a fluffy carpet and they (and their parents) may think they are the center of attention, but of course we know it is Felix, whose eyes are rolling comically to one side as he leans toward the little boy with the straight hair. It is as if the photographer and Felix are playing a joke on these folks, which comes to us decades later. Felix steals the show, upstaging these albeit cute kids. Of course, having said this, I would have loved to have been a child posing in a photo with Felix and have that relic, but I won’t hold the lapse against Mom and Dad.
On the back of this card, written in a loopy script it says, With Love & All Good wishes for a bright & Happy Xmas from Nelly Chas & Raymond. There is no date and this was not mailed. The card, which offers how additional copies could be acquired on the back, appears to be the product of Wakefield’s, 1 High Street & 21 The Mall, Ealing Broadway, W5 with a phone number. A quick search reveals that Wakefield’s was a noted Victorian photo studio and that Ealing seems to have been an area with a number of photography studios at the dawn of the 20th century. (A website devoted to researching this topic (What’s That Picture?) can be found here, but note that this fellow blogger appears to be focusing on earlier photographs, only up to WWI. (A not especially interesting modern building exists at the address now according to Google.) One interesting tidbit was that this, evidently very substantial, studio also had a branch in Brighton – which is, in my mind, definitely Felix photo territory.
A lovely way to send holiday greetings, but for us today a bit of a fall Felix frolic.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s an overcast fall morning and I am waiting for hot coffee to finish brewing so I can wallow around in a few mugs of it. Our windows are open as a nod to plaster from recent repairs to dry and as a result our shades are uncharacteristically wide open, also as an assist to the workmen and to keep them clean in the demolition and repair of the ceiling and wall around them. (Some posts devoted to the clean up post Hurricane Ida can be found here and here.)
October showed up last week and I still feel only a reluctant recognition of the fact. However, there is no stopping the march of the seasons and I no longer run in shorts and have even layered the occasional long-sleeve top. While I haven’t seen many leaves start to change yet, some trees have already lost theirs. There is a final hurrah of fall flowers in the park which I am grateful for and in the way that October has yesterday was downright hot in the sun, while today is gloomy and chilly.
Kim and I were married in October – our anniversary comes up this week. It was a freakishly warm and gloriously sunny Saturday, after a prior weekend when a tropical storm had raged here in New York. October turns this black cat collector’s mind to Halloween and some related posts are likely to come soon.
For those of you who follow the adventures of my work life, I can say that there are more days I wander in and out of the office and evenings at our jazz club, Dizzy’s. I have always been fond of Dizzy’s, but somehow it has really been a bit of a beacon from the past as I formulate a work vision of the future. Our concert season doesn’t commence here in New York until November which seemed like a long time ago until now it does not. But somehow a few hours of live music and dinner at Dizzy’s, overlooking Central Park and Columbus Circle, is comforting in a way I had not imagined. It is a bridge between the then time and now.
Otherwise, I largely trot around the city in a rotation of breakfast, lunch and drinks meetings related to work, largely seated outside. (My 3 mile morning run expanding to include daily walks to locales around Manhattan, now racking up as much as another 7 miles a day!) It will be interesting to see if these meetings move inside as it gets chillier or cease for the moment. My team joins me with a combination of trepidation and some enthusiasm. An October date for a full on return to the office has been pushed back, but for how long we are unsure. I understand the peevishness of my staff at the uncertainty, but remind them we are getting the job done and there is nowhere to go but forward.
Meanwhile, I have a rare post follow-up (last week’s post can be found here) and discoveries made post publication. I had penned my post on a cast iron puppy piggy bank I acquired earlier in the week and when Kim read it he informed me that the designer noted, Grace Gebbie Drayton, is actually of some commercial art and comics note.
Born in Philadelphia in 1878, her father an art publisher, she attended Drexel and the (then) Phildelphia School of Design for Women where she studied under Robert Henri. She married, and divorced, twice (she seemed to have a hard time getting much passed the decade mark with husbands) and Drayton is the moniker of husband number two.
Her significant claims on fame are the creation of the Campbell Soup Kids advertisements beginning in 1904 and a comic strip called Dolly Dimples. In reality she had several such comic strips, all with somewhat saccharine names, among them – Naughty Toodles, Dottie Dimple, Dimples, and The Pussycat Princess, some strips (The Adventures of Dolly Drake and Bobby Blake in Storyland and The Turr’ble Tales of Kaptin Kiddo) were written by her sister, Margaret Hayes and illustrated by Drake.
Cuteness seemed to be her professional beat although there is something about her bio which suggests it may have been less in evidence in her personal life. Drayton owns the title of first woman to be a cartoonist for Hearst. She specialized in round faced, chubby child characters and in addition to the comics and commercial work she illustrated children’s books. An abundance of her Campbell Soup Kids and Dolly Dimples work survives (the Dolly Dimples paper dolls proliferated), and Drayton’s work is in the collections of several museums here in the United States and Great Britain. Drayton died young at age 56 in 1936.
Kim had recognized the style of the bank even before knowing that Drayton had a hand in it. While researching her we turned up this nifty cat bank and doorstop variations, shown below. It is a bit less available than the pup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it (or a slight variation) doesn’t enter the Pictorama collection. More on that if it it comes to pass.
My bank had the rattle of a few coins in it and Kim was itching to see what they were. I was reluctant to unscrew the bank which shows no evidence that it has been apart in many decades. Much to my surprise Kim displayed his adeptness of a childhood skill which involves coaxing coins out of a bank through the deposit slot. Only a bit rusty, he had four wheat back pennies, and one Lincoln, out in no time. (I do wish I had taken a photo of this process!) Wheat backs were minted between 1909 and 1959. One of these is dated 1924, three are from the 1940’s and one is from 1975. As Kim cheerfully volunteered, this proves all of nothing, but somehow is still interesting. I am toying with the idea of putting them back in the bank, but Kim has the finders keepers on that one and he can decide.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write on this (chilly) October morning I have a large standing plastic Santa and suitcases wedged behind me, piles of dry cleaning around me, and a mini mountain of off-season clothing tucked into plastic bins within view. These bins are of course filled with clothing that, due to the pandemic and not traveling into the office – or even seeing much of anyone – I haven’t touched in two seasons. I did have a moment of thinking I should just get rid of all of it.
It should be noted that this tower of tubs is so beloved by Cookie, who now spends her day lounging on top of them, lording it over everyone else in the apartment how high up she is, that I have decided that when this is all over I need to buy her a tall cat tree. I dislike them and we have so little space, but it makes her excessively happy.
When I left Pictorama readers last week we were drying out Kim’s notes on our visit to the whorehouse museum in Butte, Montana by spreading them across our one room studio apartment. (That post about our trip to Butte and the story that came out of it can be found here. The beginning of this three part tale can be found here.) I failed to mention that, in addition to the clothes that were destroyed by the storm, the rest were damp from having sat in the water filled basement – so those also were spread out here and the combination giving the apartment a distinct musty smell. I bleached cleaned the locker and the objects that encountered the water and I thought I was done. However, a few days later the building required that everything be removed from the basement for the duration of “several weeks” while they put in new dry wall, paint, etc. And so we find ourselves more crammed than usual.
Ida also forced the hand of two leaks in our ceiling and we have the delight of spending the coming week intimately acquainted with workmen tearing out these sections of ceiling and making repairs. Sometimes I marvel at how much can really go on in our 600 square feet. I laugh when I look at tiny houses and think they have nothing on us here on 86th Street in Manhattan. Anyway, an industrial dehumidifier is on loan from the super and runs day and night. At first I was dumping gallons of water daily. It seems to be doing its job, decreasing amounts of water are disposed of twice a day, and it will disappear with the ceiling repairs. (Blackie loves the dehumidifier, Cookie hates it. It is loud.)
I am very aware that although annoying, our damages are nominal compare to that of others suffering from this and other recent storms. However, this apartment which is perched at the very top of an aging white brick building, which was erected in 1960, seems to attract leaking and flooding and pipe issues which we fight, repair and hold at bay ongoing. This is merely another in a long line of repairs, all of which we tell ourselves must be the ultimate one.
Still and all, as I pointed out last week, part of becoming intimate with the basement relegated possessions has had a silver lining. For me, it came in the form of a long forgotten oil painting. It is mine and by this I mean I painted it. I have shed much if not most of my artwork aside from my photographs which are tucked into boxes. However, a few favorite paintings are tucked under the bed and this one was in the basement. It is largely unscathed by the experience although I have cleaned it up a bit after its probably decades long sojourn in the basement.
I have painted since childhood. I learned to use oil paint in high school and I knew I had found my medium in paint. I love the smell, the texture, the colors and really just about everything associated with it. The stink of the paint, turpentine and linseed oil immediately relaxes me and takes my mind elsewhere, even if I just catch a whiff as I walk past the Art Student’s League on my way to work. I have also always drawn and I began life and figure drawing also in high school. In college and beyond this slowly morphed into a long series of self-portraits. This is one of the last I did, back in the apartment prior to this one where I had space to paint, and it shows me in bed with my beloved cat Otto who frequently slept on my pillow in that fashion. My other cat Zippy on top of me. I don’t smoke (never have) so the cigarette is just an addition to the composition.
Lack of space when making the move to this apartment meant that painting eventually gave way to photography – early process photography including daguerreotypes and platinum prints. But, as they say, that is another story.
I find that I have enjoyed looking at this painting, currently propped up against some boxes by the front door. One day Kim suggested, out of the blue, that we hang it. Funny, I had been thinking the same thing. Some rearranging of photos to be done, but we think we found a spot for it where a wooden mask from Bhutan currently resides.
Meanwhile, even before the contents of the locker migrated up to the apartment, one day Kim wandered out of the apartment and downstairs where he retrieved an entire box devoted to story boards for a film of one of his stories that was never made. It is dated 1983 and I share the first few pages here. It is made up of a compilation of a number of stories that appeared in various publications over the years (I remember one reprinted in his compilation Beyond the Pale, one about a potato headed boy) with the goal of tying them together into a Deitch flavored film.
This was in conjunction with Brian Yuzna, of sci-fi and horror film fame, during a fabled stint in North Carolina, in the pre-Pam days of yore when Kim lead a somewhat nomadic life down South, dotted with intervals in Los Angeles. It seems to have reached a zenith with Brian turning his hand to his film Re-Animator (Kim makes a small appearance at the end) and somehow Beatifica Somnambula never being finished. However, Kim regaled me with stories about props that were constructed, giant fiberglass potato head and others.
Oddly Kim had been mulling over a bit of business from this odyssey for a future story – not the upcoming book, but the one after that – so the rediscovery and chance to paw through the box of story boards was especially welcomed. I won’t spoil any future story surprises, but when you eventually read Tales of the Midnight Demon think of this post.
I guess all this to say that creatively what is made is never completely lost. I am mulling how in a small way I might start painting again, although paint covered cat paws immediately come to mind. While I will be (very) relieved to have our storage restored to us and maybe have the apartment back to a semblance of normal before Thanksgiving, I think I will bring Santa upstairs this year. Maybe instead of a Christmas tree, we’ll get that cat condo and decorate it this year.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today as promised, is a more Deitchian day than yesterday’s launch of this tale. I left yesterday’s readers hanging a bit at the point where, after Hurricane Ida, we found out that we had several feet of water in the basement of our high rise building in Manhattan, a basement where for decades we have kept a storage locker which (to some degree) alleviates life in a 600 square foot studio apartment. Hurricane Ida hit New York on a Wednesday night and Thursday dawned sunny.
We were banned from the basement which remained flooded, but the elevators made a cautious return online in the morning and I took a run and surveyed Carl Schurz Park and the East River Esplanade. Aside from several feet of water remaining in some of the lower spots, the park was okay and a clean up of broken branches and opening of storm drains was underway. The actual Esplanade, along the water, was washed clean by the rain and river water and to my surprise no detritus remained. Such flooding where I grew up resulted in everything from garbage to fish washed ashore. (Boats broken free of their moorings and would be found high and dry would await neighbors claiming them and even a mattress had to be removed from the yard after Hurricane Sandy.)
Since Kim and I were on the last leg of our vacation we had decided to head over to Dizzy’s, Isaiah Thompson was playing in a quartet of recent Juilliard grads I know from work and it was Kim’s first time back at the club since our recent reopening about ten days before. We walked across Central Park and skirted some areas that remained flooded, including Bethesda Fountain. As we walked a thought occurred to me and I asked Kim pseudo-casually, “So, um, were your notes for the Butte, Montana Details magazine story in the basement locker?” Kim said no, he didn’t think so. I thought otherwise, but nothing we could do about it right now.
The set was great that night and the waiter who knew me well from my many nights at Dizzy’s was happy to see me and Dizzy’s was starting to feel like home again. At the end of the evening I came back to the table to find him and Kim talking with Kim regaling him with the story of our trip to Butte. (Kim still sports a straw cowboy hat from a K-Mart in Butte and he was wearing it that night.) Somehow Butte, Montana was in the air. (I wrote about that trip to Dizzy’s and our vacation here.)
It was late Friday afternoon before we were allowed our first go at our locker. Puddles were still all around and an industrial fan was blowing. A cough of water spilled out when we opened the doors of the locker and a sort of river smell was everywhere. When we say water we use the term lightly because in addition to water from the East River and rain run off in New York City you are also being treated to sewerage.
The winter coats had gotten some of the worst of it, one was already molding which I threw out. The others I would ask the dry cleaner if he would attempt to clean them. (Of course they were up to their ears in bags of clothing from my neighbors when I got there.) He agreed and a few bags of wet clothes that seemed like they might stand a chance went over to them, luckily just a few doors down from our building.
An industrial juicer, some old editing equipment and the remains of a lightbox of Kim’s were trash. A light-up standing Santa, a tree star and some other holiday decorations seemed largely intact. By this time reports of deaths across the tri-state area had already begun to pile up (they were to top out around 24) and being in our basement, with a watermark about four feet high brought home the horror that it must have been for people trapped. This made us philosophical, but far from cheerful, as we tied up bags of clothing that would not recover and piled up other soaked possessions alongside our neighbor’s for the trash.
Then there it was, a folder, now soaked, with Kim’s notes and photos from a trip to Butte, Montana to cover a story about a whorehouse museum which was closing there – one of the longest running whorehouses in the country, the Dumas Brothel, and also the last standing example of a whorehouse architecture imported from Amsterdam, way back in the 1890 (or so) when it was built and opened. We had made the trip back in about 2000 when Kim was hot off of two articles he’d written and illustrated for publications in Details magazine. These were, for lack of a better term, comics-journalism – a story for the magazine researched, written and illustrated as comics. The first was his visit to death row and about the execution of Ronald Fitzgerald. (Republished in the 2006 Best American Comics, this is the best way of seeing it now.) Kim’s story of visiting Fitzgerald and getting to know him, his story and family before attending his execution, had been well received by the magazine.
The result was the opportunity to pitch another assignment which turned out to be a story idea credited to my dad who had been talking about an early computer virus named Melissa in tribute to a stripper the engineer of the virus had known in Florida. That story was a fairly light-hearted romp through the stripper community of Florida with strippers who went by the name Melissa calling us at all hours of the night for weeks ongoing.
As Kim’s then girlfriend (now wife) I knew one thing and that was if the next story was going to be strippers I was going along for the ride this time so we purchased a ticket for me to Butte and off we went.
The basis of the story was that sex workers rights activist (and former prostitute) Norma Jean Almodovar was helping to spearhead an effort to save and restore this nascent whorehouse museum, much to the displeasure of this down at the heels city which seemed just as glad to ignore or bury this particular chapter of their history. For better or worse, Norma Jean’s idea was to re-route some of the biker traffic heading to Sturgis for their summer rally for an evening outdoor concert to raise money for the museum. It was hard for me to keep my fundraising hat off when we arrived just in time for a meeting about how this would roll out. I always say about fundraising, especially around events, don’t try this at home, it is harder than it looks and you can easily lose more than you can make. Which, long story short, is pretty much what happened.
We toured the actual building which was fascinating. Based on the brothel buildings of Amsterdam, it was three floors (and a basement) around a skylight atrium. Each room had a sort of “display” window where the woman would advertise her wares and the cribs were somewhat larger and had more light with each floor. Newbies would start in the basement cribs (dark and claustrophobic, complete with tunnels to downtown so that one could transverse in bad weather, but perhaps also without being seen entering and leaving the establishment) and work their way up. The had been a robbery recently and some of the artifacts of the museum had disappeared, but in reality the actual structure was what was fascinating.
While there we met interesting long time residents for background on Butte, including a doctor a waitress told us about, out on the edge of town. He’d treated miners back in the day and was retired now. We visited a guy who was known as the Santa Claus of Walkerville (a nearby suburb) who gathered toys throughout the year for needy children. (I had my photo taken with him which sadly I cannot locate for you right now.) Despite the summer heat he happily put on one of his Santa suits for the photo. We also met some folks holding a tent revival meeting in opposition to the whorehouse museum and frankly they also seemed like really nice people too.
The edges of Butte end abruptly into mountains and wilderness, almost like a cartoon town in the desert. Butte had (has?) a mall strip highway of big box stores and restaurants, but the original downtown with its buildings pristinely intact also remained. Among the surviving original businesses were a few bars and a Chinese restaurant where we ate one night. Much like the brothel (a few blocks away) the restaurant was said to have tunnels under it to other parts of town. Inside the restaurant each table was its own private booth which would have had curtains over the open side, affording privacy which would have allowed other activity within. (The New York Times just published a very charming article on this restaurant which can be found here.)
Our trip ended with engaging with some of the bikers in a bar while trying to get our hands around this rally and directions for getting there. I have a license but don’t drive although I did on this trip. We had an SUV and all I can say is that it was a good thing that for most of the driving I had plenty of open space around me. However, I did park the car at the rally on the grass as directed and got it stuck – it was a kindly biker who got behind the wheel and got us out.
Frankly they were all giving Kim a sort of sideways look and I was trying to do the helpless girl thing. (Kim was wearing an old shirt that belonged to a long deceased relative which had drawings of dogs on it and just when I thought we were cooked one of the bikers exclaimed that he LOVED THAT SHIRT and that he had greyhound rescues of his own.)
To cut to the chase – almost no one showed up at the concert/rally and they lost their shirts as predicted. Kim could see the story slipping away and by the time we were back he was ready to pitch a story with a lot of heart that addressed Butte’s history and remaining spirit and unique qualities. Details (sporting a new editor, soon to be replaced by yet another), wanted more of an ironic hatchet job and when Kim demurred the story was killed. The notes assembled and found their way, along with the photos and roughs, to a folder in our basement where they were now wet, but luckily we had gotten there in time and by placing them all around our apartment (along with the surviving damp but not entirely wet clothing from numerous bins where I store the off-season clothing). The notes, roughs and photos dried out fairly quickly. Further into the locker excavation we found the much more finished roughs I am sharing here – luckily those had been tucked onto a shelf at the top.
What else came out of the locker? More to come on that in my final installment, with more Deitchian discoveries and other artifacts next week.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I’m not sure what to say about this rather singular item I picked up a few months ago. I say singular because I have never seen one before – and after all I spend a lot of time looking. It is about five inches in diameter, about 2″ deep. It is strips of a thin wood, maybe balsa, wrapped and stapled into a container form and a lid popped on. Since it is orange and black I wonder if it was meant for Halloween candy – although the jolly theme on the top is less than Halloween scary.
Felix, who does seem to consider himself a musician (most frequently found singing loudly on a back fence) is strumming a banjo on this box. The curling string of the somewhat primitive instrument is a curious touch. Felix has his earlier design where he is much more squared off – blocky feet and arms, pointier face – in the style I prefer. A curious mouse is doing a dance.
This mouse makes occasional appearances on items and his animated cousins appear in some of the early cartoons. He’s sort of an Aesop’s Fable mouse who stumbles into Felix land. See my Felix pocket toy where one of his relatives appears below! (That toy post can be found here.) However, the dog is strange and I don’t know what he’s about or where he came from.
The scale is pretty odd on the box image – dog smallest with a Felix who is perhaps the size of a small child and mouse the size of a cat!
I purchased it from a US seller although the design is more of a British one as Kim and I were just discussing. Having said that, if it is indeed a Halloween item that places it in this country as well. There are absolutely no markings on it, although there is a place where a sticker might have been on the bottom.
Although it is solid it is very light and therefore somewhat fragile, therefore I am unsure what I will ultimately keep in it – after all boxes are for storing and tucking things away – maybe even hiding things in them. It has spent the first month here sitting on a table next to the couch and near the television while I consider it. It is hard to see on a shelf.
Boxes and containers are always tempting to me. I think I imagine that they will help me organize my life – after all, I have maybe things laying around that could benefit from a permanent home. It never quite seems to work that way, but the attraction remains and a box, a small cabinet or other romantic vintage container is like catnip to me. Small pieces of jewelry might make its way into this perhaps. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, this evening is our rain date for vacation cartoons outside and sadly the weather is cloudy and remains threatening. However, I have purchased our tickets and I think we will make the trek, sans extended ferry ride, via train later today and hope for the best. It has been a rainy vacation I am afraid. (Last week I kicked vacation off with a hurricane warning post which can be found here.) I paused my daily run yesterday for drizzly weather and think I will just take it on today and hope for the best. The damp humidity is making the newly mended breaks in my fingers whine a bit. At the very least the weather has cooled from a very roast-y few days in the 90’s.
I remind myself that like most things, vacation is a state of mind so I will attempt to continue to occupy mine with things other than work as the second week of vacation ticks forward.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Recently I have been in the midst of chasing down the remains of a Felix postcard collection, but this one popped up on its own from a different source in the middle of it. Felix on parade could be a real sub-genre of Felix photo collecting. Unlike the photo postcards of folks posing with Felix which hail exclusively from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the parade photos are as often from the US. While many seem to be variations on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloons, the best of them are from small parades elsewhere in the county. (Some of these previous examples can be found in posts here and here. Some of the photos from those posts are pictured below.) However, it has been a long time since one has come up for purchase. Hang onto your hats though folks – I think this is an interesting one.
Today’s comes to Pictorama from Great Britain and celebrates the Chelsea Arts Ball. The card was never sent. The only information printed on the back is Pathe Freres Cinema Ltd. Series Copyright. It turns out to be the 1922 edition of the ball. A bit of further research reveals that the design was overseen that year by artist Fred Leist and the theme (somewhat ironically as I write now in 2021) was Brighter London 100 years Hence. (I am thinking another worldwide pandemic was not on his mind at the time having just lived through the 1918 one.) That year the revelers danced to the Ceadon-West Orchestra, noted as a Big Band, but I cannot find many traces of them online.
Meanwhile, the Chelsea Arts Ball dates back to 1891, as far as I can tell from a brief history on the website of the club, (found here – and note the image of Felix on the side of their building in the photo!) having grown out of a tradition of fancy dress parties in the studios of artists in the 1880’s. It was meant to rival the already established Arts Club of Mayfair. (A side note that women were not admitted for membership in the Chelsea Arts Club until 1968!) The balls typically seemed to take place over New Year’s and/or Mardi Gras and eventually settled in at the Royal Albert Hall as a venue for a decades long run until the 1958 one was so raucous (Wikipedia sites, rowdiness, nudity and public homosexuality – which was illegal at the time – as what caused the ousting) that the ball was banned from the venue for the next 30 years. If I understand correctly, I believe that the party tradition continued until December of 2020 when, for Covid reasons, it was banned. The parties have been held at the site of the club at 143 Church Street in recent years.
The hope had been to rival the French equivalent, the Bal des Quat’s’Arts established in 1892, I gather a similar soiree produced by architecture students there. They achieved their goal and the Chelsea Arts Ball grew to be extravagant affairs with a hundred performers, lavish decor and thousands of participants who partied until dawn when breakfast was served. It was, according the the Chelsea Arts Club website, the centerpiece of London society. I will also credit them with providing the quote, The mere mention of the Chelsea Arts Ball would make the debutante blush and the dowager blench. Lady Muriel Beckwith, 1936. It leaves me with questions about the participants – had the ball left its roots among artists and become a fête only of the wealthy? Or was it an event that embraced both, high and low brow so to speak?
Each ball was punctuated by a parade at midnight – presumably we are seeing some sort of a dry run here with a photo taken during a misty day and used for promotional purposes. There is no real indication, London weather being what it is, if this was a Mardi Gras or New Year’s version. While seemed to me that it is a New Year’s version, no hint of spring in this photo, research shows that this ball was held on February 8 of 1922 – still very cold, and a bit early for Mardi Gras. Very chilly for those short dresses! Somehow the gray mistiness of it adds to the appeal and creates the right atmosphere in this photo.
And oh what a photo is it is! A giant paper-mâché Felix with a distinctly worried look (hands behind his back in the Felix Thinking Position) hovers over this bevy of women in short white dresses – it is hard to see their masks but I believe they are little birds; I think I see beaks! They are cute little white fluffy skirts however, with ruffles and a bow. As noted, they are not warmly dressed. The dancers are being herded by Felix costume clad men. These gents are also in charge of Felix’s movement and he is balanced (precariously?) on a sort of dolly. Felix appears to have three of these escorts. A few folks are onlookers, as they are largely men and hard to see them clearly.
The real scoop here is that film exists of the pre-ball parade shown on this card. It can be found on the British Pathe website. However a superior and decidedly longer version exists on Youtube and can be found here or below. This one goes on to show the assembled costumed performers and even some of the individual wild costumes that could be found. The Felix men and white dressed women join hands and dance around Felix in a delightful fashion!
An interesting and somewhat moving account of the party given to celebrate the end of WWI, also found on the Chelsea Arts Club site, describes it as the most famous one, held on March 12, 1919. It used the concept of Dazzle, the Navy camouflage process which owed its roots to Cubism and Vorticists. (Okay, I had to look that up – Vorticistism was a brief industrial influenced abstract art movement of the pre-War teens in Britain – one of my facts for the day!) Dazzle is described as a visible expression of jazz syncopation. Here they were in 1922, a few short years later, wondering what the next hundred years would bring.