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.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s postcard post begins with the last in a recent buy of postcards, which is only wave one as more are on the way. While I do not collect deeply in this illustrated postcard series produced in Great Britain, once in awhile one appeals and I grab it up if it isn’t too expensive. I have written about them once or twice before and one of those posts can be found here. Meanwhile, although the card I share today was evidently sanctioned and copyrighted, they produced the line below was perhaps rogue.
As far as I can find these cards are referred to as the Milton Series and/or Bamforth cards. Milton series, although part of a handful of auction listings, doesn’t bring much info on Google, but Bamforth was a company started in 1870 by a portrait photographer, James Bamforth, in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. They morphed first into lantern slides and ultimately into early short films with a character named Winky as their best known. However, Bamforth is now best known for an almost endless line of saucy seaside cards in the words of Wikipedia. This card #4924 for those who knows what that means and the only copyright on the card is for Pat Sullivan.
This card was mailed and the Great Yarmouth cancellation is hard to read, but I believe it is for 11 AM on an illegible day in 1928. The inscription in pencil says, Dear Hilda, Having fine time and weather Frank. It was mailed to Miss H. Chiletsworth, c/o Mrs. Harrison, 38 DeLaune Street, Kennington, London.
Felix is looking with sincerity at the viewer as he serenades us with his tune of nine lives. Sadly the title of the songbook is incomplete clutched in his hand, but I like the sort of watercolor wash coloring the fence and especially his toothy grin, pointy ears and whiskers. He is a jolly Felix songster.
While researching the origin of cat’s having nine lives I found this nifty reference to Shakespeare, from Romeo and Juliet, A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays. Also in Romeo and Juliet, in Act 3 Scene 1, Tybalt asks, What wouldst thou have with me? and Mercutio replies, Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.
The site also suggests that the idea of nine lives goes back to the Egyptians and something about the sun god Ra taking the form of the Great Tom Cat during his visit to the underworld, engendered eight other gods and hence 9 lives in one. (See the Litter-Robot.com blog site for references! Also a plea to my brother Edward to supply any detail of interest here as this is his area of expertise.) They also outline that some cultures have different numbers of lives they suggest – such as seven in Spanish speaking cultures and six in Arabic legend.
Of course nine lives could also refer to reincarnation. I have just turned to Kim to be reminded if there was a cat reincarnation story in his most recent book, Reincarnation Stories. (Ah yes, I am a good wife and I have written about it here and here.) There is not, but I will say, there is one starting to scratch at my brain so hold that thought and see if maybe that is part of a future Kim Deitch project.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s Felix postcard came via the same source as yesterday’s – and I hope there will be more to come from this recent Felix El Dorado. I will report on that aspect when I know a bit more, but for now another interesting card.
This postcard appears to have been blackened by hand and probably traced from a master source. This is clear from looking closely at the brushy and uneven application of the ink and the ghost of a pencil line or two. The precise origin of this series (other than it appears to be British) is also a mystery and I have written about them before and own a few others. (The posts about the earlier drawn cards can be found here and here.)
While at first it seemed somewhat improbably that postcards were being produced this way, consider the handmade origin of some of my treasured stuffed Felix toys. I once wrote a post on how many were produced by hand on the East End of London in a project to employ indigent women. (That post can be found here.) It helps to remember that postcards were the email of the early 20th century, mail delivery twice a day, and were used to make dates and for simple greetings and communications.
People here and in Britain must have kept well supplied to drop a note to this friend or that. Many of my cat photo postcards contain simple messages about having arrived safely at a location, missing family or reporting a visit with a friend or family. So while it still seems rather remarkable, this operation of hand production is the explanation I have settled on.
This card sports a Felix-y message, How I am coming in a fortnight’s timeEthel, PS not with a tail, Fred’ll keep that. It is addressed to Z. Honeysett, Woodview, Silverdale Road, Eastbourne. However, it is worth noting that there is no stamp or postmark, so perhaps this was included in a larger missive or package. The card has two pin holes from where it did time tacked up somewhere.
Meanwhile, Felix is zooming on his scooter which could fairly be said was one of his preferred methods of transportation. Here his tail is sort of ballast – that tail which fans of the cartoon know could come off and be used for many purposes. The tail is special indeed.
Here in the pandemic period of the 21st century, I have adopted an image of Felix as my Zoom and social media avatar. He has graced my Instagram and Twitter accounts, although Pictorama has a sporty wind-up cat of less distinction which I did had not acquired when I started the blog. (Pleased to say that I am now happily in possession of this item and featured him above. He was given a post which can be read here.) I do not own the zippy version of Felix on a scooter that I use – it is a rather rarefied Italian (I think) variation that I have only seen for sale a few times and at unattainable prices. I have a somewhat non-functional version that charms me by sitting on the shelf nonetheless.
It should be noted, however, that the version that my avatar version wears has very zooty polka dot trousers and enjoys a spring for a tail. This does make him very desirable in my opinion and I find his off-model face rather charming as well. (I wonder what it says on his tummy?)
When Zoom came into our lives abruptly in March of 2020 I replaced the generic “snowman” with Felix figuring I would give everyone a giggle. It did although some folks didn’t seem to know Felix or at least recognize him. Strangely you do become identified with your avatar quickly and it was almost surprising when someone new on a call would ask about him. (Having said that, I actually try to do at least part of my meetings, especially with colleagues, on camera to humanize the activity somewhat.)
After my Memorial Day fall my face was swollen and bruised and I decided to spare everyone and myself the sight of me on camera for a bit. During this time I received a request to change my avatar for a work related event where I had declined to go on camera and I switched to a photo taken a few years ago when I started my job at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I have yet to change it back again, although it is my plan because looking at this slightly earlier version of myself doesn’t suit my mindset after 15 months of working at home. Perhaps the little upright cat deserves some air time, although somehow the idea of zipping along as Felix has special appeal.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: As a devoted collector of Felix related objects I focus largely on the off-model, the unlicensed and often more singular, odd objects. These rarified bits often go for substantial money and as often as not I do not manage to acquire them. Sometimes fate allows one to fall into my hands and I put this one in that category.
Felix was popular with bridge players and I have seen other such interesting items related to the game, bid on and lost them previously. This Felix has a distinctly British look to him although he came to me from a US dealer. The design leads me to think he was made by Pixyland Kew (in the 1920’s they would have been Pixyland and Kew before they merged) as he has that look. As you can see, it appears they plunked this ready-made little fellow onto this base. (I wrote about my Felix Pixyland Kew figures once before and the history of that company. That post can be found here and another can be found here. Lastly, I have also done a post about the Felix Bridge tally card below which can be found here.)
I am not a Bridge player and it is frankly mysterious to me in all its facets. I gather that it was born out of the centuries old game of Whist which of course one reads about in early novels. Wikipedia tells me that the roots of that card game are in Italy and France. Bridge seems to have been a variation started by the British. (I feel like this country’s passion for it must have overtaken Britain’s at some point, but that is speculation.) Even Wikipedia’s simple description of the way it is played makes my head whirl. Kim says that the inmates of the asylum/rest home he worked at attempted to teach it to him. Their efforts did not take root, but Kim has a passing acquaintance with it as a result.
I have never attempted to learn Bridge. I must confess that I am not a good game player in general, nor an especially able one when I am persuaded to try. I know I always had the wrong instincts in Monopoly as a kid and would try different, failing strategies such as purchasing as much of the affordable property as possible, or another time putting all my hopes on one Boardwalk or Park Place. I tried holding onto my cash and other times spending my money. It must be said that I would be surprised if I won a single game against my sister Loren over all those years of childhood. In some ways it amazes me that I have generally succeeded in life given the early indications of my lack of financial prowess playing Monopoly.
Bridge does seem to have some fascinating accessories and Felix is among those. I will always have a soft spot for an enterprise with good stuff. In this way I have always had at least a passing interest in Bridge. In the twenties and thirties Felix was at the height of his popularity and Bridge may have been as well, so it isn’t surprising that these two came together in some interesting items. (A post about popular everyday items sporting Felix can be found here and a glorious Valentine drawing Kim devoted to it can be seen below and the post found here.)
Working with a large number of reasonably affluent Manhattanites of a certain age over many years, I knew at least second hand, about how avidly Bridge is pursued. I heard of different clubs and associations, each with their own identity, and of course occasionally about the skill (or lack thereof) of individuals who were mutually known to us. Sadly I feel like that group has largely passed, leaving me wondering how Bridge is faring these days, even before the pandemic. The Covid shutdown must have meant a long interruption – although I gather it can and is played via Zoom and Facetime so maybe clubs moved online. I am sure the social aspect of it suffered however which seems to be an important factor for players.
Felix is in dubious shape, his head is no longer permanently affixed and his paint is chipped. He has mitten shaped hand-paws and he appears to lean on an orange brick wall of sorts. His Felix emblem is a fancy font and he has a jaunty look in general. There is a hole in his shoulder which indicates something is missing from there. His paper indicator (what these displays mean is very much beyond me) is entirely intact. He is pretty great overall in my estimation however. While I am somewhat concerned about his condition, I remind myself that Felix is retiring to a quiet shelf where his imperfections should not matter much. His message these days might be quasi-political one day and a heart for Valentine’s Day the next. Meanwhile he is the newest denizen of Pams-Pictorama and beloved new resident here at Deitch Studio.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Thorough Pictorama readers may remember back in March of 2018 (March 24, almost exactly three years ago!) when I posted about the photo below in the post It’s Clint Flynn – on Spark Plug (which can be found here).
At that time I confessed my rather specific interest in this mini-genre of photos which depict people on various homemade versions of Spark Plug, the horse character of the Barney Google comic strip fame, which made its debut in 1919. (In my mind these are like an addendum to people posing with Felix – collecting those photos being part of my life’s work.) In 1925, the year today’s photo was snapped, Barney Google and Spark Plug would have been hitting their stride fame-wise.
When I say mini-genre of photos I do not exaggerate as I have only seen three in my life (although I am convinced that there are many more to be found which I plan to uncover and of course acquire.) I was able to purchase two of the three known to me. It was the first one, at a Hake’s auction I believe, that got away which started me on my hunt for further ones. (Strangely, like some of my Felix photos, I believe that first one hailed from Australia. Australia in the 1920’s must have been a crazy, great place.)
All three photos I have encountered sold for a significant price. The card I share today started at a price even I wouldn’t pay for it and eventually came down as I had expressed interest and gather I was the only taker. In part, I think this card suffered a bit because it was hard to be certain at first that it is an original photo postcard, not a reproduction, which it is.
Unlike most outstandingly great photo postcards I have encountered, this one was mailed. Luckily it didn’t suffer noticibly on its journey. I show the back below and you will note the postmark, March 23, 1925! (I am loving all the coinciding of March dates today. March must be Spark Plug photo month, right down through the decades.) It was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Chalfont, Muncie Ind. 720 W. Ponders Street. (The street address is added like an afterthought which I don’t believe I have ever seen.) The sender, unnamed, writes (somewhat cryptically), Golden Banders. Come and see our 1 ring circus it is free Thurs. We. is the date. Please come early don’t be late. March 26. 7.30.
On the front of the card 1 Ring Circus and a $ have been painted neatly onto the neg and printed. I’m not sure what the $ is referring to, tucked as it is between these two splendidly attired and painted clowns, adorned with pointy caps, each of them accessorized with a feather duster.
The woman, less sporty in her dress, but fully in the spirit of the thing, seems to be an assistant of sorts; she is holding Spark Plug’s head a bit possessively, although maybe she is also keeping him steady. (I really like her shoes – I own a pair like those that I am quite partial to.) The tot fortunate enough to be perch atop him is in a Buster Brown suit, with bow tie, and looks pretty smug and pleased with himself – who can blame him? Hotsy totsy!
Unlike the sturdy fellow in my earlier photo, this Spark Plug is a wonder of casual construction. I think he may have real plungers for feet and lower extremities and something mysterious above that connecting it all. (Interestingly plungers are frequently used to depict Spark Plug’s feet, he is not drawn that way in the strip where he just has enormous, clunky hooves.) His body appears to be an ambitious combination of wood and cardboard if I had to guess.
An interesting question is whether or not Spark Plug has back legs here – I do not see them. (Do you?) It seems like maybe white hat clown is holding him up? Not sure how that works – perhaps the clown jiggles you up and down? The solution behind this mystery is hidden now. Whoa! Steady there fellow I say!