Home: Part Two

Home is a topic which is much on my mind these days. As Pictorama readers know I now spend part of each month in New Jersey, near where I grew up, with my mom helping out there now that she is in failing health.

I have always had a cat-like desire for routine and part of that is being nestled in the same place as much as possible, with my things around me for comfort. Even as a small child my mother would comment on my determination to make a space mine and settle into it.

Sunrise from the apartment in Manhattan.

As I have gotten older that also means Kim and the cats most of all – home is where the heart is after all. While I have enjoyed some of the work travel I have done, being uprooted from them and home has always been done a bit grudgingly.

Therefore, a new paradigm that pulls me out of my usual and sends me off to Jersey periodically has been a bit painful really. Although now over the past year I have pressed that into a sort of pattern as well it is somewhat less jarring. It is always hard for me to gather myself to leave on a Sunday night when I just want to stay curled up on my couch. I have my great indulgence which is the ride I take in each direction, comfort Aussie Shepard on my lap for pets, which allows me the luxury of travel on my own schedule.

Cookie when she helped me with the Christmas card recently.

I keep a suitcase lightly packed, but mostly I have clothing, toiletries and running apparel there. Like me, my laptop has to be disconnected on one end and reinstalled on the other. On the other side of the trip is mom’s little Cape Cod house, a bedroom for me which the cats there only cede to me with great reluctance. I gave everyone a peek at Peaches in last week’s post which can be found here.

To be frank, mom’s cats are not enamored of me as a group. Beau, an enormous pitch black cat, allows me to pet him, but mom’s other rescues are skittish and generally not for petting which is disappointing. (I recently wrote about Stormy, cat of mystery, here.) I miss Cookie and Blackie’s affection when I am gone.

Milty and Peaches enjoying the open door last summer.

My morning routine there is to have coffee with mom very early, 5:30 or 6:00, before heading out for a run if weather permits. I schedule myself this way because early morning is the best time with her as she starts the day. I make a large pot of coffee in a percolator identical to the one in New York and which all of mom’s caretakers is now enamored. Mom can no longer drink it, but appreciates the smell as it perks. I make a good pot of coffee.

Wooded running path in Monmouth County.

I generally keep my run to around 4-5 miles in New Jersey. I run more slowly there – lots to look at and also I jog slowly over many types of terrain. Although the majority of my run is through a sort of sidewalk suburban heaven, through neighborhoods and sports fields, I also run through a heavily wooded area, over wood chip paths, over tree roots and past the occasional deer. People nod and say hello in New Jersey, unlike in Manhattan where you never much do that, but dogs here are more likely to lunge for me than jaded city pups. I see endless bunnies and chipmunks abound, cats watch me from porches and dogs bark at me from behind fences and windows. There’s even a rooster on my route although I have not heard him in awhile.

While stretching outside upon my return I take an inventory of the outside of the house and anything that seems amiss or needs attention. It is remarkable to me that one day you can look at the front steps and realize that the railing needs paint and is starting to fall apart at the bottom, that gutters need attention or the driveway has a sag. Recently I realized that there was a huge air leak under the front door despite a storm door in place.

Mom’s house in the snow.

Mom’s is a track house built in the 1950’s – identical ones probably dotted the neighborhood at the time although her prime location near three schools, endless sports fields and small shopping area, has converted most of the lots to considerably larger homes. Her house, originally quite small, had an addition of a main bedroom, bath and an area bumped out to enlarge the kitchen. It now has four bedrooms, two in the dormer upstairs, and three and a half bathrooms. As it nears its seventh decade I can see that maintaining it is difficult, but more attainable than the houses of more than a hundred years that appeal to me aesthetically.

As an apartment dweller for my entire adult life, the actual reality of home ownership has been a rude awakening as I take over some of the responsibilities for mom’s house. Mike the yard guy, the rat exterminator, David who paints, Fitzroy who does odd jobs, Larry who helps with the computer – mom holds the reins still on all of it but slowly I am starting to engage.

Upstairs room where I work.

I am generally there on workdays so my return home is usually followed by a quick breakfast and then to my “office” upstairs in one of those bedrooms. I try to have a proper lunch time when I am with mom (my friend Suzanne often picks me up and we hit a great restaurant called Tavalo’s for the best sandwiches I know) and I attempt to end my day no later than 6:00 at least for meetings. During times of duress, the same friend will offer up a glass of Prosecco with cheese and crackers at the end of the day, bringing it upstairs if I don’t surface.

It amazes me that our apartment in Manhattan is so much quieter than mom’s house. While there is a roster of caregivers coming and going throughout the day and night, it is more the folks tending to the house’s needs and a litany of visiting docs which makes the small house feel like Grand Central station at rush hour. (I have written previously about mom and her caregivers in a post that can be found here.)

And then, before I know it, time to pack back up and head home to Deitch Studio. Much like at the beginning of my trip, there is a tug to stay here too, the gravitational pull of staying where I am, but now at home in both places.

Home: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Looks like I am bringing this year in with another pair of personal posts – for those of you who are in it for the toys and the photos (and even a new soup recipe there is great interest in), I promise a backlog of those in the beginning of the New Year.

Meanwhile, a fact I don’t think I ever shared with Pictorama readers is that home renovation television is near and dear to my heart. I began watching it before the pandemic, finding it comforting to see on the hotel televisions in various locations. During Covid however I began to watch it at more devotedly. At the height of the pandemic, working frenzied endless days and nights from our one room apartment, it was a source of comfort and one of the few escapes from a beleaguered day-to-day of Zoom meetings and ambulance sirens here in New York City.

View from Deitch Studio which is our window onto the world.

I enjoyed the soothing transformation of unloved homes into cozy interiors to house new families. I especially liked the cottages to be found in the south. Low entry points for purchase are like catnip to those of us paying a premium for our tiny foothold in Manhattan and two bedroom would be a luxury indeed. I am a sucker for a cute little houses built in the teens or twenties and would fantasize about owning one, while knowing I have no interest in moving to Texas or Mississippi.

Over time I realized that I don’t necessarily especially like the renovations which become repetitive. I would often think I would have kept more of the original charm of the home intact – the incessant knocking down of walls is odd to me. (Do I want everyone to see my untidy kitchen all of the time?) Although watching those shows has meant that when I have on occasion needed to make renovation decisions in our apartment (see the post for the great kitchen renovation of 2019 here) or my mom’s house, I pretty much know what is out there and what I like – and therefore of course what I do not.

Our renovated kitchen in fall of 2019.

However, my passion is touring the old houses while people “decide” which house they will purchase. I like those house tours – seeing worn, but well-loved homes that have sheltered many lives and families over decades, as many as a hundred years or more, of habitation. There is something about that continuity that I find very comforting even with them a bit down at the heels and in need of new attention.

During and after! Anasty bit of home renovation we did during the pandemic. The process of installing a wall of bookcases.
Kim doing some settling into those (now beloved and toy filled) bookshelves.

While I have an appreciation for those shows where homes that were completely trashed are rescued, sometimes requiring taking them down to the studs, I prefer houses with longer history with hopes that it will be maintained. My favored channel morphed into some versions with houses dating up to hundreds of years back, and although I didn’t need to see the renovation (sensitive although it always is); I want the history and occasionally seeing the guts of the house – stone basements and foundations, odd wells, fascinating attics with many angles, and strange back stairwells. One wildly enthusiastic young couple just shows you three very inexpensive, beautiful old houses in different parts of the country for sale and points out the wonderful features of each, a porch, a gorgeous stairwell, built-in craftsman sideboards and the like. That is stripping down the home show to its core for me.

510 East 85th Street was my home for many years before Deitch Studio.

Oddly somehow watching several years of these shows has slowly cured me of the itch to own an old home. While I do love to see them, digesting everything that can go wrong with a house that is a hundred years old, let alone more, has had a sobering effect on me to the extent I consider home ownership.

My practical side has overtaken the romance and I know that I am not quite up to that challenge should it present itself – which is unlikely. As I start to help my mom care for her home I am learning a lot about the reality of home ownership and tomorrow’s post will tackle that, for those of you who are game and willing to indulge me, as we ring in the New Year.

And for those of you who made it to the end of the post, I will also share that the photo at the top of the post is the house I grew up in, as it was when we sold it in 2016.

Festive!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Just a quick note and a ho, ho, ho to you all. It was a quiet start to the day here in New Jersey. I decided to give myself a break from running today after my efforts yesterday when it was only 8 degrees out.

Nonetheless I was up early and putting the coffee on. My coffee has become a great favorite among mom’s caregivers – I perk a mean pot and am well set up for it down here with a pot identical to mine at home. I wish you could smell it.

Laurel and Hardy this morning.

Kim is on his way – traveling with my dog friends Cash and Penny. He is coming for the down and I will head back to New York with him tonight. As a result I am starting to gather all my bits which are spread over mom’s house after four days here.

Keeping an eye out for Hobo. So very cold we’d like to make sure our stray cat friend has a good meal. He stopped by the day before yesterday for a meal and inhaled three cans.

Hobo noshing earlier this week.

Yesterday found a friend’s wife just returning from the hospital so we packed up a whole lot of Christmas dinner (mom had ordered enough for an army – really!) for them to have food for a few days. He is so kind to my mom that it was a great pleasure to do something for them.

Mom has CNN blaring as always, although I have Laurel and Hardy on the television in the bedroom for some holiday relief. Holiday reports are coming in from friends all over which is nice to hear. Eileen, cold in Vermont, Eden and Jeanie warmer in California.

The eating has commenced (biscuits! First round) and a second pot of coffee perking in advance of Kim’s arrival. mom’s cats are sleeping off their first meal of the day although not sure Stormy has braved the fray.

Christmas cat breakfast.

So Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at Pictorama and Deitch Studio.

Christmas Eve

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As my schedule would have it, I find myself here in New Jersey with mom on these days leading up to Christmas this year. While I miss being home with Kim and kitties just before Christmas it is an unusual treat to be in NJ and spend these days with mom and in the area I grew up in.

Red Bank decorated for the holiday on a wet morning yesterday.

It is very cold here – as it is across the country today. I decided I would hazard a run with some layers (down vest under my sweatshirt) and I will say I didn’t see many of my brethren today – not even the dog walkers were out between the holiday and the cold. The winds of last night were hard on outdoor holiday decorations – many were flattened or visiting the neighbors. And in fact it was the wind that made me cut my run short today. I forgot that my iphone hates the cold and it ran through all its charge – last winter I was in the habit of keeping it tucked in an inside pocket to avoid this.

Yesterday morning, by contrast, it was a humid 59 degrees and I stripped down for my run into neighboring Red Bank. While these were not the streets I lived on when I was young, I drove constantly through these areas and I wrote recently about my teenage and early adult years in this downtown area. Still, I am surrounded by memories as I jog through this area, decorated now for the holiday.

Sincere Santa in a neighbor’s yard.

I found this photo above here at the house. It was Christmas 1969 and my sister Loren and I are shown among Christmas morning toys. (She is the older one in braids.) The enormous black and white bear was one of her gifts, I believe Loren had that bear into adulthood. I remember him in her room. No idea when he departed.

The bear came from FAO Schwartz – that epic purveyor of toys. The reason for his presence in our lives is no longer remembered now. I asked mom. She tells a funny story about having asked an actor bachelor friend to “pick it up” for her. Ha! Evidently he didn’t enjoy being a mule for a larger than life bear. His name was Al Viola and I am not sure he ever forgave mom and dad. Mom says that a few years later he gave up his dreams of acting in New York and returned to his native Texas, fiance in tow. She didn’t take root in Texas however, although the story as mom knows it seems to end there.

Me and my dog Squeaky.

We are shown in a house in Englewood, New Jersey which we grew out of not long after this photo was taken. The huge stone fireplace was a focal feature and I remember it well. I also remember the bedroom I shared with Loren which had a corner of casement windows, something I have aspired to ever since. It was a tiny two story with just our bedroom, my parent’s room and a bathroom between upstairs. Other than the fireplace, a screened porch and a beautiful rock garden in the backyard were the memorable features. Also, we were across the street from a park which seemed enormous to me as a small child.

If I felt slighted by no mutually commanding stuffed animal I don’t remember, and I don’t remember what I did received that Christmas. There may be another photo, in color of that Christmas, of us in color and I am hugging my dog Squeaky so maybe that is where he made his debut although my memory is he was given to me another way.

Local decorations on my run yesterday.

Christmas and my birthday are days that remind me most of my sister Loren. She liked to get the day started early and as kids she was always climbing on me to wake up before dawn so we could go get our parents up. Loren kept the practice up in adulthood and if we weren’t together she’d call me at an obscenely early hour. I can’t wake early on Christmas or February 11 without thinking of her.

But this year I keep mom company. Her litany of caregivers are here and come and go. We are a fairly well oiled machine at this point. Mom, as is her habit, ordered enough food for an army which I just spent a half an hour fitting into the fridge – there is an art to this. There will be plenty to eat tonight, tomorrow and to take home tomorrow night. Cats are running around madly – they are comfortable enough with me now to chase each other madly through my bedroom all night long. (They are heavy footed for small cats and sound like miniature elephants – the occasional thunking throw down.)

Peaches, small but heavy footed feline.

So, layered up against the drafts of the house, wind whistling around the corners of the house, I watch television with mom and Elaine who is taking the holiday shift and with us throughout now – how nice that she is willing to make that sacrifice. A hibiscus tree has been decorated with battery operated lights to make them twinkle at night. The cats are napping and right now that sounds like a good idea.

A Room with a View

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Drum roll please…because today we have our annual Christmas card reveal! Here at Deitch Studio we have been producing a holiday card for a few decades now. One day we’ll have to see who has old number one because, although I knew we kept some, I am not sure we can lay our hands on it. In the first year, and maybe the one that followed, we hand colored each one (differently) with colored pencil – but we had a smaller distribution back then.

A better look at this year’s card! Deitch Studio collection. Click on it to make it larger.

For those who are new to the card this year the general process is that, after discussing the general subject first, I do the initial drawing. Kim responds with his version and then we might negotiate this or that, back and forth until it is an amalgam of our styles. In general, if we appear on the card, the rule is you draw yourself. (A few card reveals from year’s past can be found here and here, but the archive is chock-a-block full of them!)

Kitty cooks in the kitchen! No, we don’t really let them cook. Deitch Studio Collection.

This year however, Kim has been admiring the view from our window and it permeated my thoughts when I sat down to draw the card and it fell together quickly.

For those who haven’t visited Deitch Studio for awhile, yes, the plants have indeed increased in number and lushness this year. A friend commented on that. For those who follow Pam’s Pictorama regularly you know that Blackie had a rough year and we almost lost him to a bad infection and subsequent diabetes. In fact we had a mini-emergency with him just this past week as his sugar dropped too low. Despite that he is looking like his old self, has gained his weight back and his coat is thick and shining as shown here.

An exuberant Blackie showing tummy and fang recently.

Cookie would have been just as glad (or so she says – frequently) if we hadn’t bothered bringing him home. They are sister and brother and fight as such – love to hate each other I say. It gives them something to do. Cookie is the talker in the family and at nine years old still chases her tail (daily) like a kitten; often in the bathtub. Go cat go! I say she has one cat joke and that is to hide behind the shower curtain in the bathroom so she can jump out, meowing, at an unsuspecting type coming in. I fall for it several times a week. She does a victory lap with her tail after.

Cookie, always a card, a Noir Alley kitty a few weeks ago.

The view out the window is obviously much simplified, although I like to think it somehow captures the overall sense and mood. Kim was very light in his touch this year and really let my original drawing shine through. The view is quite wonderful, but it is especially nice at night when it is a twinkling wonderland. When I can’t sleep, I come and sit down on the couch (usually with Cookie these days, who in turn requires ear scratching) and spend some time looking at it.

Our view – a dim rainbow in upper right corner.

One of the interesting aspects of the view is that in recent years it is also the northern end destination of my frequent runs. Now when I look out I know it differently and I know the trip under the bridge and up to 114th Street intimately firsthand. I have written more about running in New Jersey than here in the City, but it is in reality my more frequent, if somewhat more static route. (A New York running post can be found here – and one from New Jersey here.) The path along the river is soothing, if windy in winter and hot and sunny in summer, whereas the suburban New Jersey path is more varied perhaps and has surprises like visiting deer and suburban highlights.

The northern part of my Manhattan running route one morning recently.

When I purchased this apartment I had no idea how beautiful the view was as the windows were too dirty to see out. Now it is our escape, bringing the whole world into our single room and we wouldn’t trade it.

So as the holidays approach and 2022 comes to a close, Merry Christmas and the best of New Year’s to all from the four of us at Deitch Studio!

And the Season to be Jolly Continues…

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have a red velvet jacket, trimmed with a bit of black silk braid, that is probably a good decade (or even more) older than me. My guess is that it made its appearance on the scene in the late forties or early fifties. It is short and hits me just above my hips. It is a boxy cut so there is never a question if it will fit during and waxing and waining of weight. Mercifully the moths seem disinterested in it.

Since it is such an elder statesman of a jacket (showing some wear on the pile around the elbows) I only take it out for a few holiday runs a year, but without question it is a fan favorite and I always get so many compliments on it. Needless to say it dozed quietly in my closet over the pandemic years, and last year was a very abbreviated festive season with my mom in the hospital up to Thanksgiving and then with the time I stayed there. (A post from that time can be found here.)

Self-portrait in Christmas bulb on my run in New Jersey earlier this week. The NJ suburbs, as above, exude more holiday spirit.

So this year was the first in many years that I pulled it out again to wear yesterday, paired with high-waisted navy trousers and a silver (yes, silver – hotsy-totsy!) silk tank top. I have long found that dressing the part will get you part of the way to feeling it and I needed to pull out all the stops to find some ho, ho, ho this year for a dinner after work.

My evening out was preceded by a very long, frankly arduous and frustrating day at the office. As I alluded to in my post last week (it can be found here) fundraising is reaching a fevered pitch by this time in the calendar year. Some large events and important proposals have been layered on top of the usual frenzy truly making my head spin to the point of migraine meltdown early in the week. Yesterday I was sweating out the final version of a document right up until I had to leave to head over to a holiday dinner at our jazz club.

The evening was a mix of people I know and a few I did not, although even those I didn’t know only had a degree of separation really. I was a guest last night and so while I can never entirely stop my work brain when I am in our venues, the evening was not mine to run and fret over. Drinks and fried food eased us into the evening, always a good start.

Marilyn Maye performing at Dizzy’s Club last night.

The set featured Marilyn Maye. For those who do not know her, Marilyn is a 94 year young jazz and cabaret singer who is still belting out standards and last night with a sprinkling of holiday classics. Marilyn had her start as a truly tiny tot in talent shows in her native Kansas. Over time she moved from Wichita to Kansas City, and then later to the big time in Chicago where she began a long recording and successful performing career.

Evidently dinner club cabaret eventually gave way to more stage and theater work, and although I have seen her in our other, larger halls, she seems most wonderfully at home in the club atmosphere. In her sparkling sequin jacket, trousers and decked out in glimmering earrings and bracelets, she is every inch a dinner club diva.

As I settled into the music, my phone tucked away for the evening (although I did sneak this photo), which is rare for me because often when I am at a dinner in the evening I am working and need to be available to the staff who are also working. Last night as a guest I was able to focus entirely on the music.

The enthusiasm of these decorations inspired me to make my run past it so I could get a photo.

The love songs lulled me into musing over my own good fortune to have found Kim (as they always do) and that put me in a good frame of mind. By the time she got to some holiday music (a medley with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town among them) my harden, cold, Grinchy little heart had melted. Somehow even as it was unfolding I knew it was an evening that I will remember and look back on – just a very special moment in time which will stay with me. Thank you Marilyn!

‘Tis the Season

Pam’s Pictorama Post: WordPress has a new feature where each time you sit down to write it offers up a question – I guess for inspiration? For example, today’s was What is your favorite cartoon? (And last week it was What did you dream last night?) Since I have devoted a fair amount of posting space to cartoons, I’m not sure it is the inspiration I might be looking for, but nice to know they want to help on a difficult day when getting started is hard.

I have had the opportunity to pepper my posts with many marvelous toy acquisitions lately and coming off that fete I admit to being a bit betwixt and between. So today I am reflecting on what is most on my mind and as we find ourselves solidly in the holiday season and I am doing my best to keep up with it I will share some of those thoughts today.

Flooring sample!

As I survey my mid-December perch, the holiday cards are done and going into the mail this week. (Look out for a big card reveal post next week!) I have purchased no gifts yet, however I don’t live in much of a gift giving world any longer. There will be gifts for my mother’s caregivers this year and a rare few for friends and of course Kim. I gave mom a new floor for converting her garage to a room (nothing says love like vinyl plank), but will try to find something additionally cheerful for her.

Woods are becoming bare already in NJ.

If you are a fundraiser like I am the holiday season merges with an exponential increase in work since most annual gifts will come in the last six weeks of the calendar year. (At the Met it was I think a full third of all gifts.) This against a fevered pitch backdrop of holiday events (two dinners under my belt with three more and a series of concerts to go as I write) and like the season or not, at a minimum you need to have a lot of energy to get through it.

I can be depended on for holiday cheer – after all as a toy collector it is sort of my season. I am the person who wants to celebrate a moment of first snow, to set up a three foot light up Santa or a small tree for the cats in the incredibly small apartment. I love tinsel and sparkle and bubbling lights! I will have drinks with you to toast the season at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel and used to enjoy doing it with a view of Central Park from the Plaza when that was an option. I will systematically buy gifts with joyful anticipation of giving them. I was the kid who would volunteer to wrap all the gifts because I liked doing it so much.

Some low-key nascent holiday decorations in New Jersey a few weeks ago.

As stated, I like holiday decorations. I am heading to New Jersey tonight for a few days and I look forward to running in that neighborhood this week and taking in the burgeoning decorations of the ‘hood. Giant motorized snowmen and Santas are wheezing gently on front lawns amongst wonderlands of twinkling lights, elves and sleighs. Instagram followers of my running journal can look forward to those – although to really do them justice I would have to do a turn at night I think. The city is tame by comparison, although here I have the joy of running past the lines of Christmas trees awaiting purchase and breathing in their evergreen goodness.

Trees in Manhattan were being set-up the day before Thanksgiving this year.

However, the several sobering years of the pandemic changed my relationship to the festivities and in some ways I am finding it hard to resume my mantle of cheer. The mountain of work has climbed to tsunami proportions and sadly a full scale memorial needed to be inserted right after Thanksgiving (for a former Board chair, shortly after two large scale dinners) and has me and the team flagging. The idea of adding a single additional thing to my calendar taxes me beyond credulity. Collegial and friendly imbibing will have to wait for the New Year.

Carl Schurz Park tree.

Endless discussions occur about whether or not people want to eat from a buffet table now and how many people is too many in the living room of a small townhouse are enervating. Concerts have sold well, but occasionally the purchased seats go empty if the people do not show which seems to happen more frequently than in the past, giving the hall a slightly gap-toothed look. I have written about our altered universe before (see one of those posts here), but never is it more evident I think than than this time of the year.

Me and my (small but determined) staff will continue our march through the holidays, right through New Year’s when we can finally come up for air and fall into an exhausted rest. I will bribe them with cookies and all manner of treats when I am with them in person and rally them virtually when online. I am hoping that amongst the extraordinary generosity of the season that I will find that gear again, or maybe while listening to our orchestra, or to Marilyn Maye belting out holiday standards at Dizzy’s, or catching a final show with Matt Wilson and his Christmas Tree-O there.

Winter-ish scene from a recent run in NJ.

Regardless, shortly ’23 will be upon us and another holiday season behind. Last minute contributions will have been booked, concerts completed and parties concluded. We will head into January with our resolutions firmly in hand and see what we can make of the New Year.

Can it be? Another Felix?

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: When this new Felix landed here at Deitch Studio the other day, Kim exclaimed that he looked exactly like another Felix on the living room shelf. I denied this allegation and a quick (close) comparison revealed notable differences and Kim conceded the point. Having said that I admit that some of my stuffed Felix toys differ in ways that only a mother might notice differences among her children.

Felix with bristly whiskers, shoe button nose and simple stitch teeth. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

For me it is quite self-evident – a crooked grin, how the teeth are stitched in – just a single line or a filled in toothiness? Do the arms move or are they in a permanent attitude or pose? The legs are important because that is how a Felix doll stands, always a tripod affair, the support balancing between the two legs and the tail. Some of these fellows have a hump to their back, a tribute to his hunched over thinking walk, others not. Some stand with more assurance and others more attitude. Others have trouble standing at all.

A closer look at our man today. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

For me it is the expression however. Some are knowing, others have a sort of charming dufuss-y and daffy look. Still others are sort of good time Charleys who you might be up all night drinking and playing cards with. Some, like this one, have a cocky and confident look.

I have written a bit about the sometimes handmade nature of some of these early British toys. (A post about their manufacture on the East End of London as employment for indigent women can be found here.) The more oddly off-model the better in my opinion. I like the ones that challenge credulity as whether or not they even are Felix – Kim saying, That is NOT Felix! and me insisting, Yes, he is! (At least he was intended to be.)

A few whiskers left on this fellow, with a smushy fabric nose and a vaguely curly, longer mohair. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Although I believe all or virtually all Felix-es had whiskers they come in a wide variety of options – from hard plastic like fishing line, to a few wispy threads to a nice full bunch of coarse threads like this fellow still has. Clearly the whiskers are among the parts to first go missing.

An especially googly eyed Felix with big, felt-y teeth. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Eyes are most often shoe button black, but there are some variations with black and white glass like this fellow sports. Some are more googly than others. Noses can be stitched on affairs, cloth covered or metal. The quality of the mohair varies as well – some with a longer nap and almost a curl to it, others a more bristly sort.

Bristly mohair Felix, with large glass eyes – whiskers intact. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

He was sold to me via auction as made by the Dean’s Rag Company, but I cannot firmly confirm nor deny that origin. He is about 18 inches tall.

All of this makes up a Felix toy and the variations that makes that particular one hold a special place in my heart!

Felix Takes a Powder

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Recently my friend Mel directed me over to a small auction that was primarily devoted to space ships, but had a small number of Felix items and I guess a very few people paying attention to them. Today’s very unusual item came to me via that auction along with a lovely stuffed Felix I will share soon as well.

Schuco produced Felix perfume bottle. Always very pricey! Not in my collection.

Felix bottles are a category unto themselves and to my knowledge include a soda bottle, a plastic bath bubble bottle, a popular perfume bottle and an even more available early bath salts bottle. The perfume bottle has a mohair outside (as above, produced by the toy company Schuco, which makes you wonder a bit about the quality of the perfume in question) and looks like a toy, while the bath salts one is made of clear glass and painted. The paint is usually worn off on the latter and there is a very similar Bonzo Dog – oddly and weirdly almost interchangeable if you aren’t paying attention. (As below and not in my collection – yet!)

My new Felix bottle is in what I think of as his Romeo pose, on one knee, hands clasped to his heart. You can imagine his impassioned cat-on-a-fence type tune. There are no makers or brand markings at all. In all of my searching around I have never seen the likes of him.

The white of his face appears to have been repainted, fairly well, but still is generally something that turns me off entirely. I can’t say the style of him is a favorite either – why the two tooth look I wonder? Again though he is so unusual I decided he had a place here at Pictorama and I am pleased with a having acquired him.

Powder stopper. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

I have never however seen this item before in all my looking, nor when I did a dedicated search after finding him. He is made of a heavy molded glass (seam in the bottom) and stands about five inches high, and he’s a slightly off-model Felix with that sort of gap-tooth grin. The brass-esque cap comes off to reveal a powder shaker top. (Felix arrived well packed, but in a tsunami of powder which had remained in the bottle until he traveled! I guess the seller figured I would want it powder and all. Only a vague scent to it if you are wondering. It is sort of getting all over everything despite my best efforts to contain it.)

I like to imagine a dressing table somewhere, maybe in the early 1930’s with Felix atop where each morning a bit of powder was shaken out of him. So beloved however, he has made it down through almost a hundred years to be with us today. And stay tuned – while I was writing this I found another bottle I had to have. More to come…

Flat Iron Fiesta

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have been itching to share this acquisition since I purchased it this summer on our well worn Friday night path to and from Vietnamese take-out. Folks who follow my Instagram and Facebook page saw it when I first spied it in the window of the nearby junk store over the July 4 weekend.

I opined on its wonderfulness then (said it was too big to buy) and it wasn’t much more than a week later that I hustled Kim over to help me strike the deal and bring it home. Numerous bits and pieces have found their way into the Pictorama collection from this tiny storefront. Most recently I have written about a few piggy banks (two of those posts here and here), but this will remain in my mind as the very best buy I suspect.

A short video I made of the window at the shop when I found the Flat Iron Building among these other model buildings.

It turns out to have been made by a company called Department 56. (Odd name, yes? The man who started the company, Ed Bazinet, had worked for a company called Bachman, a florist and wholesale gift importer. He ultimately convinced Bachman to invest $50k in his new company which would specialize in high-end holiday items, and named it for his former unit, which of course was 56.)

My Flat Iron building is part of a large series devoted to Christmas in New York, reproducing landmarks of the New York skyline. It is (weirdly and surprisingly) made of ceramic. While it is heavy it is nowhere near as heavy as I thought it would be sizing it up as likely being a non-ferrous metal of some sort – like a giant piece from a toy train set.

It was a great window chock full of building models.

While these are specifically made for a holiday set up they are amazingly beautiful reproductions of New York architectural stand-outs and range from the obvious, such as the Empire State building and the Chrysler building, to the somewhat more obscure such as Luchows, the Singer Building and something called the Uptown Chess Club.

The reproduced buildings with pre-20th century architecture seem to revert almost immediately to too cute for my taste. However, the Woolworth building is tantalizing (talk about huge though) and Kim and I are still discussing if there is a spot that can accommodate it. (Stay tuned for a perhaps future post.) It is unclear to me if they continue to produce more New York buildings and it seems they pay tribute to a smattering of other cities – I believe I saw a building from Dayton, Ohio online too.

Empire State building for sale on eBay.

Of course my mind races with what it would be like to have enough space for them all. A tiny, if snowy, NYC right here in the apartment! Imagine that!

My Flat Iron building was brought onto the market in 2006 and “retired” in 2010, although it appears to do a brisk business on the secondary market if you too (understandably) must now own one – they are available. The claims of value on the resale market were considerably higher than what I paid. As you can see from the video the proprietor purchased an entire collection of miniature buildings of various kinds. Mine was the only one made by Department 56. (I was very attracted to a tiny Central Park made of metal. There may be more to come on that – it has stayed with me.)

I want that building in the window! Many reflections interfere a bit, but this was my first sighting.

If you look carefully you will note that the building is gently trimmed with snow. It is meant to have wreaths, bows and garlands added (purchased separately of course) and maybe even a tiny couple getting caught (23 skidoo!) in the wind around the building.

A tiny couple that can be added to my building scenario – for a price of course! Not in my collection.

So after I got it home I of course examined it at length. The company name and the date of copyright is on the bottom. As I examined it I realized that there were holes in the bottom where two small lights should be inserted. Unfortunately it turned out that the replacement lights were on back order and getting a hold of someone to place my order a bit complicated. It took several months, but a few weeks ago the lights showed at last and I was thrilled to be able to light it up which really does add something to it.

I do not for a minute regret the space that has been dedicated to our Flat Iron building on a bookcase over our bed where I get to see it daily. Ours is a year round New York City admiration, but since we are heading into the holiday season it seems fitting that it can do double duty to an extent in this December post. I have considered if I should acquire a tiny decoration or two as a nod to the season, but knowing me it would remain on infinitely. The tiny windblown couple, who appear to be from an amalgamation of the 1940’s, would be less seasonally specific, if forever caught in a very single moment in time.

Even if it remains as our sole iconic New York architectural tribute here at Deitch Studio I don’t think I could have picked a better one. I have long favored the Flat Iron building as one of the greatest buildings in New York and never pass it without a moment of passing admiration. It just barely slips into the 20th century, construction started in 1901 and it opened in ’02, and it has a foot in the old while managing to be a harbinger of the new, melding time and style in a way that so much of New York City does.