Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This morning I dug into pile of photos next to my desk and came across this one which I have absolutely no memory of purchasing – none whatsoever. It does happen, although rarely and more frequently with unframed snapshots where I might purchase a lot of several. It must have come from an IG sale as I can’t imagine how I would have stumbled across it on eBay. The photo is framed with the back sealed so no idea if there is information on the back. Strangely, there is no way to hang it on the back, nor a way to prop it up.
Clearly the antique toy car appealed to me and these two kids seem to agree as they look mighty pleased with themselves. Really, what kid, boy or girl, wouldn’t feel like they were at the top of the world with such an item? This car is a bit battle scarred, but that does not diminish how wonderful it must have been to be driving it. These kids are clearly sister and brother; they could even be fraternal twins.
Without seeing much of the yard I suspect that they had plenty of room to take her around in as well. (I saw a kid with an impressive motorized car in a high rise driveway on 86th Street recently and thought that it must be frustrating to have such limited opportunity to drive such a great item. Also, it really is the ability to be independent and to get away from adults – right?)
The paint on this car is faded and streaked, but the steering wheel sits up proudly and there is some sort of a windshield as well. We can only see the back of them but there are headlights on the front, a grill along the side (as sporty cars would have had at the time), these nice wheels and we can see the pedal mechanism underneath. The boy is sitting on the back and looking carefully it appears that there was some sort of area without a seat which might have enabled hauling small loads or perhaps a second rider.
These kids are in what appears to be a backyard, wooden frame house and a bushy bit of garden are behind them. Further back a wooden fence and more bushy grasses behind some cinderblock edging or in planters, hard to tell, but the yard looks like a good one to ride such a car in.
Locomotion is a prized thing for a kid. I was the proud owner of a pink and white two-wheeler with a chipper basket, but was somewhat hampered by living near busy streets my folks didn’t want me on. Our neighbors have a little boy, Eliot, who currently sports a scooter with wheels that light up as it goes. He and his dad were taking it for a spin in the hall on their way to the laundry room the other day and Kim and I paused to share our real admiration of it. Scooters abound in New York City right now – those you push with your foot and a motorized variety that I think was largely nixed for safety, but you still see them. Kids and adults alike use them, sometimes together.
The pandemic more or less coincided with the rise of the motorized bike here in New York City. These are largely employed by food delivery people and I read an article recently that there is a problem with them being stolen. Kim and I agree that they are pretty great and I think we’d both like a try at one, although since our bike years are far behind us and neither of us really drives perhaps better if it doesn’t happen.
As kids though, from tricycles, to two-wheelers, wagons, skateboards, scooters and all the rest we are fascinated with those things that allow us to go, fast or slow, to haul or coast. And if you were lucky enough to have a fine ride such as this you are mighty lucky and you knew it.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I bought this photo from an IG sale, probably several months back. Apologies to the vendor, but I have forgotten who exactly I purchased it from. It doesn’t look like a photo postcard, however it is. It was never mailed, but on the back, in pen, Julia Severson, is written in a clear hand. I assume one of these women is Julia. Perhaps she is the one holding a box camera – was there another photo taken that day of the woman and the dog?
Most of these photo purchases hail from sellers in the Midwest, but I have no idea where this was taken. The outfits are from the teens I think, a period of clothing I am especially fond of as both attractive and yet comfortable looking. These women wear hats for the sun (and also probably because women, like men at the time, generally did wear hats) and they have this lovely, fluffly canine companion who seems to be enjoying himself immensely. The edges of the image are a bit diffuse (an effect I am also enamored of) as is often the case with photos from these early simple cameras.
This photo looks like a glorious spring day and we are hungry for those right now and that was why I plucked it from the pile today. In this year, which has the unusual distinction of having been a very strange one for pretty much everyone, the promise of spring seems more alluring than ever. As we start to contemplate, quite literally, coming back out of our homes as the weather turns warm and vaccines are on the move throughout the country and the world, we are like larvae that has been crystallizing for a year too long now.
This past Thursday marked the one-year mark for many of us to have started working from home here in New York City, as the pandemic began to rage, quietly at first and then quickly rising to a roar. Our assumption that this would be an inconvenience of a few weeks at most – I had envisioned myself running back to the office as needed and really didn’t pack up very much – gave way to the reality of a city that rapidly emptied out creating an enduring silence, broken it seemed only by the litany of ambulance sirens day and night.
As it turns out I have only been to my office four times in the past year and one visit was just this week. And of course it was a year filled with myriad loss and fear for everyone.
As it happens this past Thursday was one of those rare March days with temperatures rising into the 70’s and it delivered a walloping dose of spring fever, which in my case came in the window as I did not have a chance to leave the apartment. It had an intoxicating effect nonetheless.
I sat on the couch by the window on the phone most of the day and while conducting business part of my brain was also roaming over memories of spring visits to the beach growing up – especially as a teenager, the first few warm days, no matter when they came, planted the seeds of allure for upcoming beach weather and that bell rang in my head. I have not thought about stretching out on a beach in a very long time indeed, but my brain was on a loop toying with the thought. Suddenly a former world of wearing spring dresses and shoes that are not sneakers seemed real again. A haircut (I had one last summer) seems like a good idea and a coffee outside with colleagues or friends is a real possibility – let’s make dates and kick up our heels and frolic!
Of course, as it is only March, snow and cold rain are on the way for the coming week, the temperature has already dropped back into the 40’s. The reality of managing the return to our hall and offices along with rules and process to keep everyone safe is daunting and the next bit of slog ahead is still very real.
However, the glimpse gave me hope for resilience, like spring itself. The season of renewal is almost upon us. Easter and Passover are on the horizon and chocolate bunnies and matzohs dot the stores – the food harbingers of early spring. An idea for a vegan matzoh ball soup is playing around in my head and memories of homemade matzoh brie make my mouth water.
Like many people I think, I learned a lot over the past year and I am still mulling over what lessons are likely to stick going forward. (I hit my four year anniversary at Jazz at Lincoln Center this week as well – remarkable!) I have recently seen several colleagues opt for dramatic changes in their lives, impacted by this year at home.
I know I was weary from travel and late nights at work when I plunked down on my couch with a laptop a year ago. I do know I don’t want to be that tired again – maybe the only thing I know for sure. I may not make it home to make dinner every night, but I want it to be more the rule than the exception. I want time to run in the morning before work. I want to go spend a week in New Jersey with my mom. Somehow I need to figure out how not to work during all my waking hours.
Meanwhile, I know I am better at my job and find I am flexible in ways I had not imagined before which gives me some confidence that there is a path to be found. My reluctance to leave the house is likely to return with the bad weather (sometimes March can’t get its lamb and lion thing straight it seems), and a daily subway commute and days in an office in a mask remains a hurdle. But like the daffodils and crocuses in the park which are starting to poke up, it seems like the urge to do it will return on schedule if I look for the signs and go with it.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I prefer to eschew political posts, especially at a time when I think we are all quite exhausted by the news, but one aspect I have embraced is the importance of voting. Back in November I posted about Kim and I waiting in line to vote and my general nerdiness on the subject (that post can be found here), and the right to vote for all and in particular woman’s suffrage, has long been of interest to me. The long, painful and often bloody fight for the vote means it was acquired at great cost by our forebearers. At the very least we should exercise the right, even when we feel disenfranchised or like our choices are poor ones.
One of my long-standing favorite posts was devoted to Sylvia Pankhurst (a fascinating woman – a recent new biography was just published on her) who I first I stumbled across because she started an East London factory to employ indigent woman and what do you think they produced? Felix the cat toys! (That post can be found here.)
Meanwhile, this black cat was listed in a Hake’s auction. In addition to toys, Hake’s always has absolutely fascinating political items in their larger sales which are fascinating to look through. The arrival of the Hake’s catalogue is always a cause for some joy in this house and I like to curl up with it in bed, showing Kim the highlights as I work my way through. (There is an earlier post where I sing the praises of the Hake’s catalogue and it can be found here.) My kitty has a small chip on the back, some paint wear like on his ears, and the e! has either worn or was never fully painted.
Suffrage items are popular and generally sell for a premium, but this little guy must have slipped through most folks notice and I managed to acquire him, barely contested. The listing had almost no information and I took this for a piece from the American suffrage movement, although research now shows that it was likely marketed in Great Britain. It has an opening at the back, quite small, and has been listed as a vase as a result. If you want one and aren’t as lucky as I was, it would seem you can acquire one, but at a significant price.
This kitty is a German made item, from a company called Schafer & Vater (1890-1962), although unmarked. It is unquestionably in the style and identified as such by many sources. Schafer & Vater specialized in comical hard ceramic and ceramic paste items and made a few variations on these suffrage items.
Of course some of my curiosity was around why a cat or black cat to represent the cause. One site explains that there were anti-suffrage advertisements promoting the idea that if women got the vote their husbands would be stuck doing housework and with the family cat. Or that women were too delicate – kittenish. In response the women’s movement adopted the black cat as a symbol. (Incidentally, the British don’t seem to have this wonkiness about black cats being unlucky – in fact they seem to embrace them as being good luck!)
In this country, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke undertook a five-month drive across the country with their black kitten Saxon to promote the vote for women. Shown below, Saxon sadly not in view.
Posters proliferated with cat images. I especially like one very much in the style of Louis Wain below, by an artist named Ellam Down. He seemed to have a line of anthropomorphic animal postcards, but may be best known for this one today. I may have to research him a bit more – perhaps a future post?
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little object came across my path on eBay and I snatched it up. Corkscrews have become a popular collectible and I was afraid I might face some stiff competition. I was lucky that it didn’t appeal to the collectors and I acquired him unchallenged.
There’s something perfectly appealing about this kitty and his corkscrew tail, sticking up in the air. This little fellow (or gal) sports a big bow, an arched back and a slightly wide-eyed expression. He (or she – despite the big bow I’m feeling he I think though), has nice heft and stands well on his own. He is easier to hold and better designed (and to pull on) than you might think, although I find this kind of minimal opener requires a sort of brute strength I don’t have and ultimately leads to bits of cork floating in my wine. Therefore, despite being quite sturdy, this fellow is officially retired from the work of cork removal as far as I am concerned. I am eyeing a cabinet which I think he will be quite at home in.
As someone who both waitressed and cooked professionally I became committed early on to a very specific device to removing corks from wine bottles. One of the most useful life skills (aside from extraordinary patience) that waitressing provided me with was the most fail safe methods of opening wine and champagne.
One summer during college I worked in a high end French restaurant (which despite being called Harry’s Lobster House, had quite a reputation for its French seafood cuisine), and this was where I believe I was introduced to this style opener. (I was also given instruction in the careful opening of champagne table side – slowly and wrapped in a towel – so that it would of course pop! but with no spillage.)
For the most part I was a pretty lousy waitress. Friendliness was the best skill I brought to it (in addition to the aforementioned patience), which bought me a fair amount of forgiveness with the customers. Frankly though this made me better suited for working behind a counter, making sandwiches and serving coffee as I had the summer before,
I can still remember how befuddled I was by the specific names of the liquors when people ordered drinks – this was a high-end restaurant and Sea Bright in summer was a drinking beach town. I wasn’t familiar with top shelf alcohol brands and was decidedly unsophisticated in this regard. (Mom and Dad certainly had liquor in the house, but they were fairly mundane in their imbibing.) I did my best to write the order exactly, phonetically when needed, on my pad and report them faithfully to the bartender who, although nice enough really, in retrospect must have thought I was an idiot. Mom tells stories of working her way through college waitressing and it doesn’t seem to be a gene I inherited. (Incidentally Mom was also a record breaking long jumper in high school and a runner – these days while learning to run I often reflect on not having those genes either.)
To be clear, a superior corkscrew to me is a bit like the better mousetrap – you can try to make one, but the bar is high. It is a perfection of a certain kind of ingenuity and design. One should not tamper lightly with success.
Anyway, I have been using the same corkscrew since cooking school, mine came with an assigned kit of knives and implements. It has a red nail polish dot that I assigned to all my stuff so I could easily identify them quickly in a crowded kitchen. If you’ve never used one, you quite simply screw it in and then use the other, short, protrusion for leverage at the lip of the bottle and pull the handle – and voila! Bottle opened. Neat and tidy.
Growing up, the largely preferred bottle opener was the one below. I have a fairly good success rate with these as well, although clearly you can’t carry them around and use them as a waitress or cook. (The other folds nicely and lived in my pocket daily, handy for when needed.) This model has a bit less control than my preferred model (I’ve had more corks fall apart with these than the others), but I think one of these still also rattles around in my kitchen drawer. (Because of my former life as a cook, long ago though now that it is, there are some amazing things in that drawer that are rarely if ever used – things to make melon balls, pie crimpers to name a few. My zester recently came back into favor and my olive/cherry pitter lives there and is a much beloved item.)
Given all of this knowledge, opinion and lore, you would think that I would have successfully imparted this bottle opener knowledge successfully to my family at large. However, for some reason, my father became enamored of every possible variation of bottle opener to be found. He bought them in stores, at garage sales and they represented every conceivable variation on this theme. Some were quite absurd. Many were heavy and complex. Despite my protestations he would deliver them cheerfully to me as well. The fact is they almost never worked as well as my simple device – although in general I will grant you that they were more colorful and interesting, at least in theory.
Dad broke another rule of bottle opening and one evening opened a bottle of champagne which exploded in his hand, top breaking off, and cutting him badly enough that he had to trek to the emergency room for stitches. He did adopt my wrapped bottle technique after that.
For all of this, you would think we are popping a whole lot of corks over here at Deitch Studio, but mostly we do not. Kim doesn’t drink and I am currently on a diet. Until earlier this week at a belated birthday dinner (which as my IG followers know was eaten outside under a heater and was actually quite lovely, pulling at the memory strings of what eating out used to be) when I broke down and had a glass of wine; I had not had a drink since December, maybe November. (The alcohol calories don’t make sense for me when I am counting them carefully. I always like to say that being on a diet is not so much fun that I want it to go on any longer than necessary so I try to be extremely focused and swift!)
I do cook with wine (or vermouth – although that’s a screw top) and there’s usually a bottle of something around for that. Pre-diet I enjoyed an occasional glass of wine or Prosecco with dinner – I like an occasional ice cold vodka tonic with lots of lime in summer. However, I am not and will never be knowledgeable about wine beyond what I like and what I don’t. Red wine triggers migraines which eliminates me largely from the erudite pursuit of wine. Nevertheless, when needed I know exactly how I am going to open that bottle.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you not reading this in real time (or who missed yesterday’s post which can be found here) I covered the four Radio Girls novels which were subsequently served up as Campfire Girls novels, sweeping them into a decades long series of books which has its start in the early teens of the 20th century. The organization was founded in 1910, born out of camps in Maine and Vermont and in response to the Boy Scouts – realizing it seems the need for a nondenominational organization for girls.
The early volumes that I have read appear to take place in a somewhat nebulous part of upstate New York or New Hampshire. Girls schools seem to play a role in them and these must have proliferated in a way I wasn’t much aware of, boarding schools for middle and upper middle class girls which were a mix of academics and things like sewing and music.
Wohelo is the Camp Fire Girl pledge (short for Work, Health, Love) and serves many purposes in the novels. People shouted it in the woods when lost or searching for someone (this happens a lot in these novels) or someone might use it somewhat slyly to let another girl know you too were a member. There are songs and poems attached to it and I gather an award that the group gives at the highest level as well. As far as I can tell from the books the group was heavy on all of the above as part of their ceremonies.
There are a few warnings from the start that I should probably post on these early editions. A profound but casual sort of racism exists throughout and, despite being a movement which in a sense promoted independence for women, a young women’s goals were still largely tied out to what kind of wife she would ultimately make. I can only say that these are products of their time. I am not sure I would promote them universally without caveat to young girls today.
I myself made a lousy Girl Scout – which is what we had locally in New Jersey. Camp Fire Girls was an exotic other which was not an option. I entered a Brownie Troop because I was expected to, as did my friends. I fretted about memorizing the damn chants they made you repeat (why always with the chanting? seems creepy now) wore a little brown dress, always somewhat ill fitting, and beanie dutifully to school on the designated day.
By the time I graduated to Juniors, I was even less enamored. We never seemed to get to the more interesting things in the guidebook like how to build a fire. And even then I was drawn to the early uniforms which were still available although they were in the process of morphing into bad 70’s remakes, my preference for vintage clothing rearing its head early. I liked the sash and the embroidered badges fascinated. My mother, who had made it up into Cadets during her own high school career, had been talked into be a troop leader for a small group at that elevated level and she told me that I was going to be in Girl Scouts if she was and I accepted my fate.
My friends remained in it as well and my specific memories of those middling years were that we did go to camp once – no idea where in the wilds of New Jersey. I used a sleeping bag my sister had acquired for something and had become what we used for sleepovers. It was an army green-brown and the inside was a print flannel – maybe fishing scenes? It was my sole experience of a sleeping bag until I crawled into a down version in Tibet decades later – far superior. My only real memory of camping was that it was much harder to make pancakes outside over a fire than at home and I was bad with a compass. We learned about Indian sand painting and this must have made an impression because it was brought back to me in detail when watching Buddhist monks performed a sand mandala ritual which seemed remarkably similar.
Other than that clutch of memories I know we met first in an ancient wooden building in town which was called Bingham Hall. It was probably built as a church originally and must have been used for other things, but I’m not sure I was ever much in it for another purpose. It was a single room building with a small stage and no other permanent features like chairs or pews. Later we met in a church basement and that introduced me to the smell of church basements (I come from a non-religious family and this was my only early introduction to churches at all) and that smell of cleaning fluid, paper and something else, that brings those meetings to mind immediately. As you can see, the Girl Scouts didn’t contribute much to my moral fiber or overall improvement.
Nonetheless, the dawn of the 20th century was a different time and the idea of encouraging young girls to learn the skills needed to camp and to survive outside were downright controversial. It is years before women get the right to vote and even the need for more than a nominal education was a matter of debate. Very wealthy families had been sending their teenage daughters to European finishing schools and those existed in this country too. Colleges like Barnard (founded in 1889) and my own alma mater Connecticut College (founded in 1911) were somewhat experimental and controversial. One of the things that appealed to me about Connecticut College was its roots as an early women’s school which appeared to be born out of the Arts and Crafts movement and where wealthy families once sent their more creative offspring for secondary education.
In the first few books of the Camp Fire Girls series (as far as I can figure out the order) Ethel Hollister is the protagonist whose family pretends greater wealth than they have so she can make a good marriage match. Belonging to the Camp Fire Girls shows her another path which ultimately leads her leaving her finishing school and instead enrolling at Barnard – ensuring that she can make a living on her own – or ultimately help to support her husband as she states. Her going to college is part of the controversy making up the plot of these books and it was considered odd of her which causes some of her former friends to snub her. The series of four novels ends with most of the young women engaged or married.
There is an air of this around the early Campfire Girls and the Arts and Crafts movement seems to define its aesthetic as well as its roots in promoting the individual. In a volume from 1912 when a “camp home” is described it is in full blown Arts and Crafts style. It is therefore a bit frustrating when these independent young women drive home the point that these skills will ultimately make them better wives. This seems absurd today but is probably an important link in how women did gain their independence. These books are full of the fire of the converted however and in that sense it was a real movement.
The book series is odd in that, unlike the Stratemeyer Syndicate series I am familiar with main characters come and go. You get a few volumes devoted to a group of characters and then a new writer and new characters are introduced for the next few volumes. (Thus far all have been available on Google Play Books or other e-book sources and so far I do not own any of the actual volumes. They appear to be fairly available at low prices online from what I have seen however.) The underlying concept is very similar however and these volumes hew closely to laying out the tenants and driving home the concepts of the organization. These books are very much tools to bring new recruits to the ranks.
Now let me just say, the Camp Fire Girls had really cool stuff. It is described so lovingly in the volumes that I began looking it up immediately and they would have sold me on the splendid outfits and jewelry alone. What young girl wouldn’t be enamored of the silver ring symbolizing their entry point as wood gatherers? Shown above in its Arts and Crafts design glory, these are available in abundance online, showing how many women had them and kept them over time. A silver bracelet was to follow shortly as they became fire makers. I am saving that, the rather extraordinary outfits and some period photos for my next post devoted to this subject.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stumbled on the four Radio Girl novels advertised in the back of a Ruth Fielding novel which must have been a reprint as these were published in the 1920’s and that volume dated from 1915. (You will find my brief survey of Ruth Fielding in a post here.) Just a note that all four books are available on ebooks – I believe I read them all on Google Play rather than Project Gutenberg.
Although this clutch of novels was later repackaged with the Campfire Girls novels, they are more of the breed of The Automobile Girls or The Moving Picture Girls, (my prior post on those can be found here) than what turn out to be rather distinct novels devoted to the Campfire Girls and that real world movement which was picking up speed at the beginning of the twentieth century. (It should be noted that it is spelled both as one word Campfire and two, Camp Fire, at various times. Without really being able to lock it down I would hazard to say that the one word spelling is the earlier spelling. The contemporary organization uses two words.) While all belong to what I think of as the plucky young girl genre, the idea of exploiting the new inventions of the times – the new world opening up with the advent of the automobile, films and also radio – is the jumping off point for each of these.
As I have written about previously, the thrill of a changing (modernizing one if you will) world is at the center of each of these – and the evolving role of young women, emerging from their teen years pretty much at the same time as the century itself. It reminds us that society evolved slowly and these novels go to some pains to show that these are nice and average girls, in this series they are fairly affluent. (Unlike Ruth Fielding and some other plucky young dames who are of the poor and/or orphaned variety.)
I deeply regret that the Radio Girls series is only the four volumes because I liked the characters and the writing, as well as finding the topic endearing. These novels were published in the early 1920’s although the dates when penned are hard to figure out since the first three volumes all have publication dates of 1922, the last volume 1924 – I deeply suspect that at least the first three volumes, or even all four – were produced all at once like a long book. These were written under the pen name of Margaret Penrose, a Stratemeyer Syndicate nom de plume for a number of authors writing under a single name. I cannot find further information about who actually wrote them although they do seem to have all been written by the same unidentified person.
While it may sound surprising to say, these are chocked full of the thrill and excitement of radio as it was dawning. It amazes me how much mileage the author gets out of it. Most charming for me is where Jessie and Amy (our protagonists) speculate on what the future might look like – a world with radios and telephones you carry around with you – television! (I could not help but wonder what they would have made of the iPad I was reading the book on in bed that evening.) They reflect on the radio’s place in a world that was still reeling from the establishment of the telegraph and telephone not all that long before. Telephones and radios were just being adopted by middle class American families and were still indeed novel.
At the heart of the plot of each is a mystery of sorts – kidnapped girls, raising needed funds for a worthy cause, or perhaps alternatively being stranded on the water, an island or on a sinking boat and the radio helps save the day! It is worth noting that the author goes to great pains to make Jessie and Amy, but especially Jessie, the master of all things radio, where she outshines both her college aged brother and his friends.
Jessie’s mother, Momsey, tends to fret a bit about the radio – however it does seems that there was the very real possibility of the set-ups attracting lightening strikes so she wasn’t exactly foolish in her fears. (It comes to pass in one of the volumes where a fire is started in a house via lightening strike and an open circuit on a radio set-up.) Meanwhile, Jessie eschews purchasing a kit for her radio and uses instructions (from a magazine I believe) to set up her rig – which includes climbing a tree and out a window in front of their large home, in order to string the wires. In the end, both mother and father are in full support of the endeavor. Once an acoustical horn is acquired for the radio (at first each person had to wear headphones) the whole family and their guests endeavor to listen ongoing – even a ticketed demonstration for the community to raise funds for a hospital project takes place in the first book.
In a later volume the young girls get to perform on the radio too and we get a glimpse of the mix of the behind-the-scenes performers, professional and amateur vying for radio time. Kim turned me onto some of the radio magazines that existed at the time, ones that seem to mix the upgrades in equipment and mechanics with the emerging star power of the day – sort of a film star magazine for radio. These are very appealing and I may pick up a few on eBay and wander through them.
How the Radio Girls are repackaged as Campfire Girls and the republication schedule of these is a bit of a mystery to me – the original copyright is on the volumes I read. I see some evidence that maybe the subsequent publication was issued in the 1930’s. Each was originally published with the double name title convention such as, The Radio Girls on Station Island or The Wireless from Steam Yacht. Campfire Girls replaces Radio Girls in the titles and they are repackaged and presumably sent out again to another generation of young readers by the new publisher. I can only imagine that they must have been somewhat confusing to girls who were expecting not just plucky heroines, but some actual reference to the Campfire Girls – those novels are chocked full of Campfire Girl lore.
While a tad resentful at first that my Radio Girls were subsumed into another entity, I gathered a few early volumes of the Camp Fire Girls on my iPad. I hope to eventually see if the original characters and story lines of the Radio Girls were picked up – they do not appear to be. However, the very different charm of those lured me in and in a subsequent post I will write about the first volumes I have tackled in that very long and interesting series, the genesis of the series which predates the Radio Girls with the earliest volumes coming out around 1912. As I like to start at the beginning of things I am still in the early volumes published before 1920, so more to discover and come on that.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: As is sometimes the case, a birthday post has been nudged forward by the great Deitch Valentine reveal. My birthday comes right before that holiday and has a way of getting mashed up with it. As Pictorama readers know, my idea of a birthday celebration in the before time was for Kim and I to spend the day poking around an antique toy store here in Manhattan, and checking in at a few places I would happily classify as junk stores and then grabbing lunch. (Past birthday posts can be found here and here and always resulted in a pleasant acquisition of stuff.) Covid times do not allow for that and I wonder what merchants of that kind will still be with us when we get to the other side, as well as restaurants.
Kim gave me this rather splendid ancient Halloween toy which I found at auction and is the first of its kind to enter my collection. His head is paper mache and his body is a woolly felt. His red ruff is a bit of silk and he is perched on a wooden handle. He can be moved gently like a puppet and I think he would have been a jolly addition for a child celebrating the holiday and is the right size for that. Unwrapping it in the morning, along with some birthday cards (yes, I still send them via the mail and receive a few in turn) launched the day nicely.
I was born in a snow storm. My mom often tells the story of her decision to go to the hospital as soon as she sensed it might be the day and having a look at the weather forecast. (We Wheeling women are planners!) It was a good decision because the snow piled up rapidly and by the time I was born in the late afternoon, the New Jersey town of her own birth and where they were staying with her parents, was under a deep blanket of snow.
My father brought her a large box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. (Dad always brought us boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day – Whitman Samplers and puffy heart shaped boxes of Russell Stover ones.) As the story goes, the long-standing family doc visited her in the evening (he had not delivered me, an obstetrician had) and sat on the edge of her bed and ate his way through the entire box of chocolates! Much to my father’s surprise when he showed up, the empty box remained and he gave his wife a sideways look (it would have been quite an accomplishment after giving birth only hours before) until she realized and let him in on the demise of the candy.
Having a mid-February birthday has meant a regular routine of canceled or rescheduled plans over the decades. I won’t say there is snow on the ground for everyone of my birthdays, but several major snowstorms stick out in my mind including one where I stubbornly went down to the East Village to meet someone and incredibly found myself in drifts of unshoveled snow waist deep. A few years later, there was a weekend trip with a then boyfriend that sadly had to be canceled, but instead he booked us into a wonderful old-fashioned hotel in midtown where we watched the snow pile up around us.
To be honest, I find birthdays a bit overwhelming. When I turned 21 I decided to take matters in my own hands; I invited a friend to join me and I concocted a worthy day of celebration. Once I had a job, my sister insisted that I take the day off from work and to reinforce the idea Loren also took the day and we spent it together a few times. The first time we visited the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (it was endearing to me that she went despite the fact that later I found out that they actually freaked her out) and had lunch together. Loren also had the habit of calling me at the crack of dawn on my birthday, stating that she wished to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday. (A good friend of hers keeps the practice via text and email rather than phone at 5:30 or 6:00 – although the day at Deitch Studio is already well underway by then these days.) I still miss it every birthday.
Many years ago I founded the practice of a series of dinners with friends and colleagues who also had February birthdays throughout the month, a birthday club of sort that embraced people from all aspects of my life. Sadly in recent years it has whittled down to just a few (fellow Aquarians, feel free to speak up!) and of course this year bringing all more or less to a halt. Covid combined with piles of snow! Still, I look forward to catching up with those folks annually and have the space to just relax and check in with each other.
Somehow even my game of pretending outdoor eating is like being on an Arctic expedition couldn’t meet the challenge of the weather for outdoor dining this year. (My last outdoor meal was at the end of December and there was snow piled on the ground already. We sat under heaters and were offered blankets sealed in bags. My layers and boots combined with the consumption of a hot toddy and hot soup kept it festive for a bit more than an hour before we decided we were done.) My birthday week the restaurants were largely in agreement with me and weren’t even trying as they dug out from what the snow plows dumped in their al fresco dining areas. I think I will bring my own polar fleece blanket if I tried again before spring.
This year I did however take the day off from work and despite being home I really came as close as I have since last March to unplugging. My office was very thoughtful and flowers arrived from one faction and a lovely bag of cheese and treats from another. I purchased a new chair for work as I have been perching on a very worn one sans arms and my back has been in violent protest. (My trainer, Harris Cowan, told me that no arms on the chair was a big no no as he tried to get me to stretch my way out of the lower back pain.) While I had intended to buy it for myself for my birthday my mother stepped in and made it a birthday gift from her. Several days prior to my birthday it arrived and Kim and I put it together which, while challenging, we managed handily.
I deeply suspect that buying a desk chair is a bit like buying a new mattress – it can be a very expensive mistake and it is hard on the face of it to judge how spending hours in it is really going to work out. Going to office supply stores to try them out seemed out of the question under the circumstances, nor do I think you can really tell what it will be like to sit in something for hours on end by just sitting down in it. It is a decision you are going to live with and therefore somewhat intimidating to make. I researched them online (there were none without complaints, but I decided on which things I thought I could live with if true), decided on a medium sort of price range (they quickly go from inexpensive to more than a thousand dollars), and picked one. Sadly, I was told about four days later that the chosen one was no longer in stock and I went with my second choice.
Although I am still adjusting things around it (table height of the drafting table I use as a desk still isn’t right) it was a fine choice. The cats fight me for it daily in fact (they adore it) and as I write this at our “big” computer (I work on a laptop during the week) Cookie is curled up in it. She has been asleep in it since last night and she has one eye half open staring at me wondering if I am going to take it away from her. She and Blackie go to war over it almost daily – war hoops and boxing over the right to claim it. In general I would say Cookie has the edge in the amount of time she spends in it – she is very determined. When shutout Blackie goes back to sleeping on the bed, Cookie often to the chair I am sitting in now – which used to be the chair of cat choice. When Cookie and Blackie allow, I sit in it for upwards of ten hours a day and I am very glad for the arms in particular – especially when work requires I be on camera for long periods of time.
In the spirit of birthday, I also purchased myself the pin below. Last year I had purchased an old school medal which declared, Improvement in this very different year I bought this one with hearts from Great Britain which instead offers Best Wishes. (This purchased from an Instagram seller I am very fond of following, @fiorisfinds. Hey Marco! Thank you!) Nice to give myself encouragement where I can.
I have not resigned myself to the idea that I won’t still figure out a birthday meal of sorts with at least one determined friend, and perhaps at least a call or a Zoom call with another. A few of the elderly ones will have to suffice with cards and emails this year. When the weather warms up even a smidge I will see if Kim and I can’t get out of the apartment for a day in another part of town – everything outside of the immediate environs of Yorkville feels exotic these days. And when we do, I promise to tell you all about it.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Buckle up for a very, very Felix day. For new readers a chance to catch up on part of my collection dedicated to the early representations of the famous animated cat and for dedicated readers some highlights of the past along the way.
I don’t think it would surprise long-standing Pictorama readers when I state that I look at a lot of Felix items and generally have a sense of what is available. Therefore when I come across something I have never seen before I’m pretty sure it is indeed unusual indeed. If I am unable to acquire it I more or less assume I will likely never see it again – we do find there are exceptions. However, it was in this spirit that I must have broken my own rule (one that I generally only write about objects and photos in my own collection), when I wrote a post on a Felix handkerchief that I lost at auction back in November of 2018. (They are shown in a slide show below – these are sadly of course not in my collection.)
I paired the post with another on some handkerchiefs that belonged to my Dad which I carry in my purse, or did in the before time when I carried a handbag daily. (Those two kerchief dedicated posts can be found here and here. Strangely my forays outside, limited that they are, seem to mostly take place with a credit card tucked in the back of my phone now, unless I am required to provide my own shopping bags at the store. No one seems to want cash these days.)
Therefore, much to my surprise, I was able to score this single, but rather wonderful item which I share with you today. Unlike the frolicking, mouse chasing Felix in the earlier post, my hanky shows Felix deep in thought, doing his famous Felix walk. What I think of as Felix’s I’m thinking walk, has its origin in the earliest Felix silent cartoons and was his signature pose -for some reason I always think of Einstein when I see it. Felix knew how to strike a pose and there is also a sort of Ah ha! pose that frequently follows the walking and thinking. (And of course there are the wonderful things he does by disengaging his tail and using it for various purposes. We’ll perhaps discuss that another time given the opportunity.)
The then very popular phrase Felix Kept on Walking has its roots in this famed animated walk. (Although it also came to have a slightly racier meaning – as depicted on the plate below.) The Felix walk was celebrated in song, sheet music, song of the same name is shown below, but also in pins and other ephemera in the early collectible period. (An instrumental version of the tune can be found here, but in some ways for the full experience of the novelty tune you need the vocals which can be heard here. Or you can just chuckle over the lyrics here.) Some of the stuffed dolls from the 1920’s have Felix with a hump on his back and I have wondered if somehow it didn’t tie out to the bent over walk in deep thought, hands behind his back.
Kim believes Buster Keaton satirized a few minutes of the Felix walk in Go West, 1925. An animated Charlie Chaplin, who obviously had his own trademark walk, does the Felix walk in the rather splendid Felix cartoon, Felix Goes to Hollywood. (It can be found on Youtube here. All these external links only good at the time of writing – they tend to come and go, especially the Youtube ones.) The Felix walk was known by all, a popular culture icon of the day. And, despite numerous redesigns over the decades, some remnant of the deep in thought walk stays with Felix right on up to the newer cartoons I watched as a child in the 1960’s.
The handkerchief I acquired is small as seen here, definitely child-sized, and not quite as white as the image appeared in the photo provided. No matter about the condition of course and what to expect of such a fragile item which is rounding 100 years in existence. Hard to imagine a time when small children were encouraged to carry a hanky – and perhaps the lure of Felix helped keep them from losing it? I especially like the thought marks emanating from his head.
This handkerchief, like so many other fascinating early Felix items, hails from Britain. The embroidery is fairly small and concise. I don’t know much about embroidery but my guess is that it is hand done, but probably by an adult. Although I have not seen the evidence, I assume there were some sort of kit or template you could acquire. I wrote about an embroidered apron, also lost at auction, which must have similar root. The Felix apron post can be found here, also a 2018 post. It was called Breaking the Rules and I would be perfectly happy to have another shot at purchasing it too!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: At a quick count this is the seventh Valentine reveal we’ve had here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama. The actual tradition of Kim making me Valentines goes back to the first year Kim and I were together though and this November we round the two decade mark.
Of course, like many folks, we’ve spent the past year knitted tightly together in our one room, with our two kitties, Blackie and Cookie. My days are punctuated by doing the small stuff, like fighting the cats for my desk chair (Cookie is sound asleep in it right now, I swear she’s smiling), or making us grilled cheese with jalapeno peppers for lunch. Somehow talking about our home life always comes back to food for me and my at home days have given birth to a revived interest in cooking – necessary and nurturing, it is at the heart of home.
My newly persistent home life means two distinct meals a day here – breakfast happens on our own (I myself am partial to yogurt and berries and the occasional sumo orange, Kim is on an avocado toast kick at the moment), but now lunch and dinner are more proper meals. Sometimes lunch is a bit of a pick up of leftovers, soup or a large salad, and sadly I have been known to eat mine while on a call or Zoom meeting. But more often than not is is taking a break and sitting down together at least briefly and consuming something nutritious. (I think back to many years ago in cooking school when a French chef-instructor, Guy, saw me eating standing up and he found me a chair and then lectured me on the importance of taking the time to appreciate the food and to focus on eating it. Very sweet and oh so very French!)
Dinner is really a proper homemade meal now with a couple of veggies and a protein. As some of you know, I passed through a baking phase early in the pandemic, recreating some of my grandmother’s recipes and finding some of my own. (A few of those posts along with quarantine life musings can be found here and here. Oh, cheesy olive bread!) I have moved into soups as part of my part two pandemic diet. These are hearty affairs which are closer to stews and are the centerpiece of the meal. Some recent recipes and thoughts on my confinement cooking can be found here and here. (Keep a weather eye peeled if you are a fan of the food posts, I’m currently dreaming up a vegetarian version of matzoh ball soup and my paternal grandmother’s split pea and veggie soup.)
Post-bookcase installation and re-arrangement of our apartment, my desk (an old and not especially beautiful drawing table that a friend was throwing out many years ago and has somehow stuck with me) is now placed about three feet from Kim’s large, wooden table he uses as a desk. (This table was acquired by us at the 26th Street flea market in the early years of living in this apartment. It was newly made and is substantial, although now one leg has been scratched on a bit by Blackie and it has its wonkinesses and weaknesses around the drawers too. I remember being somewhat amazed that we were making such a big purchase – what if we measured wrong? What if it didn’t hold up?)
As a result of our newfound proximity, Kim knows every aspect of my work life, fundraising for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and I hazard that he could easily take over for a day if pressed into service – repeating phrases and numbers he hears again and again. He knows the exact percentage we are at in our annual income budget and rejoices with me when the percentage point creeps up a notch or two. I sometimes consider if he ever really wondered what I did at work all day, as he himself has never worked in an office such as mine, but man, he sure does know about it now.
When I look at last year’s Valentine, memories of last year’s life (in the before time) come rushing back. The fantasy of a Felix-filled cottage at the British seaside, like the locale of many of my posing with Felix photos. It is a reminder of how much change a year can bring and we have certainly all seen it in a variety of ways. I was in the midst of hectic domestic travel to some very snowy locations and I was exhausted from it and frankly welcomed the time at home. Of course, it begs the question of where we will all be when this time rolls around next year and we are presumably in what I call, the after time. I am sure many of you are thinking along the same lines.
This year’s card focuses in on my domain – our 600 square feet we call home and office. I get to sport a sort of semi-animated Felix necklace (Kim has a way of inventing bits and outfits I would love to own), but otherwise the players are (almost) all denizens of our tiny corner of the world. Cookie and Blackie are there, of course. Giant Mickey Mouse (a huge Dean’s Rag Doll display who inhabits the space near the bottom of our bed) waves his arms.
A line-up of a few of my favorite Aesop Fable dolls, along with a rather excellent Bugs Bunny I purchased randomly on eBay making an appearance. They are lined up behind Kim on his desk, in front of the ever-growing stack of finished pages of art that resides on his desk. A tiny Dean’s Mickey (Minnie really) Jazzer fills out the group on the desk. (They were designed to sit on the arm of your record player – yep, there’s a lot to absorb in that sentence and probably a bad idea for the records, which would have been 78’s at the time.) Kim is like the master of ceremonies – he has gathered the group to pay tribute!
Meanwhile, Waldo is there and he is checking out Felix’s girlfriend, and while she is a creation of Kim’s mind, the Felix is not. He is a splendid, sizable example I purchased at auction because, although I have other somewhat similar examples, I couldn’t resist the bargain he was. (Of course, I have never regretted the purchase.)
What can such a fortunate girl say? I’m very pleased to be at the heart of this particular kingdom. Although not always absolutely peaceable, there is nowhere I would rather be. I hope to reign here, benignly of course, for many years to come.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tomorrow we will have our annual Deitch Studio Valentine reveal (one of the highlights of the Pictorama and Deitch Studio year – if you are new to Pictorama or just need to see a Kim Deitch Valentine right now, last year’s can be found here), but today we are back to a Felix photos. This 8″x10″ came to me via @missmollysantiques on Instagram (a fascinating source for things Halloween and exotica from our nation’s great Midwest), and although it was a rollicking good Halloween photo, I didn’t see the Felix at first.
This interior from the early decades of the 20th century is homey and nice. The window dressings form their own patterns in the background, and the piano on one side and mantel on the other frame the group nicely. There is no carpet on the floor, it is shining wood beneath the bent knees of one of the young Indians, but perhaps it has been rolled up and put aside for this shindig. It is hard to imagine that this well-appointed room didn’t have a carpet most days.
These folks have embraced the costume spirit with a fair amount of enthusiasm. If I was the judge for Best Costume I would likely hover around the gypsy fortune teller (second row, second from the left, holding a tambourine, sassy sash at her hips), or perhaps the clown in the back corner behind the piano – but I am a sucker for a period clown costume and her pointed hat has a nice Halloween pumpkin and black cat. (You can find an earlier rather splendid similar Halloween clown in the snow photo post here. It heralds from the same Midwestern source. Those folks really knew how to celebrate Halloween.)
The men have largely, although not entirely uniformly, embraced cross dressing as their fancy dress and I count four of those here. Others seem to have adopted funny suit clothes without a self-evident definition – comical hats and ties largely. One fellow got into the spirit fully and is in a sort of jester costume, although he looks a tad unhappy, sad jester – he holds something in his hands I can’t make out. Maybe being next to the flashy gypsy à la flapper has him put out.
If you look closely at the back row you spot several men and one elderly woman who are not in costume, tucked in among the more colorful celebrants. Dad and Mom as I think of them, are wedged between a straw hatted and bespectacled (not to mention jaunty) fellow striking a pose on the end and a well-dressed younger woman who may or may not be in costume. Dad is clad in vest and tie, mom with her hair up, eyes downcast, but wearing some lovely long beads, dressed up if not in costume.
Two other younger men who don’t appear to be in fancy dress are to the back. One with a loosened tie behind Dad and the other in a plaid flannel shirt is on the other end. Flannel shirt guy is taller than everyone else and good looking. Perhaps he is in costume but my guess is no. Meanwhile, he looks a bit grim at the prospect of this photo.
On the floor we have our small fry representing a sort of jester, the aforementioned Indian (feathers in her headdress vaguely askew), and a third little girl whose costume, if she is wearing one, is indistinct. She may be sporting something on her head that I can’t quite make out. It’s easy to imagine them running around wildly before and after this shot. I can almost, but not quite, assign them as siblings or offspring of the older generations in the photo. (Does our Indian look a bit like Dad? Does the jester look a bit look a little like the heavy set man with the huge, flowing tie in the middle row?)
Meanwhile, if you haven’t found him yet, Felix takes the form of a posable toy, likely of the Schoenhut variety held in the hand of the woman to the far right, perched on the piano. Although she is in party dress, she does not appear to be in costume either and perhaps grabbing Felix was her attempt to be more festive. Perhaps after this photo she sat down at that piano and started to bang out some tunes, apples were bobbed and the party got underway.