Hand-some

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: While this blog is aptly named Pam’s Pictorama it is never jollier here at Pictorama than the days I get to post about a new toy. As I have repeatedly reminded my ongoing readership, this apartment is small and to some degree I try to minimize acquisition so we aren’t crushed by actual mountains of objects and books (albeit really cool stuff) like the proverbial Collier Brothers. Having said that, realistically, thrilling three dimensional objects like this puppet, are added judiciously to the Pictorama collection ongoing.

This is the second puppet to join my collection. The first was featured in an early post, Handy Felix. The new puppet is larger and clearly produced by an entirely different maker, the earlier one possibly a product of the East London Toy Factory, Ltd., a post that has garnered much interest. However, like virtually every single toy I own he is without label or marking of any kind.

I have no idea of this fellow hails from Great Britain or the United States (or elsewhere I suppose). There is something about his appearance that makes me think that he was made in the United States, but it has been pointed out that occasionally I apply a certain amount of imagination to my figuring on these issues.

Unlike the other puppet, this one was not an uncontested find, but neither did I pay a really substantial amount for him. (No, really!) He fell strictly into the category of never having seen it before and better snatch it up while and if I can. As it the case with my other puppet, this fellow is well worn and much loved, his insides a bit of an aging mess which makes me reluctant to speculate on his former usability. His days of puppet shows are largely over, and he will live in comfortable retirement on my shelf, a cohort of two for now.

I do not remember having or playing with puppets as a child, nor do I remember Loren or Edward having any. If I am wrong they have not remained in my memory, which is indeed faulty as are most. This does seem strange to me in retrospect – a fellow like this would have made quite a companion for a small Pam child, toy collector to be. Perhaps the puppets of the 1960’s and early ’70’s were just not up to the job.

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All in the Family, cont.

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Continuing the family theme from yesterday, I have one of those photos that just got better and better for me the longer I looked at it. This is a very celebratory group and unfortunately they, like yesterday’s family, failed to note anything about the nature of or participants in this photo. It is my thought that this celebratory group is a wedding party, bride’s family to her side – although the little guy peering through could also be of that clan, since I am already making assumptions about family features.

They are posing with a single symbolic celebratory drink for toasting, each sporting a lavish corsage or elaborate boutonniere. Of course, the reason I love this photo is that they have rounded up the family dogs and this nice black cat to be in the picture. The beagle seats himself willingly on the one side while the other fellow is being held in check, collar or short leash stretched ready to tear madly off in some sort of get away. My friend the black cat is somewhere between patient and not as he considers his next move. He appears to be a rare all black kitty, although perhaps there is a patch of white on that tummy some place hidden from the camera, nonetheless I am glad these don’t appear to be superstitious folks and he is beloved enough for a place next to the bride.

We document special occasions with photos of family and pets often make up part of that family. How often do you see a photo of someone, an author photo or just a newspaper photo of someone posed at home, where they have scooped up the family cat or grabbed the pup? While it is said that you choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family, in a sense we do. We marry and join families and we declare that the people closest to us in a variety of ways are family, defining it for ourselves in many ways. Clearly our pets make up part of that family for many of us, and I love to see that it goes back this far, to the early days of photography.

 

 

All in the Family

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is the first of a weekend two part mini-series featuring family photos as two splendid photo postcards arrived in the mail this week. I think both are quite wonderful in many ways, but as I sit down to write it is the idea of family I am struck by – the jolly family-ness of both of them. I am launching my endeavor with this beauty of a family posing with Felix on this photo postcard, one of two I promised last week. This one’s a gem! Like most of these (Pam) treasured cards, this one was never mailed and there is nothing noted on the back, therefore names and precise location are lost to the sands of time.

Dad, Mom and tot are the family unit today and somehow our itinerant Felix photographer turns out to be a really great one and has gotten it all just right. Felix is in exactly the best position so he is (tail and all) pointing right up at the kid. The child’s face is all screwed up in a sun squint, although he’s sort of smiling too. Mom and Pop are looking on, amused and somewhat child-boastful. Junior is standing on his own two feet, perhaps a newly developed skill set for this fellow. Meanwhile, Felix is a bit like a second, only slightly smaller child and mohair covered member of the family.

I always am struck by how fully dressed folks seem to always be on the beaches in Britain during this early 20th century period. Dad is in a full suit, tie, vest and oxfords. His hat is tilted back on his head in a nice somewhat rogue-ish way. Mom is in full dress regalia with her striped white dress, stockings and shoes. (Somehow all I can think of is the amount of sand they must have had to get out of their shoes and clothes at the end of the day.) There is a towel on the back of dad’s chair and a pail for the youngster, lurking behind Felix’s tail. More suited, hat wearing and layered up adults spot the background. We will assume it wasn’t one of Britain’s warmer beach days.

Somehow our photographer has captured the three of them (four if we count Felix) in the foreground, apart from others on this crowded beach. The pleasant visual din of everyone else blurs slightly while our family is sharply in focus. In a sense, it is enough to say that this is how family’s see themselves, no matter large or small, a part of the world and yet separate and special.

Comics

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today my mind is on comics – the ones of my childhood. Recently I realized that oddly enough, I have a distinct memory of my father reading me Peanuts, but no other strip – surely he didn’t literally only read that one and let the others go begging, but that is what I remember. I assume it started when I was very small and couldn’t read at all, but I do recall that as my nascent skills evolved, I was able to read along with him. Peanuts was a pretty easy read, although Nancy, as we all know, was the easiest and the first you could puzzle out on your own – often no words at all. (The miracle of story telling solely through pictures – the silent film of comics.)

However, for all of that, it is Peanuts that I associate with my Dad and Sunday morning childhood. (Saturday morning was Roadrunner cartoons, but we will discuss that another time perhaps.) I have chosen a Sunday strip from 1970 below, which would have put me at age six. It is one featuring Snoopy and Lucy and somehow I remember those as the ones he was partial to.

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As a career long cameraman for ABC News, my father traveled constantly and often for long periods, so I know it certainly wasn’t something we did every Sunday and, although I certainly remember my mother and father both reading me bedtime stories, I never remember Mom reading me comics from the paper, nor did I ask her to. Presumably my sister Loren was right in there as well, although I don’t remember that either, and perhaps with a two year age difference between us it mostly really was me alone, sitting on my Dad’s lap and looking at the comics. (Apologies to my brother Edward, but at almost seven years younger he was not yet in the picture.) Dad would read the strips and we would have a good chuckle. Perhaps at my insistence, in homage to the strip our first cat, a cow-spotty black and white one, was christened Snoopy.

Many years later, when I was launched into my first job at the Metropolitan Museum and living a commuting distance away from home, fax machines were suddenly in vogue. My father developed the habit of faxing me the strip Mutts. I had briefly met Patrick McDonnell in the mid-90’s (as well as the cat and dog who appear to have inspired the strip) and he seemed like an extraordinarily nice person. I loved the strip which was in its infancy. It did remind me just a bit of Peanuts and it was easy to see why it appealed to my father too, although I don’t think we ever discussed that aspect of it. I did not get a daily paper with comics and so, out of the blue, my father initiated a comprehensive campaign of faxing them to me, several on a page, a couple of times a week. I bought a few of the compilations and shared those with Dad, but I think he liked the dailiness of finding them in the paper and the self-appointed task of sending them.

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I was reminded of all of this recently when, on my trip to London in February, I found myself warming up and drying off in a comic book store near Leicester Square. After tending to the family business of checking on the Kim Deitch selection (yes, I do that in comic book stores Kim – you probably didn’t know that, but you do now) I found some Mutts and Peanuts compilations and was briefly tempted to buy one for Dad. After coming to my senses and realizing that they were of course more easily bought at home without stuffing them into and already bursting suitcase, I did not. However for a lovely moment I was transported back to those years of sharing comics with Dad.

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Friendly with Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For any Pictorama devotees who are less than enchanted with my collection of photos of people posing with outsized Felix the Cat dolls, the next several weeks may present something of a challenge. So sorry! While today’s post focuses on one that I have pulled off our wall and have owned for years, I have acquired two more that are winging their way toward me even as I type. Yes, pleasantly enough, I have a small wall devoted to these and frankly I have about as many I could hang and have not yet. I could cheerfully fill a room with them.

Frankly my appetite for these photo postcards remains utterly undiminished. Even I am a bit amazed that I remain as enchanted with acquiring each new one as I was by discovering my first. My reaction is the same every time – I love it and I’m amazed and gratified that it even still exists. That’s not to say some of these aren’t better than others – I especially love the one I am sharing today – but in the end each has its own charm for me. Each person, couple or group, frozen in time, the remembrance of lovely day gone by. Everyone with a different version of an over-sized Felix.

For one thing this is a well composed photo and not every wandering picture taker who bought a huge Felix (and still I ponder – where are those dolls?) knew how to put a photo together. This photographer certainly did, although some of it was luck. I love the composition in front of these columns – the striped dress on the one woman is somehow happily repeating that pattern. The bricks provide another pattern, as do the fabrics of their clothes and hats. I like the little slice of action behind the other woman and the long look behind them of other columns giving it great depth. It is my single regret that somehow it is the tiniest bit over-exposed and the one column disappears a bit at the top. We could use the tiniest bit of line there and over the white hat.

These women are dressed in lovely spring-summer costumes for their day out. White shoes and stockings! Pretty dresses and hats! It makes me want to go out and buy a spring dress. (Honesty compels me to confess it is not a hard inclination to create – this time of the year I positively yearn for spring dresses.) They are holding this enormous, slightly tipsy, lop-sided Felix up by the arms. He looks like he’s has a decided list to one side and his arms are very long indeed. Still, he has a great Felix face and large nicely pointy ears. Unlike some of these fellows, he’s in good shape and doesn’t look as if he has been dragged over hill and dale as much as some I have seen recorded. There is a mysterious form – shadow? – in the lower right corner and if you look carefully, bits of developer down at the bottom which has left some white spots. Although this is a very nice photo, those are a reminder that these were done in haste, somewhat sloppily, unlike a studio photo.

Anyway, I offer it to you today, on what is one of Manhattan’s first truly spring-like days. Cats dozing by an open window, winter on the run at long last. A visual reminder of another perfect spring day, somewhere in Great Britain past.

At One Year: Annual Exam

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is one of those posts that gets a disclaimer at the beginning. It’s a post absent of toys or early photos and it threatens to meander, but the editors here at Pictorama will try to keep that to a minimum. The calendar has finally turned the page to my one year anniversary at the new job and that is what is crowding into my mind today as I sit down with coffee and my daily green smoothie. I have written about my days at Jazz at Lincoln Center more than I had thought I would – I never really wrote about the Met while I was there, only after I left. (Leaving the Met was my tribute to the several decades I spent there.) But the challenge of the job and the people there have gotten under my skin in a way I had not imagined – the year has had moments of delight and actual grace, but has also pushed me way beyond what I imagined. The thing is, when you talk and think about testing yourself, you don’t really imagine yourself failing. And while I have not (yet anyway) failed, the very real possibility hangs in the balance still. This is not a neat tale of trial and success – it remains an almost daily and often dogged struggle.

Without getting too far into the weeds suffice it to say that the quandary is actually changing the way we raise money for the organization, to create an underlying structure that provides a stream of annual support, rather than relying on the extraordinary, mercurial, singular gifts that they have largely depended on previously. Of course, the lights have to be kept on in the meanwhile, and the change overall is a little bit like telling everyone that they are going on a practical, diet of green veggies and vigorous exercise. Or, as I have told them, like when a woman gives herself bangs or cuts her hair very short and has to grow it out. There is a long awkward phase you just have to accept. I believe they would like to think they are almost there after a year, pulling the front back into a ponytail at last, and I think we have barely gotten to the pinning it out of the way with bobby pins and barrette stage.

Meanwhile, if this sounds a bit bleak please understand that if the underlying aspects of my job are less than sexy, my success depends on creating magic around what we do. The orchestra brings that wonder to every concert, but somehow I need to summon it on demand. I am constructing the beautiful, jewel-box that I feel this band, and the broader message that it delivers through education and bringing the music to the widest public, deserves to be set in. While small, I want to show that they are the brightest gem, gleaming in the crown of the New York and international cultural world. I really believe they deserve that and I am deeply committed to giving it to them if I have it in me.

On a personal level, this has lead to many sleepless nights (as the newly inaugurated sleeping pills that have appeared next to the bed can attest) and having become more surgically attached to my phone than I thought possible. The successes have been relatively small – an office with just enough skeleton structure that we at least function and grind out the essentials for our donors and patrons; a few extremely elegant events where the addition of Wynton’s magic lifted them to a level I had not really hoped for. I have a staff that, while still occasionally openly suspicious of me (as well they should be) functions within the organization and delivers to our colleagues at least most of what is needed and expected. Some, but not all of their dread of my team is easing a bit within the organization, although they frankly continue to eye me and my crew warily.

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First dinner in our hall, November 2017

 

Slowly, I find that my untrained ear is improving. I found myself lost in a sax solo at the hairdresser the other day in the midst of music I would have ignored otherwise – something I was told was acid jazz from Finland? (I keep meaning to look it up.) While I suspect the complexities of what is actually happening between the musicians on our stage will remain something of a mystery to me that is okay too. I have come to realize that although expanding my horizons about what I like and listen to is great, I do not actually need to like everything.

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Backstage at the Benny Goodman concert.

 

The great moments have often come at unexpected times. Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks, sounding better than I have ever heard them at Dizzy’s last summer. The recreation of the 1939 Benny Goodman concert that the JLCO did this winter that Kim and I heard from a perch backstage that will remain one of the outstanding musical experiences of my first year. There was a moment in London, during a JLCO concert tribute to Leonard Bernstein, when I found myself utterly lost in a sax solo by Walter Blanding and found later when we spoke that we had indeed been thinking of the same exact thing while he was playing. I also remember Walter hugging me in Shanghai when he realized that I was there to fundraise for the band and Frank, our photographer, who quietly made sure the orchestra knew I was there and gently pushed me into their midst over breakfast at the hotel. I have enjoyed conversations and strategy discussions with Wynton that have stretched my mind, not just about what we are doing, but about approaching life at large. The organization demands a constant self-examination of the issues of race and gender which came entirely unexpected to me, but I have found interesting and challenging. I have the pleasure of working with Greg, who I see daily and with whom I share so much in common about life and music, and who battles much of what needs to be done with me daily. There has been just enough success to keep me in the game, but nowhere near enough to say the jury is in and I have won.

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Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks at Dizzy’s last July.

 

If I jumped off a cliff when I left the Met, it would be fair to say I am still in free fall, the war wages on still far from won. Unlike when I arrived and it all seemed cryptic, I now walk through the concert hall with a some authority, a hug for a stray band member I bump into. (May I just mention that there was much less hugging at the Met, almost none, and it is a very special thing about where I work now – it is heartfelt.) Today as we slide toward this year’s big gala, I know the participants and can now recite their giving and table positions in recent years, as well as the number of guests they are hosting, pretty much cold from memory. However, as I try to construct a budget for the coming year, I am still betting somewhat blindly that staying the course I have set will ultimately pay off. I am gambling on myself, as is the whole crew, and that what I believe is the right direction for us is and that I can be a part of a transformation for this organization and grow it into the world-wide profile I believe it deserves. The jury remains out for now – and I thank those readers who have stayed the course with me as I consider my journey so far.

 

 

Waxing and Wain-ing; the Conclusion of Our Story

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who have been following this tale, today I wrap up the Louis Wain story with this entry (for now anyway – I feel more collecting coming on in this area now that I have started, but more of that to follow) with an interesting tributary of his work, the ceramics. I am going to break a Pictorama ground rule today, and please know that none of the glorious items I am abundantly illustrating today’s post with is in my collection – they are pulled entirely from the internet, many from previous auction posts. A girl can dream however!

For some background, although I had not collected Louis Wain as such I had, of course, long been a fan of his whacky cat imagery, mostly via postcard reprints of his work at its height, made widely available in a reproduced postcard line I remember as being available in the 1980’s. While I did not collect them as such, I did purchase them for use (yes, I actually used to routinely send postcards in those days) and at one time certainly had a number of them lying around.

So when I met Kim and cat item collecting became a topic of conversation between us, I certainly knew who he was talking about when he intrigued and beguiled me with Louis Wain’s bio of descending into insanity, cat illustrations becoming wilder and more abstract over time. But then, being Kim, he topped it off with another amazing story. As Wain’s cats became less realistic, at one point they even became Cubist, executed in the form of sculptures or vases. And, furthermore, that many if not virtually all were lost in shipwreck! There was something about them being Czech. (He may have said that they were on the Lusitania when it was lost, but don’t hold me to that.)

Now folks, this was in the days before the internet and Google in the palm of our hands in the form of what we now think of as a phone. It was a marvelous story. My imagination raced crazily with mental images of what these might have looked like. Oh my! The tragedy of a splendid cat bounty that was never to be known! I fantasized that some day the wreck would be raised and somehow many of the objects recovered whole, auctioned and made public. (Made mine…) The story has lived vividly in my head for decades.

So finally, the other day as I began gathering information for the first two parts of this post, at long last I Googled both the story and the ceramics. I was not disappointed. To my great fascination, a fair number of these ceramics exist, and while very expensive, are collected today. In addition to cats, there are (sans explanation) dogs and pigs – and these do not disappoint. While I may have imagined these sculptures one degree more abstract, and for some reason not so brightly colored, I was pretty close with my mental image of them. They are however, if anything, better than I imagined.

 

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And, it turns out that the story of the shipwreck and loss of a significant shipment of them from England is also true – although not on the Lusitania and they were produced both in Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, in the teens. Fakes have evidently plagued the market at various times – meanwhile, I am sure I wouldn’t mind owning one of those either. One article I read said that had the shipment reached the United States (which, unlike Britain, had a discerning consumers who, even at the time, had a voracious appetite for these particular offbeat items) it might have staved off, or at least delayed, the impoverishment Wain suffered at the end of his life, ending sadly in asylums, but still producing cat drawings. It is all a very Deitchian tale, with only slight embellishment, and now you know one of the many reasons why being married to Kim Deitch is so much fun.

Meanwhile, those of you who know me are wondering by this time, how could price alone have swayed me from adding Louis Wain to my routine collecting? After all, I am the woman who has brought you my indulgences ranging from rare Aesop Fable dolls (Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) to Mickey Mouse toys the size of a toddler (Big Mickey) that I have crammed into our tiny apartment and paid admittedly obscene amounts of money for over time. At this point, I sheepishly admit that has been a foolish kernel of jealousy that has been at the root of it these many years.

I remind long-time Pictorama readers of an early post, Mine, all mine…at long last, where I gloried in obtaining a long sought after photo of the Aesop Fable dolls I adore. A copy of that photo had passed through Kim’s hands to a woman he lived with for a number of years and it gnawed gently at the back of my brain for years until I acquired my own copy. The same former girlfriend of Kim’s also collected Louis Wain items, primarily postcards. He mentioned this casually, early into our relationship, probably as a part of the broader Louis Wain tale. Kim had in fact purchased one or two of the original postcards for her as gifts over time. While admittedly, this seems a bit embarrassing and ridiculous as my adored Mr. Deitch and I are well into our second decade together, somehow I did not wish to have him associate her with my collecting. Then I guess I just never got around to lifting the prohibition and purchasing Louis Wain until this recent trip to London. Petty jealousy is like that and now I realize how silly that is – and will let the Louis Wain buying begin at long last.

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