The Fur Person

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This book was a prize when I discovered it and gave it to my mom, back when I was in college. Mom was reading May Sarton’s poetry and journals at the time. Being a keeper of kitties herself, the slim volume discovered in a used bookstore, devoted to and written from the perspective of Sarton’s adopted stray Tom Jones, was a score for a holiday gift for mom and quickly became a family favorite.

Some of the phrases Tom Jones uses to describe his world quickly integrated into the cat lexicon of the Butler family home and remain in use for many a subsequent generation of cats, both in New Jersey and the Manhattan branch, of which of course I am in charge. The kneading paws of our kits became starfish paws and a cat sitting in his or her favorite window, watching the world go by, is reading the newspaper. Even before discovering the book my mother had already christened our inordinately smart girl cat, Winkie, her Fur Child, and would allow that the sixth chair at the kitchen table was hers and Winks would perch there, ever politely. These phrases have been used so often I had somewhat forgotten their origin, traced to this book.

I hadn’t thought of the book in decades, but recently when researching and writing a Pictorama post, the memory of it nagged at the edges of my memory until I finally remembered it. The edition I gave my mother was a hardcover, early edition, much like the one I purchased for myself recently. I located an inexpensive copy online, hardcover and illustrated as I remembered, and it arrived quickly, a gentle explosion of mothballs and mold when opened. (It is still in print and also available in inexpensive paperback form, I believe, complete with the original illustrations by Barbara Knox, which I think you want to complete it, although I find them a tad uninspired.) I recommend it as an absolute must read for cat lovers.

Tom’s story is one of a stray tom cat who, as he comes of age, realizes the attraction of living with a housekeeper and sets off in search of an appropriate set-up. After abandoning the small boy who claims him as a kitten, briefly considering life in a grocery store, he ultimately determines that an old maid with a garden would be best suited to his needs. After some trial and error, he finds his home with not one, but two, old maids – presumably May and her partner, Judy Matlock, although only identified here as Gentle Voice and Brusque Voice.

Judy, Gentle Voice, is the first to invite Tom into the house and the one who names him; she is the cat lover in this family. May, Brusque Voice who smokes and is less likely to pet and coddle, eventually grows into loving the critter in their midst. She is the one who works at home all day, forging a special bond as shown when they both care for him during a serious illness – my guess would be a bad case of ring worm from the description. It is clear he has become central to their lives. (I can tell you that the cats here have an entirely different relationship with Kim who is central to their all day every day, although perhaps that is shifting some now that I have been pandemic installed here now for several months. That is a long time in cat days.)

May Sarton’s tone is indeed a tad brusque which keeps the book from falling into the saccharine, maudlin or childish. Tom Jones is a un-spayed male cat and Sarton gives a fair, if comical, view of what was on the mind of a young boy cat who came in off the streets. She also relishes describing the kitty joys of digging, tree climbing and has an especially entertaining interlude with his introduction to catnip. A novella, barely topping 100 pages, it is a quick read. It is a book that could be enjoyed by younger folks, but is written for adults.

My copy of this book, is inscribed on the inside cover with the name Mildred Krainock, Aug. 1957 in a neat script, written in pen. Despite a 1957 copyright, the fly leaf announces that this volume is in its third printing so the book was popular from the first. (May Sarton had already published a clutch of books – novels and poems – and was an established writer.)

As a book penned in the mid-50’s Sarton is both tongue in cheek with her language – she would have only been 45 when she published this book – but probably also accommodating a time when old maids would have been the most acceptable way of looking at two women living together. I don’t think Sarton was much bothered about keeping her sexuality under wraps even in those early years, but she assumes the mantel of an unimpeachable role for the times here.

I am happy to tell readers this isn’t one of those awful books where the denouement is the death of the pet in question, but while researching this book I realized that Sarton wrote it either just before or during the time she and Judy separate, as noted by Wikipedia, was in 1956. The book is dedicated to Judy and while the back fly leaf assures us that Tom Jones and Sarton continue to live together in Cambridge, MA, evidently in reality Sarton had left for New Hampshire after the death of her father by the time of publication.

While it is unclear where Tom Jones would have landed in their parting, the book implies that he is somewhat more fond of Judy than of May. I realized that I was enjoying the idea of their happy household, ruled by Tom at the the helm, continuing for years beyond the book, and was sadden by the knowledge that it was most likely written in remembrance and tribute, honoring days now passed, or passing.

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Letting Us Eat Cake

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Baking makes an unusual post, but that is today’s and I know there are those of you who will not find this of interest. I promise toys and photos will return soon enough.

Making even a simple cake exercised a rare cooking muscle for me yesterday. I saw a recipe for a one bowl chocolate cake in the paper a few weeks ago and it stuck with me. (The recipe, from the New York Times can be found here, or below.) It looked delightfully simple, but in these strange pandemic days it took a little while to accrue what I needed. I gave myself the deadline of Kim’s birthday, several weeks ahead, to pull it together. Luckily I had flour which has been difficult to find. (There was an article recently about the “obscene amount of flour” being consumed in Britain. I say get a grip and let these poor people bake!)

Recently I was looking for Bisquick (a self-rising flour that can be used for pancakes, biscuits, dumplings and the like) and it has utterly disappeared from all available sources here. This leaves me wondering, as I do about many things, is it not being restocked or is it being bought that quickly? If it isn’t being restocked is it because it isn’t being made, or it isn’t being delivered? We do not know. Hopefully, like some other things, it will reappear over time. Meanwhile, I scored a box of pancake mix, realizing that all pancake flour was likely to be self-rising which turns out to be true and it made delightful dumplings.

Cooking cocoa proved the biggest barrier. Although cooking chips were available, cocoa powder was not to be had and it would work better. After reading an article about acquiring food in bulk I was reminded of a site called Nuts.com which has, in addition to nuts, beans, pasta and cooking cocoa. I bought a bag of perciatelli, hibiscus flowers (to make cold tea which is lovely), dried mushrooms and my cooking cocoa. (I feel compelled to warn you that most everything is sold in enormous quantities, although the cocoa was a reasonably sized bag – we have a lot of pasta however, and the hibiscus flowers will make enough tea through the summer.)

One of the joys of cooking during the internet age is the ability to figure out and calculate substitutions so easily. I didn’t have baking soda, only baking powder, and in seconds I had the conversion. You can find cooking substitutes for just about anything. The whole basis of this cake is substituting mayonnaise for eggs and as I said, I could have used just about any chocolate in a pinch.

Over a year ago I posted about another one-bowl, eggless, butter-free cake that I remembered from childhood, one we called a Poor Man’s Cake. I recreated the recipe from a combination of the internet and memory. (That post can be found here.) That was before we renovated the kitchen (that episode was depicted here and in several other posts) and I was seriously challenged by both my own lack of organization and a lack of space in the kitchen. As a result this time was much easier and more pleasant. (The only item that has utterly disappeared are my measuring spoons – they are blue and I have owned them for decades and they have utterly gone missing.)

I decided on a medium-sized, rectangular Pyrex dish which I think was a good choice. In a loaf pan it might be hard not to have the edges dry out a bit. It was the first time baking in this oven and I should have turned it at the mid-point in cooking as the oven is a bit uneven. It cooked faster than anticipated (about 20 minutes) so I didn’t get the chance.

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You will note that the use of chocolate chips (I went the full 2 ounces), coffee (instead of water) and brandy are optional and I used all, substituting Jack Daniels for brandy. (I had no vanilla.) In retrospect I think the cake benefitted from all of the above if you have them. I choose the simple confectionary sugar topping although a true vanilla or cream cheese frosting would upgrade this to a real dessert as opposed to a snacking cake.

It whisks together quickly and has a satisfying poof! after adding the baking soda/powder in. This reminded me that what I always enjoyed about baking – or much of cooking in general is the alchemy. You start with such disparate materials and end up with something so remarkably different. It is truly like magic.

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My first time reading a recipe off of an iPad while cooking. That Fresca in the background was also hard won. For some reason it too has disappeared in recent months and just came back on the shelves of the market. 

 

For me baking is a rarely indulged in pleasure. Our diets run to the pescatarian, with an emphasis on veggies – and pastries are a truly rare occurrence, let alone homemade ones, despite my deeply buried background in professional cooking and baking. During the months of quarantine it has taken some discipline not to embrace becoming a cookie and bread baking, cake making and eating machine! Hence the scarcity of certain items as we all think alike. There is comfort in what you can make yourself with your own hands and the thrill of smell wafting through the apartment as it bakes.

From the New York Times, One-Bowl Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ cup/180 milliliters boiling water, or use hot coffee, Earl Grey tea or mint tea
  • ¼ cup/25 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed or natural)
  • 1 to 2 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (optional)
  •  cup/160 milliliters mayonnaise
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or a dash of bourbon or whiskey (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose or cake flour
  •  Confectioners’ sugar, for finishing

PREPARATION

  1. To a large mixing bowl, add cocoa powder and chopped bittersweet chocolate (if using). Pour in boiling liquid, and let it sit for a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. The chocolate will have melted, if you used it, and the cocoa dissolved.
  2. Whisk in mayonnaise, salt, baking soda, 3/4 cup granulated sugar until smooth. Then whisk in a teaspoon of vanilla extract, if you have it (or a dash of Bourbon or brandy or just leave it out entirely). Finally, whisk in 1 1/2 cups flour (either all-purpose or cake flour), mixing vigorously to eliminate any lumps.
  3. Grease an 8- or 9-inch pan (square, round, star-shaped, anything is good). Pour the batter into the pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back when the center is lightly pressed. The deeper the pan, the longer it will take to bake through.
  4. Let cool, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar to finish.

 

We Work Each Day: Clivette Cont.

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stumbled on the tale of the huckster magician artist Clivette last week when researching my post of the dancing white kitty card of his creation. (It is called Always Cheerful and can be found here.) Meanwhile, I found this card while searching Google Images – and to my delight it was for sale on eBay. I scored it quickly and thought it would make a nice birthday gift for Kim if it came in time. To my delight it arrived on Wednesday evening, his birthday eve. So today it serves as the jumping off point for a part-two post, although I confide that I have already told everything I could find on Mr. Clivette and his fascinating life last week.

However, today’s card is an excellent foil to last week’s dancing duo – these two snoozing pusses look like they just want us to go away and leave them be! The poem that accompanies them is:

We work each day
With a cheerful heart
For we are always together
And never apart.

Their green kitty bows are somewhat at half-mast. They look annoyed that the viewing might potentially wake them – sleep is a serious thing for these cats. Unlike last week’s kitties, there is a vague sense that one is male and the other female. They are well settled into a long nap. The card was never mailed, but there is a somewhat unintelligible and garbled note, written in penciled script on the back. It is addressed to Mrs. Lillian Harter. From what I can puzzle through it says, I will write a letter in a few days/nan glad to get the recite (stet?) for E Bertha Ronsh (?) the catsup, thanks for the…cards.

This card seemed like an especially appropriate bunker birthday gift for my mate, with whom I have spent the past three months (and counting) existing in our 600 square feet of heaven and working hard. Happy Birthday Kim!

Nothing much about our version of life during the pandemic is especially noteworthy. Comics continue to be made by Kim at one long table. I have reclaimed a drawing table directly behind him and from there (and occasionally when my back needs a break, from the couch which I mentally think of as my conference room), I continue to raise money for Jazz at Lincoln Center. With the concert hall dark, no concerts, no tours and no Dizzy’s club, these contributed funds are more important than ever before, and so days have rapidly melted into nights, and then weeks, now months.

It has been a pleasant existence in many ways, I have to admit. I commute ten feet from bed to desk. I have taken the reins of the kitchen in hand and am cooking much more often, which means we will eventually emerge heavier, but hopefully healthy.

We continue to work out and I am backing to a routine of weight lifting, which my previous schedule had interrupted, so I will be fat but buff. And I tag along for the trip up our 16 flights of stairs a few days a week for a bit of cardio – whenever I go outside – but Kim keeps to his much more regular routine up them six out of seven days a week. There have been weird shortages of some food and items (for example ice cream, largely unavailable for awhile seems to have been somewhat restored, flour remains at a premium), but no real hardship. We have always liked being together and here we are. We are lucky.

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An early experiment with root vegetable stew – the dumplings got a bit aggressive!

 

I do not mean to imply that the horror of the situation escapes us. Like many, we exist on a steady diet of CNN and the news is horrendous. For many weeks the sound of ambulances on York and First avenues were constant and haunting, especially at night. Like everyone, we have lost friends to the virus, directly and indirectly and others have been sick with it.

We remain very grateful to the folks who risk themselves to continue to fill the shelves of our grocery stores and deliver our mail and make appreciative forays to the few restaurants to pick up food from those who have hung in with take-out business. A low point was when our favorite pizza haunt closed down for several weeks after a valiant effort to remain open, a symbolic low. Happily we hailed their recent return and celebrated with a mushroom pie. A trip every week or two to Bagel Bob’s around the corner cheers me greatly, and the Gristedes across York has done their best for us. It seems strange to contemplate a return to leaving the house daily and re-entering the world. Meanwhile, our Yorkville corner of Manhattan remains strangely under-populated, sort of like a never-ending holiday weekend.

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Arturo’s Pizza, this taken just pre-plague.

 

Kim and I had hoped to spend more time together this year, with the months earlier having been very travel intensive for me at work, and now we certainly have. I miss seeing my mom in NJ (I fear infecting her and remain unsure how we will resolve that), and of course there are things and people I miss in the outside world, but am mostly able to patiently look forward to seeing them in person when the opportunity arises again. For now we are here and doing our thing. Kim’s world has changed very little aside from my omnipresence and endless nattering on the phone Monday through Friday.

Winter clothes still hang in the closet, frozen in time to mid-March Miss Havisham-esque, despite the weather having turned very warm. (An army of moths has invaded which I am unsure how to oust. We can’t deal with mothballs so please send any less toxic suggestions. Blackie snacks on the occasional one but is of little real help.) I am clad in entirely in a rotation of work-out clothes, an ancient black cotton hoodie the only constant. Make-up is an alien concept (why on earth did I do that every day I wonder now) that I may never really go back to. Like everyone, my hair has grown shaggy and I twist it up in a hair tie. (Luckily I had accepted my gray hair as it came in when it arrived as I hit 30 years old, and so I am not among those growing out gray roots.)

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An unusual moment of togetherness, Blackie and Cookie on the bed, looking nothing like those contented white kitties.

 

The cats, Cookie and Blackie, are the big winners. An extra set of hands constantly at disposal and inclined for petting they take full advantage. Blackie has made numerous appearances on Zoom, but as he is all black and so are most of my allotment of t-shirts and tops, it is only those with sharp eyes who have caught a pair of pointy ears, a tail waving, or perhaps a serious green cat eye peering up. He demands attention, in particular, between 3:00-4:00 daily, but he likes those Zoom calls on-camera and will magically appear for them. He precedes his leap onto my lap with a little meow and stretch up to tap me with a claw paw, ever politely, before making the jump up. Instagram followers know that he is also partial to taking possession of my desk chair when I am not in it – which isn’t often these days.

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So, as we celebrate Kim’s Natal Day for 2020 I provide an idea of what daily life looks like here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama during what I have termed as our bunker days. I fervently hope you are all as comfortably situated in your own.

Always Cheerful

Pam’s Pictorama Post: There are some things that speak for themselves and maybe this card is one of them. These slightly maniacal white cats, I can almost hear them chanting:

We are always cheerful
Our thoughts are high
We never disdain
To Make a Sigh

And it seemed to be a positive message to deliver to myself during these ongoing bunker life days.

The card was never mailed and it is embossed, which would have made writing on the reverse side difficult, however it does also give a subtle dimensional quality to this image. I love their little pink toes and grasped paws! Their huge red bows and fat cat tummies! This is one in a series of postcards – at least six. I liked this one best among those available, but I cannot promise you won’t see another in the future because I can easily imagine becoming somewhat addicted to them and their maxims.

Below the verse, just Clivette is written. A quick look up online and I discovered that Clivette, was the preferred moniker of Merton Clive Cook (1868-1931), artist and vaudeville performer. According to Wikipedia he was an American painter, magician, writer, vaudevillian and entertainer who spent most of his early life traveling the world entertaining before settling in New York to paint permanently. A poster from his vaudeville act is shown below where in all modesty he declares himself, The Leading Magician of the World!

I wish I could say I was able to find substantial information on his act. He started as an acrobat in a traveling circus. His greatest skill seemed to be for reinvention and promotion of himself. He was listed on a bill in New York with Houdini in June of 1900. He subsequently passes through a period of palmistry and occultism, and by 1910 even hypnotism.

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Clivette leaves vaudeville behind and embraces painting after instruction at The Art Student’s League. By 1918 he was established as a painter, first in the vein of the Ashcan school and then embracing American Expressionism and early abstraction, to some acclaim. (Granted, he did a lot of the acclaiming!) His work appears to be in a sprinkling of collections including that of the Harvard Art Museum. It is also worth noting that some of the landscapes and late work are available via online auctions today for very affordable amounts.

Photographs of Clivette’s Greenwich Village studio, inside and out, are available online. I share two from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York below. One popular image of him standing in front of his Sheridan Square studio and the other of the interior, a dark and object filled space which he called The Soul Light Shrine and charged 25 cents a pop per visit. (For a rollicking and detailed history of Clivette and his family, have a look at The Lost Clivette “Bazaar de Junk” – 1 Sheridan Square a 2018 post by a blogger identified as Daytonian in Manhattan.)

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Collection of the Museum of the City of New York

 

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Collection of the City of the Museum of New York

 

Of course, I like the zany, dancing kitties more than his oozy, later landscapes and would have preferred he devote himself to them, like an American Louis Wain – many more images of them with something slightly malevolent about their knowing selves.

 

 

 

 

Tatty

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tiny though this photo is, a small poof of the smell of time gone bye wafted up when I removed this from the plastic holder this morning. This one might fall into the category of a photo only I could love, but so be it if true. Somehow the scrappiness of the Felix, the photo and the small child all work for me here.

There is evidence that this photo was much beloved. It shows signs of having been pinned up somewhere at one time and the edges are heavily worn and reinforced by tape at the corners. If I had to guess I would say it has spent time in a wallet. There is no inscription on the back so any information about this little girl is lost. I am glad that it has come to reside in the Pictorama collection.

The little kid, holding a pint-sized Felix doll, is wearing a white smock over something slightly longer and with sleeves showing from underneath. As I look at it closely I am on the fence about if this is a boy or a girl. My original thought was definitely girl, but as I spend more time looking at it I am unconvinced. To my eye Felix looks like he wants to leap from his or her hands and charge ahead. (And yes, of course I own a Felix much like this one, as below. Mine is missing an ear sadly, but let’s remember, he is an old, old guy.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The yard shown is a bit bleak. Not surprisingly the photo comes from England and this is the backyard of a typical row house there. No lovely little British garden here however, at least not in this corner of it.

As I write and consider this photo I wonder if the idea of carrying a photo in a wallet has already disappeared entirely. Cookie and Blackie as kittens grace my the front of my phone and I see them, looking like tiny aliens, every time (hundreds of times, these days even more) I pick up the phone. Perhaps that is today’s version of a photo in your wallet.

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Blackie and Cookie perched on my chair shortly after arriving here in 2013.

 

My father carried photos of us kids, prom photos of me and my sister Loren; Edward shown as a small sprout digging around in the gravel driveway. At least those were the last incarnations I remember him having with him. (As I remember, there was a pre-cursor photo of me in second grade with long hair pulled back and a gap tooth grin – I am unsure of what the counterpart photo of Loren was, and Edward would have been an infant.)

These pictures resided tucked into a caramel colored, long, fat, leather wallet he carried for decades – not the type of wallet that had room for display as such, but I would see them flash by occasionally when he was looking for something. I took it for granted that they were there – the three of us each in our own photo, frozen in about 1980. My own wallet – also leather but black and red, is stuffed with credit and various loyalty cards, is remarkably and perhaps sadly photo-free.

The Troubles of Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This card seemed appropriate to our current contagion days. Postmarked 1924, the postcard may refer to bed bugs or the like as Mrs. Felix seems to be itching, or it could also be a cold as Felix looks a bit unwell. Felix does look miserable and somewhat guilty under her accusation either way. Theaters would be ripe for such transmission bugs bacterial, viral or the many legged kind, and of course it follows that Felix couldn’t resist going to the pictures. Very tongue in cheek that the very cartoon folks would be pointing this out, but of course they knew our sympathy is always with naughty Felix.

In the 1920’s, movie theaters were more working class establishments and had just started to give way to the movie palaces designed to look like legitimate theaters and attract middle and upper class patrons. (An article from Smithsonian Magazine I read this morning tells the tale of popcorn as a snack in theaters – disdained at first as too low class, it gained traction during the Depression when the inexpensive treat was attainable for audiences as well as additional high margin income for theaters.) 1924 is still on the early end of the decade however, and the allure of the picture shows was still battling with an image of it as barely better than frequenting a working class saloon or bar.

This card was produced by a British company called Bamforth which, although it sold these cards both in Britain and the United States, appears to have done so without license. And, unlike the color postcards of Felix in the same era, these are all entirely black and white and Felix has what I think of as his more dog-like off-model look.

Bamforth was a company originally born out of the production of magic lantern slides. In addition to short film ditties of the 1890’s until 1918, they had a line of postcard which focused on what were generally considered saucy topics of the day. The postcard portion of the company was eventually sold and still exists in some form today, having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010. Their postcards, such as Felix fighting with his wireless radio, were so much of their time and place that sometimes we are left puzzling to figure out what they might refer to today. For example, there is one where he curses the demand notice for rate. (This seems to refer to a dunning tax notice.)

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Bamforth card, not in Pictorama collection

 

Another series of postcards printed by Florence House printers in Great Britain, shows Felix in a series of equally moral questionable scenes. I show one of those pulled off the internet below. I love the cigar and the overnight grip in this one. He is a naughty boy indeed.

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Florence House card not in Pictorama collection

 

In these years that are still leading up to the discovery and widespread use of antibiotics, Felix tells us to be mindful about drafts (in one card we spy him in the bathtub through a partially open door and he scolds, Shut that Door! You’ll have me laid up – and what will the picture shows do then without poor Felix?), and reminds us of what you might bring home from the pictures at night. Today he would don a mask and figure out a way to court the white girl kitty, despite keeping a six foot social distance.

 

Find Felix in the Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is always a very fine day at Pictorama when a Felix photo postcard wanders in the door. Of course one never knows when an opportunity to purchase one will occur, and never have I seen one for sale outside of eBay with the exception of the one (rather glorious) occasion when someone contacted me via this site to sell me a cache of them directly. (This rather interesting tale can be found here.) This is a photo postcard and it was never mailed, nothing is written on the back.

Arguably, I probably like the shots of larger Felix dolls and one or a couple of folks gathered around him. I have long had an affinity for people posing at carnivals or seaside with Felix. (I’m also partial to people posing with moon cut-outs – folks just brought a special energy to those photo moments in life – photos being a bit more rarified in the pre-phone camera days. An early post with a moon photo can be found here.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As I study today’s photo I have to wonder if it is an extended family gathering or one of another nature. Somehow all the women dressed in white have migrated to one side of the photo, the arches of an arcade coincidentally creating a greater visual division – somehow their white hats bob into the black spaces just right. As a group, the women are largely hat wearing, while of course their beach attire would qualify as cocktail wear in our more casual day. (And I refer to our day in general, not these bunker life days when we rarely get out of sweats and wear trousers with buttons it seems. A dress that requires ironing seems like something from another age indeed.)

Children clad in a variety of modes line up in front , a few brave swim togs, but most also tend toward dresses, hats and one little guy even has a tie. The bright prints of the girl’s dresses are a relief to all the white. The men are darkly suited up – a minimum of tie and vest. The gentleman wearing a suit in front is also sporting a very large rolling pin and of course the meaning of or reason for that is lost to us now. Two girls near him appear to have some sort of canes or croquet mallets or the like. A series of flag poles draw our eye up and back to some delightful looking buildings on a nearby bluff.

It is possible to miss Felix at first. He blends surprisingly well with the kids all around him, a bit short perhaps, but one of the gang. However, he poses dead center in the group so eventually he emerges into our consciousness. Once I saw him, it became a Felix photo and it has earned a place in the collection here at Pictorama.

Felix Beach photo

Art School

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  Most weekend mornings I sit down to post on Pictorama with at least a pretty good idea where I am going. However, life in the bunker has impacted my accumulating, of objects but also ideas, not being out in the world much.

Deitch Studio continues to do a pretty brisk bit of business during the pandemic (the need for comics and funds to be raised not diminishing with the quarantine), but with working nonstop and never leaving our intimate one room abode, opportunities for the acquisition of well, stuff, is somewhat limited and my intellectual life seems to boil down to reading Judy Bolton mystery novels. (I’ve written about my affection for this contemporaneous competitor of Nancy Drew here and here. However, I recognize the limitation!) A pay reduction at work has put us on what I like to call a money diet – and I can report that I appear to be better at reducing spending than calories. I am, as a result, more parsimonious and selective in my purchases. (I am sure eBay is feeling the result of my economizing.)

All this to say, I slept a bit late today and ambled over to the computer with no idea what I was hoping to serve up on this Sunday edition of Pictorama. I reached into one of the boxes on my desk where photos are stored, thinking I had a little clutch of photos I should look through. Instead I reached further into the box (right under the Little Orphan Annie sheet music I wrote about here), and pulled out this photo. I believe it came from a fascinating cache of photos sent to us by Kim’s friend Tom Conroy while ago, many of them are housed in these boxes.

It is not my first foray into the riches offered by these boxes. I have written about photos from Tom’s collection previously including one of Lilian Harvey boasting a Felix doll (here); Felix as an early TV test (here); and a Betty Boop and Felix find which can be found here. Thank you again Tom!

Today’s photo is identified only in a pencil scrawl as Hollywood Art School on the back, and has lead to a discussion between Kim and I as to whether or not this might be Los Angeles’s Chouinard Art School, where Disney trained his first animators in the late 1920’s. These students largely attended on scholarship as an act of kindness on the part of the school’s founder, Nelbert Chouinard. These would be Disney’s initial clutch of animators, later known as the Nine Old Men and they were instructed in the evenings by Donald Graham.

Graham was a Chouinard graduate turned teacher who was affiliated with the school from the late 1920’s until the early 1970’s. As a student he earned his way through school as a janitor there, sleeping in a bathtub at the school instead of paying rent. (He later “graduated” to teaching perspective at the school instead.)

They remained close over the decades and this debt was later repaid in 1961 when Disney rescues the now foundering enterprise and consolidates it into Cal Arts, the school he and his brother founded. (This was evidently a story not without controversy, but for today I leave it at this edited version.)

For any of us who have taken an art class this is, in many ways, a familiar scene. It appears to be a class in portraiture and the students are working from photographs, not a model. An art school like this, in the US during first part of the 20th century, would have been a trade school perhaps more focused on marketable skills for its students. The students are, to a one, men. They are also notable for their uniforms of collared shirts, ties and vests – instructors, who are working the room are clad in full suit and tie. (They appear to be ticking things off a list as they walk around the students, examining their work.) Sun streams in these windows, and one student wears an eye shade to protect from the glare on his work.

Students are seated at individual drawing tables, weighted with cast iron legs. Between them, placed strategically, are tables to hold supplies. One student in the middle seems to be a bit far from one and appears to have a few things in his lap instead. A table closest to us has photos piled on it, probably from prior assignments. It’s hard to see but there is another pile of photos on a table at the back wall, behind one of the instructors. The wooden chairs are a random mix and there is a table against one wall with some examples for the students. (A careful look draws my eye to one of a man with his mouth open that seems pretty impressive.)

In the lower right corner there is an insignia that says Browning N.Y.C. and after a quick search I had a moment of thinking that this might instead be a photo of the exclusive Browning School located here in Manhattan’s exclusive East 60’s. Founded in 1888 it certainly was around for this period, but as it tops out at twelfth grade I do not think it is possible – some of these students are balding. I cannot find any information that makes me believe they had an early trade school division.

The photo evokes the smell and look of such a classroom, and despite its exclusively male population and the rather formal attire, it could easily be exchanged for a class I might have taken at the Art Student’s League. I am reminded that Kim recently did an online talk for comics students at The New School. While they are not enjoying the camaraderie of their peers these days, nor the eagle eye of an instructor directly over them, they got an unusual view into Deitch Studio – complete with Kim yanking the day’s sketches off his desk. We hope that there are some compensations for being a student during these quarantine days.

 

 

 

Felix Fashion Forward

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I’ve had this little gem (displayed above on Kim’s desk) for quite awhile and somehow haven’t managed to write about it. I purchased it on eBay, but am sad to say that they disappeared almost immediately as I think in a better world everyone would have a chance to buy one of these, or even a wardrobe of them.

Some rather enterprising Felix fan created this t-shirt cartoon with the earliest style Felix – very pointy and squared off and a bit dog like. It is the Felix design I have long favored, reminiscent of some of my odder stuffed toy versions from Great Britain. (A few posts about these can be found here and here, and the fascinating history of how many of these dolls were made by indigent women in London’s East End, can be found in the post here.)

This naughty Felix is drinking some booze from a double XX labeled bottle, and it is actually a great five-part strip as he goes through the motions of Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting and Feeling, all with real silent cartoon emotion. I prefer my Felix un-gelded if you will. I don’t mind him being a bit impish, but I prefer his bad boy side rather than the latter kiddy fare. (I feel the same about Mickey Mouse who goes from being a bit rowdy in the early cartoons to positively sticky later on.)

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My pre-quarantine life did not provide many opportunities for t-shirt wearing in reality. I generally found myself exclusively dressed for work, or if home clad in work-out regalia, and pj’s made up the only other avenue of regular sartorial category.

Frankly, like most people I gather, these days my version of the uniform of our universal lockdown has been work-out clothes, as I either starting or ending most days on a space just big enough for a yoga mat, a small pile of weights acquired during one of my post-surgical rehabs surrounding me. (I draw the line at working in my pajamas.) Depending on the temperature of the apartment that attire is usually augmented by a rather ancient and somewhat tatty, black zip up hoodie acquired years ago from the now defunct Modells. (Where will I purchase cheap, generic work-out clothes now I wonder?)

It may, or may not, surprise you to learn that I am partial to brightly patterned stretch tights paired with tank tops – can’t stand working out in anything with sleeves. I vary those tights with a few pairs of black Adidas pull on track pants. (I tend to think of those as dressing up a bit these days.)

I have pointed out to friends that since all I do other than work right now (that tends to occupy about 12 hours a day), is work-out and eat, I am likely to emerge from captivity at some unknown future date hefty, but buff. (We will of course also all be a bit shaggy and will have abandoned most unnecessary adornment – I think I have forgotten how to apply make-up already. I look at it in the bathroom and think – why? Meanwhile, we eat pretty darn well here at Deitch Studio – many of you may not know I was once a professional chef and working at home has me in the kitchen again.)

Zoom and other video calls occasionally demand that I make some sort of an appearance on camera and I try to be understanding about a desire to actually see other folks. I attempt to clean up a bit, but outside of Board meetings or actual online events (which send me puzzling through a closet which currently houses out of season winter clothes, as we started our hibernation in March remember), everyone pretty much gets me, view generally chest up, in a work out top and hoodie. (They frequently also catch a glimpse of Kim working in the background – it is only one room, after all. Meanwhile, his routine only altered by my ongoing presence and my endless work natter on the phone which are now the background to his formerly silent days.)

However, now that the weather is changing perhaps I will migrate to a somewhat enhanced and modified spring look as we begin to consider the ultimate end of our incarceration, which might include the occasional pair of trousers that button and pulling on a prize t-shirt like this one for all to ponder during the next staff meeting.

 

Black Cat Clown Car

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As I recently explained in my post Borrowed Photo (which can be found here) bunker days have lead to the loosening of a primary posting rule – that I own all that I post about. It was a rule rarely bent in the past, but in these days of both reduced circumstances and getting out rarely, the powers that be at Pictorama are loosening the rules a bit. So today we are considering this postcard which was for sale on eBay which quickly ran up alarmingly high and well beyond my purse. Leaving me to think that someone actually did want it more than me which was saying a lot, but true nevertheless. Sigh.

Black cats and Felix were irresistible decorations for early parade floats and these could form a sub-genre of my photography cards. Examples of the Felix floats can be found here and here, but black cats can also be found here  and here. Another one, Spirit of the Golden West is shown below.

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This postcard depicts a Lansing, Michigan parade – that hint from a truck boasting, Ingham County Commission behind our car. It is undated and evidently was unused. Judging from the cars in the background, parked roadside under some nice old store awning I would put this in the 1920’s, although it could be a bit earlier. Someone smarter about cars feel free to chime in.

The clowns occupying this car frankly terrify me and I am sort of glad we cannot see them more clearly. All white faces, their wizard peaked caps, and eyes blacked out. Yikes. I bet some kids went away with nightmares after an eye full of these guys.

 

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Most wonderfully though, this garlanded clown car is largely decorated largely with the black cats of Black Cat Hosiery advertising fame. (So was it their float or did they just borrow the image?) A small cardboard version of this advertising graces the wall near where I am currently camped out for work, my drawing table acting as a desk, is shown above. I wrote about it back in April of 2015, in Time Out for Our Sponsor (it can be found here (and again, here) and that grinning black advertising cat has long been a favorite of mine. These commercial kits are interspersed with black cat witches on brooms, Halloween kitties, some sort of winged critters and a black cat and jack-o-lantern garland wrapped all around it. The huge tiger (if you look at him right royal is spelled out in his stripes) gives the whole production some teeth. However, lastly and best is that big white kitty is smiling at the front of the car, leading the way.