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.

Olive Oyl

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toy collecting is much like the rest of life, while you may head in one direction, opportunity may present itself in one you had not considered in another and take you there. My career has been entirely like that – who thinks about becoming a fundraiser when they grow up? I had not considered working for Jazz at Lincoln Center until suddenly here I am, almost three years later.

I don’t generally collect comic figures outside of the cats (Felix and Krazy) and Mickey (because you have to have mice if you have cats), but occasionally things present themselves that need buying. In this way I have a small enclave of Little Orphan Annie (those items can be found herehere and here, for starters) and a soft spot for Donald Duck I have never much explored in this blog. The occasional Pluto. Bonzo has proliferated, which might fall under the heading of if you have cats you need a few dogs too. However, I am perhaps light on the broader universe of characters.

When an acquaintance at Doyle Gallery told me that they were having a January toy sale I knew I would want to check it out for potential birthday fodder. It was a sale from the estate of a single collector and I felt like you could sense his or her eye in all of the choices in the collection which always interests me.

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An unintended selfie while aiming at this goat toy

 

Kim and I had a delightful afternoon looking at a large collection of toys, primarily early mechanical banks and early mechanical toys. People were stationed to help us by taking the toys out and showing the action of each. These toys, while utterly delightful, are another area of collecting I have never gone down, but I can easily understand falling in love with them. I was especially enamored of this swan toy and this tiger toy below which I did bid on.

 

However, one of the reasons I started collecting in the area I do is because, compared to these toys, mine is a relatively affordable avenue. The toys above ultimately went for several thousand dollars each, considerably above my humble bids. There was also a lovely wooden Noah’s Ark, but I knew it was out of my league in every sense including space for it in the apartment. (Among the surviving animals shown below are insects which sort of cracked me up.)

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However, there were two items which caught my attention, in part because they were very different than the rest of the sale, and today’s Olive Oyl was one of them. We all know Olive as Popeye’s paramour in Segar’s comic strip where Popeye makes his appearance in 1929. Olive had been around in the earlier Thimble Theater strip since its inception in 1919 where she was the youngest in the Oyl family, sister to Castor and Crude Oyl, and engaged to Harold Hamgravy; he who she eventually dumps in favor of Popeye, her true love. I have read some of those early Thimble Theater strips and would very much like to dig deep into them sometime. Olive starts her life modeled on the flappers of the day – a long, straight drink of water to the extreme and maintains her girlish figure, so to speak, throughout her life.

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Olive Oyl bank I was less interested in at Doyle auction

 

The toy collector whose collection was being auctioned had two Olive Oyl toys, indicating an interesting particular affection for her. The other item was a cast iron bank which could have been original or a reproduction and I didn’t care for it. But there was something about this Olive Oyl that I couldn’t resist. She appears to be a one of a kind but nicely made wooden toy. Her arms, feet and head are painted but her costume covers a simple wood and wire constructed body. Heavy wire connects her arms and legs enabling limited motion in each. Her head turns and her arms go up and down.

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Olive Oyl, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

For me there is something especially engaging in her outfit although I can’t really tell you why. I think if asked, she would have preferred far more fashionable garb. There is something endearing and specific about her cowl neck sweater and the somewhat oversized pattern on her rickrack trimmed skirt, probably a bit longer than she was wearing them in the day. She has characteristically large (but not clownish) feet. For me this is a Depression era Olive at her best in every sense.

I assume there is a Popeye mate for her somewhere in the world, or at least there was. (Kim pointed out that he is a heck of a lot more ambitious to have to carve. He’s also come up with a story where Olive is carved by a man in prison for his girlfriend…) I have looked online to see if there’s any indication that this is not a singular piece. At a minimum the person who made it was skilled and my guess would be that this was not his or her only rodeo in this area.

If you are wondering, Olive joins a very slim collection of a single stuffed Popeye and Wimpy dolls. I bought them from a dealer in Canada many years ago and was disappointed to discover that they had lost much of their stuffing (sawdust) on their trip to New York. They are now so fragile that I am loathe to take them down from their high shelf and photograph them, but will try to find a way for Olive to join them. Excuse the dusty chaos – I was perched on the edge of the bed taking this earlier!

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Birthday Smalls

Pam’s Pictorama Post: So, I have this odd habit – occasionally on my birthday, almost without realizing it and while hanging out with my husband (the ever-wonderful Kim Deitch) I tend to find a tiny item which I ask him to buy for me and which become a memento of the day. Two of these are marbles, shown below. The large one lives in my winter coat pocket where I take it out occasionally to admire. The small one lives (appropriately I think) on my desk at work in a specially made Kim Deitch decorated box. (The origin story of this wonderful box can be found here called Kim’s Elephant Box.) I am not sure Kim even realizes that this is a thing that I do (I suspect that as he reads this it is the first he is finding out about it), but it seems I do.

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Beloved lucky marbles, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

This year I found a sort of perfect item early on my actual birthday. My birthday was celebrated in parts this year which turned out to be a lovely three days scattered across the week. (More about that below however.) The item in question was the tiny white plastic cat shown at top. In fact, my friend Eileen Travell has been in the habit of giving me lovely plastic animals of a slightly larger variety, those shown below and I think one acquired by me on a prior birthday, but this little fellow is very tiny indeed, could perch on a dime in fact. I found him at Blick’s Art Supply at the beginning of our celebratory birthday day and the kitty seemed to fit the bill splendidly. (Kim needed some new colored pencils, ink and paper – the fundamental supplies of a workaday cartoonist.)

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Schleich cats and pigs, Pams-Pictorama.com collection with thanks to Eileen Travell

 

Despite living in a very chaotic apartment crammed with stuff, the tiny toys have a place here too and I do a pretty good job of keeping track of them. There is a spot for many at the foot of our bed, some live on a mirrored cabinet there, others live scattered among the feet of the larger stuffed toys. As noted, several are assigned to my desk at work, having made the move from the Met, where they cheer things up. As you can see, for some reason in addition to cats there are pigs. There’s something very satisfying about these solid plastic toys and I can easily imagine happily playing with them. Those are made by a company called Schleich. For some reason I cannot explain, I have kept the tags on them all.

This year’s purchase, the cat (and pig, shown bottom) are made by a company called United Art and Education and an entire tube (or Toob as the have chosen to call it – does that seem educational?) of animals can be purchased for $12 online. We paid a premium of .99 cents for each at Blick.

My plan for the day discussed here, technically day two of celebratory birthday fun (I am starting my birthday tale in the middle this year and will circle back to day one in a near future post or posts), was to head up to a store I have mentioned before, Obscura Antiques and Oddities, on East 13th Street and Avenue A. This is a store where I am delighted to spend time pawing through their collection of photographs and picking up all sorts of the kind of bits and pieces I didn’t know I needed. For example, in the past I have purchased an ancient wooded backed hand mirror, a tiny wooden wall shelf, in addition to many photos and pages of antique photo collage. (The photo collage – sort of a passion here at Pictorama, can be featured found here.) It is what flea markets and antique stalls used to be like here, but have disappeared largely due to rising real estate values.

Unfortunately, the day went off the rails a bit starting here. It was a Monday and I had taken the day off from work since it was my birthday – a suggestion my sister made years ago but I have rarely put into practice. Obscura was closed when we got there and I was sad. Although open on Mondays they just weren’t, perhaps we were too early; I don’t know. We then wandered over to a rather splendid place where I buy a lot of my clothes, D. L. Cerney. I go way back with these folks who used to have a store on 7th Street, near McSorley’s pub.

D.L. Cerney has a line of clothing which hews to vintage design, somewhat modified, made with classic and even occasionally vintage fabrics and buttons. All are produced here in New York state and are extraordinarily well-made. Back in the early days they had a small line of actual vintage clothing and I fondly remember purchasing a pair of man’s oxfords I wore to shreds over a number of years, a lovely cotton shirt, a women’s suit made of mohair which, however, turned out to be extremely warm for my then office. They lived in memory. I stumbled across their new digs at 324 East 9th Street when returning to a vintage clothing store that briefly had residence there.

Upon my rediscovery of D. L. Cerney, I have purchased a number of pairs of men’s trousers and some lovely cotton shirts, among other things. I live in these trousers (which have heavenly deep, deep pockets – you boys are so lucky!) and wore my first pair almost every day of that snowy trip to London last year. (A bit of a tangent here. It turns out that our, brilliant, photographer at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Frank Stewart, dresses pretty much exclusively there as well. Sometimes Frank and I are twins, especially when traveling with the orchestra. The story of that snowy London trip with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra starts with a post found here.) I can only say, if you like such things, do not walk, but run to this store. I am heavily invested in keeping them in business, which sometimes it appears I am attempting to do single-handedly with my purchases.

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Photo of D.L. Cerney’s store at 324 East 9th Street, taken last spring

 

I hadn’t really meant to hold Kim hostage while I tried on clothes, but he had a book and got into a conversation with the woman who I believe is one of the owners. I was in the middle of purchasing a vest (men’s style but sized for a woman, vintage buttons, a bit neo-Annie Hall, but I decided no time like my birthday to buy my first ever vest, oddly never owned one before) when my phone exploded with texts and calls from the office. A certain beloved and well-known and generally beloved boss needed information for a meeting that was occurring in the next twenty minutes. Such is my life these days and, while still wearing the yet-to-be purchased clothing (vest and a nice pair of gray trousers too) I did my best to remedy the situation, but admittedly felt a bit peevish as such information had previously been offered and deemed unnecessary – ahem.

It was late afternoon by the time I extricated myself from work and purchased a pile of clothing. We took ourselves over to a favorite hole-in-the-wall, B&H Dairy, for a hot and restorative lunch of potato perogies, burger for Kim, soup and hot coffee.

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B&H Dairy, East Village, NY, February 11, 2019

 

Fed and considerably buoyed by the hot food, we headed home. Immediately upon arrival I went to find my plastic cat so he didn’t get lost and could achieve a place of pride somewhere in the Pictorama universe. We were devastated to discover he had not made it into the bag! Such a tiny fellow – I should have pocketed him immediately after purchase. A bit chastened, I curled up on the couch to watch TCM and consider the gravity of my 55 years when my phone rang. It was, again, the assistant to my fearless leader and I figured I would at least get the report on how his meeting went. Instead, a piano played a jazzy version of Happy Birthday which made me laugh and laugh. It would of course be impossible to stay cross with such a person!

So now you are wondering how I show you this fine, tiny white cat – and his buddy the pig. We had a Day Three, birthday re-do last week and achieved the purchase this time – and a trip to Obscura Antiques and Oddities. All this and a trip to a wonderful toy store in Chelsea and many purchases there still yet to come in what appears could be the better part of a month of post-birthday related Pictorama.

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Krazy Cat & Celebration

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo turned up under a poor listing on eBay and I snatched it up before anyone else spied it. After all, who wouldn’t want this photo of this jolly grinning fellow, clutching archetypal straw hat, flowers and Krazy Kat? I will go out on a limb and speculate that he was a courtin’ and the flowers and Krazy were an offering to his beloved. And really, who wouldn’t be wooed and wowed by that? That toy cat would go a long way to winning me, let alone the flowers and the dapper appearance. According to the back of the photo this is Harry Smith and he is in Augusta, Ga. He’s quite the sport with his hat, sunglasses, clearly parted hair and offerings. No date, but we can make some assumptions about it being the 1920’s from his togs and that great Krazy Kat toy.

Here at Pictorama a year of birthday and Valentine’s Day have just passed. Having a birthday a few days before Valentine’s Day meant a childhood of Valentine decorations at my parties which was always cheerful – however as an adult the bright red and shiny cupids and hearts remind me more of a houseful of kids charged with birthday cake and chocolate than love and romance, the two will always be intertwined.

My father was the first man in my life to meet this double celebratory challenge gallantly. He always had a little something special for us kids for Valentine’s Day, despite it being days after my birthday which had been appropriately celebrated. Heart shaped boxes of candy, a silver heart-shaped keychain one year which I used for a very long time after. (And I’m still a total sucker for those boxes of Russell Stover chocolates which are the taste of my childhood Valentines. I just bestowed an extra large one on my office. The Easter baskets and candy have the same effect on me.) February in the Northeast tends to be a cold, snowy and somewhat miserable month, so the additional festivities make it a bit more cheerful to get through.

My sister Loren put her stamp on my birthday in adulthood by insisting on calling me at an ungodly early hour, claiming that she needed to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday. On another occasion she declared that my birthday should be a day off from work and we spent the day together. I acquired tickets to the live butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, which was brand new at the time. However, Loren had not told me she was afraid of butterflies until we were there and they were landing all over us! (She said she hadn’t wanted to disappoint me.)

After Loren died and birthdays suddenly became difficult, I instituted the Aquarian month of dinners and lunches to cheer the month up. I totted up all my fellow Aquarians and invited each one to get together for dinner, or lunch failing dinner availability. It cut an interesting and somewhat random path through friends and acquaintances, and time spent with friends is always a good way to focus one’s energy for a year ahead. The participants have waxed and waned over the years with only two original invitees still in the mix – over a dozen years folks moved away, some elderly ones died. I haven’t added anyone in a few years, although I just found out that someone at work is a candidate, a late January birthday that just slides into the Aquarius fold.

In addition, I am lucky that I have Kim, the best husband ever, who always makes my birthday and Valentine’s Day very special – we spend a day (or more!) near my birthday devoted to digging around in antique toy stores and the sort of dusty haunts that result in the purchase of interesting photos and strange odd bits. And of course he tops himself each February with his Valentine’s Day drawing. (Actually this production starts in January annually as it has grown more elaborate. For anyone who is a new to Pictorama a few of these can be seen herehere, and this year’s here.)

Kim actually did in fact also give me my very own Krazy Kat toy (this same Averill version as Harry Smith clutches here) on my birthday years ago, which is a story for its own post one day. This year’s birthday adventure and acquisitions, some great toys and photos, will also be upcoming as well in a series of future posts. In fact, I will finish this post up so Kim and I can get ready to go out. There was a store which defied us by closing unexpectedly last week. Let’s see what can be found there today. I will be sure to let you know.

 

A Maybe Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Yep, Happy Birthday to me once again – and get a look at this glorious new toy for the Pictorama collection! This fellow, known as a Yes/No Felix made the trip across the ocean from my friend a toy source (my supplier, shall we say?) named Regine who lives in Belgium. She had this fellow up on eBay a few months back, pre-Christmas. I hesitated on him as he no longer has his Yes/No function – you moved something (tail? arms) and he nodded his head yes or shook it no. This one appears to remain mute. I reached out to a friend and collector to ask his opinion about purchasing a toy that had lost this original functionality. His answer made me laugh – he said that to his knowledge he had perhaps used the yes/no on his Felix immediately upon purchase and to his memory never in all the subsequent years. He did however, ask said Felix if I should purchase the toy and his Felix said Yes! Luckily Regine still had him and so I acquired him, for my birthday – or to be more accurate my very generous husband the ever-wonderful Kim Deitch bought him for me and Regine got him here in record time.

Felix turned out to be larger than I anticipated (always a happy discovery) and a great specimen of Felix toy really. I love his comical tummy bulging shape, googly eyes and his large, goofy ears! More than the other toys (all ranging pretty far from the cartoon design to be honest) he is like Felix’s elder statesman uncle – the one who pulls silver dollars from behind your ear. While he is a completely different design from all the toys by other makers, he is similar to another Felix by the same maker, Schuco. That one that originally wound up and walked and was produced later than the Yes/No. (Mine no longer walks either, perhaps there was something about the mechanisms on these Schuco toys? He is a long story of his own which we may or may not get to one of these days here at Pictorama.)

Below is our man as a Christmas gift in his youth. Regular readers will remember this from just a few months ago posted in A Very Felix Christmas – and to think I had no idea at the time that this Yes/No fellow would be coming to live here!

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Let’s turn back the clock a bit. In the beginning of collecting, shortly after my first toy cat purchases – several splendid stuffed cats from the early part of the 20th century which were unearthed at antique stores in Red Bank, New Jersey – I discovered Felix the Cat toys with my first purchase of one at a flea market in London. I was off and running! Yet it was quite a while before I knew anything about them or who made these Felix toys. For some reason I thought that Germany was a likely maker of the European version of these American cartoon toys – or perhaps France?

It was a number of years before I discovered that the majority of my beloved Felix-es were made in Great Britain. I have examined this in different ways in a number of earlier posts including Felix as Cat and most definitely East London Toy Company, one which I myself refer back to periodically. The British were a hotbed of Felix production, companies such as Dean’s Rag Company and others. They far outstrip Felix’s home turf of the USA where he seems to have been somewhat neglected on that front despite his extraordinary film fame.

Anyway, all this to say that I ultimately learned that outside of Britain the production of Felix toys, particularly stuffed ones, was pretty much limited to a few models of Steiff on the US front and Schuco in Germany, and I have sited the two stuffed Schuco Felix toys above. Schuco was founded in Germany in the year 1912 and seems to be primarily a maker of rather indestructible looking metal cars and trucks. Odd that they should make Felix toys with a tendency toward mechanical breakdown. However, I have a lovely little Schuco bird which still functions – for this one see the post Tweet, Tweet, Tweet.

So thank you Kim! Thank you Mel for your advice (Felix’s too) and thank you Regine! You all, along with Felix, have softened the blow of growing one year older.