Midnight Concert

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I admit to being on a bit of a Wain binge lately, having just purchased that excellent New Year’s Card I wrote about a few weeks ago. (That card and post can be found here.) In more or less the same wave I purchased this one which has a lot going on, the longer you look at it the more unfolds. Long gone are the days when I was reluctant to indulge in Louis Wain and his pricey postcards!

This one was never sent and has no writing on it, strangely there is a printed notation on the back which states, F. Hartmann’s “Manx Cats Series” N 3069. 2.” and indeed, the kitties in question are all Manx, tails notably absent upon study. Evidently Mr. Wain did an entire series devoted to the Manx, another example below. Apologies for the somewhat dubious quality of this photo snatch of Stormy Passage on the S.S. “Viking”.

 

Perhaps our Louis Wain research will eventually turn up the answer to why and how exactly he signed on for this Manx project, but for now suffice it to say, it was among his entertaining accomplishments in the realm of kitty illustration.

The music held by the cats all relates to the Isle of Man, the origin of the Manx cat. (I have written a little bit about these tail-less felines. That Wain wanna-be postcard post can be found here.) A quick pass at the internet tells me that the Manx is the oldest breed of cat and sometimes they have stubby tails as opposed to none. Manx cats are generally round all over – big eyes and round head and ears. Sort of ideal Wain models in my opinion.

Kim, who is working at his desk as I write this morning, tells me he used to be visited by a Manx when he lived in Berkley, a girl cat he described as “a real fuss budget, but not as much as Cookie.” In response to this Cookie has left the rocking chair she was napping on and joined Kim on a cushion next to his work chair, a generally prized cat spot in this apartment. Clearly she enjoys her fuss budget status in our house.

A careful study of the music sported by the cats on this card shows titles such as Manx WeddingEllan Vannin, Ramsey Town and by far my favorite, The Herring is the King of the Sea. I can easily imagine these bawdy Toms singing:

The herring is the king of the sea
The herring is the fish for me
The herring is the king of the sea
Sing fol the do or die

Oh what’ll we do with the herring’s eyes?
We’ll make them all into puddings and pies
We’ll make them all into puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!
Herring’s eyes, puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!

The herring is the king of the sea …

Oh what’ll we do with the herring’s heads?
We’ll make them all into loaves of bread
We’ll make them all into loaves of bread
And all sorts of things!
Herring’s heads, loaves of bread
Herring’s eyes, puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!

 

Meanwhile Ellan Vannin, sheet music held by the only kitty who is a bit feminine in appearance, is a sort of unofficial anthem of the Isle of Man. The Bee Gees, whose place of origin is the Isle of Man pre-Australia, recorded their own version of Ellan Vannin, with updated lyrics. It was part of a 1997 world tour and released as a single in 1998 with the proceeds going to a charitable organization. (You can listen to it here.) No one can accuse Louis Wain of not doing his research or shirking detail.

This kitty concert racket on this card plays out atop rooftops, in view of some silhouetted men, pipes a’puffin, framed in a nearby window. The cats are in their glory as they sing from a variety of lyrics simultaneously which gives a sense of the cacophony created. Even the moon looks on in annoyed disapproval, but the kitties don’t care. My favorite is the fellow perched on the chimney with smoke billowing out from under him – he’s the one with the Herring King sheet music. One of my favorite Pictorama posts for a late night kitty sing along, perhaps a cat genre unto itself, is the photo I found and featured in Kitty Sextette Singers which can be found here.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

If you have ever experience a nocturnal chanteur or chanteuse in feline form you know that it gets your attention and can indeed keep you up. While I believe the lore of the midnight cat song is a love song, there is another variation which I attributed to male cats which is the tendency to roam the house (or in our case, Blackie, very small apartment) howling and muttering to themselves.

I refer to this as Existential Kitty Angst or End of the World Meows. My parents had a cat that drove me nuts with it – long sessions of it nightly. They had learned to sleep through it but he kept me awake whenever I overnighted. Blackie indulges in it occasionally, but I find it usually ends in his taking a swipe at Cookie and then whole thing ends up in a fight, sometimes even a spirited chase through the apartment. This seems to sweep his anxieties out of the way, although sometimes instead we can end it in a non-violent way, encouraging him to find his spot at the foot of the bed. However, on those occasions when I find myself awake and fretting at 3 AM, Kim, Cookie and Blackie sound asleep, I too am tempted to caterwaul and howl!

Of Rats and Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Post: A admit to being a bit stuck on the New Year’s theme this year – I wonder what my subconscious is trying to tell me. However, I scarfed up this card recently as its somewhat three dimensional embossed-ness appealed immediately. I am taking this opportunity, therefore, to consider Chinese New Year and the upcoming celebration of the Year of the Rat.

Starting with considering this splendid card, I will note that this realistic puss has a toothy look that makes me think he would happily eat the rat or any rodent in question. The card was never mailed, but in a penned script on the back it reads, Bro Rob – Wishing you a very Merry Christmas Harry. It is undated. It is deeply embossed, making writing on the back a bit difficult, but contributing to its sense of depth.

I don’t know anything about the Chinese horoscope, but I do feel like I am hearing a lot about the Rat this January. The Rat takes us back to the beginning of the 12 entity cycle which gives me a sense of beginnings and the turning over of new leafs. (Perhaps like me, you have many leaves and are still considering which might be ripe for turning.)

I was walking home from the gym last Sunday, which was an incredibly unseasonably warm day for January, more like spring. As I strolled down 85th Street I noticed a rat in a tree well, dead, but oddly appearing like he was napping. I thought to myself that the Year of the Rat wasn’t working out for him – having missed such a very nice day, not to mention the commencement of his year. We’ll hope he did his time as a rat and was moving onto a better incarnation.

Generally rats terrify me. (Even this dead one made me scream a bit and jump.) I have an irrational fear of them. I am unsure if it was growing up on the water where water rats are enormous and fierce; we were warned about them as children, or just something about me and them. (I go into some detail about this in a post called Ratters and Mousers which can be found here.) Meanwhile, admittedly New York City rats are like large mice by comparison – the mice sometimes so tiny that they look more like spiders.

Everything is bigger outside of the city – the mice, moles and shrews of my childhood rodent catching cats were outsized by comparison. I was amazed when I moved here and worked in a restaurant kitchen with mice so small that sometimes they were just a blur of movement I would catch out of the corner of my eye.

My dead street rat victim notwithstanding, the rat and the year are considered to be lucky ones. I have a personal (and also frankly irrational) preference for even years. This applies equally to the year in question as well as to my age – they are in sync for me. I don’t remember when I developed this preference. A friend recently posted that her shrink says the even years are the ones for catching up.

I am a Dragon – the only imaginary animal in the Chinese Zodiac. I am told we have tenacity, courage and confidence, as well as arrogance and we are aggressive. I guess I can own up to most of that. My sub-set is Wood Dragon though, which is a tad less charming as we are tagged as introverted (I am guessing you all at Pictorama may not entirely agree) and less enthusiastic. However, I read that mine is a lucky career year in particular and I say, May the Year of the Rat begin!

 

 

Tick Tock

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I guess today could be called a pin post which almost make it to a sub-genre of Pictorama consideration. Button and pin collecting is certainly a robust field of its own although I intersect with it only occasionally. (I wrote recently about a cardboard Felix one which can be found here, and another I found in some things of my sister’s which honored violinist Maud Powell which can be found here.)

Today’s acquisition was an item on ebay which snagged my attention. It honors the not-quite-Felix cat clock, officially named Kit-Cat, which has achieved considerable fame and status on its own. Founded in 1932 and entering into its 88th year the company that churns out these clocks has zigged and zagged, but remained in continuous existence. The age of my pin is unknown, I discovered a person on Etsy selling a pile of them, a pin at a time, from a bunch their mother had that date to the 1970’s. As that seller points out, the cat design changed from a two-paw to a four-paw-with-bow-tie one in the 1950’s so therefore this design is post-1950’s.

This listing also noted that on the rim of the pin it states, Cathi & Boy’s Favorite Toys, Seattle, WA and sure enough, I found that almost infinitesimal writing under magnified inspection, on the edge of mine. No idea what it means as the company moved to California in 1962.

The clock was designed by a Portland, Oregon, designer named Earl Arnault who wanted an item that would bring cheer to Depression era items. It originally sold in five and dimes for $3.95 – which to my mind seems high for that time. ($68 in today’s dollars to be exact.) And these fellows and gals will cost you today – in the range of $40 to more than $100 if you insist on rhinestones and such.

Ultimately it wasn’t messing with the design that almost killed this iconic cat, but the loss of manufacturing parts for the motors as clocks in general moved to digital and the move to batteries meant an engineering challenge of not only making the clock run, but controlling the swiveling eyes and ticking tail.

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Interim, still two-paw 1940’s design

 

I grab the story below, which picks up in the 1980’s when the company has been purchased by Woody Young, after having been moved to California and renamed California Clock Company. This excerpt as told in an article on a site called Inc. (The article in full can be found here.)

The problem was that the electric motor in Kit-Cat had operated not just the clock but also the swiveling eyes and swinging tail. The battery ran just the clock. No swivel. No swing. Young tried to get a new battery engineered, but there were too many variables, such as weight, materials, and the location of the fulcrum to maximize limited power.

At an inventors’ conference in Pasadena, where he was speaking on intellectual property, Young went from booth to booth and recruited four individual attendees to attack one piece of the problem each. He combined their solutions and within 30 days had a working prototype. “I’d taken the problem around the world to vendors without success,” says Young. “But those inventors got the job done.”

One of my favorite asides of this article is that during the clocks 1940’s heyday, Lucille Ball used to buy them by the case for birthday and Christmas gifts. Rather grand, yes?

The Kit-Cat Klock site (kit-cat.com) offers not only a myriad variation on the cat clocks (eyelashes and gem encrusted or pearl wearing “girl” cats), but repair parts and a doctor care kit for clocks dating back to the 1970’s. The company slogan is Bringing Time to Life Since 1932. They run the fan club today as well which appears to offer a membership card rather than this pin.

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Pictorama pick for a clock today – sticking close to classic design

 

In addition to the clocks and the repair items, they offer a somewhat notable range of related items. In addition to the requisite t-shirts, a rather nice lapel pin and socks, I recommend the tablecloth and the charm bracelet monthly subscription. Warning, that last one will cost you.

 

As for me, two of these clocks are currently in my possession, both in need of repair. One is a slightly earlier design than the other – a gift from a collecting friend. The contemporary one was a gift from Kim many years ago which I think is missing a small part where the tail hangs. I believe he purchased it for me off of ebay. It graced our kitchen wall for a number of years with roving eyes and wagging tail. (In that time it was brought to my attention that some people are afraid of them – not unlike a fear of clowns I guess?) Of course in researching this I decided that I really like the most simple, impossible to find earliest vintage design. Sigh.

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From Collector’s Weekly magazine, interesting that no one mentions that the early ones were metal!

 

In the process of reading this a discussion ensued about our ability to repair said clocks with the parts proffered or perhaps purchase a new one. We’ll see. That, dear readers, will have to wait to be resolved in a future post.

 

 

New Year’s Wain-ing

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: This little gem turned up in my mailbox on New Year’s Eve – I guess in a sense I had mailed myself this New Year’s card by purchasing it earlier in the week. Somehow I ran across a bargain on a Louis Wain New Year’s card on ebay and snatched it up. Therefore, lucky Pictorama readers, you get a second New Year’s card post this year and it’s a pip.

Mailed on December 30, 1903 it is address to Master Thomas Couch Front Street Brampton and is simply from Mrs. Moore. The title of the card is When the Cat’s Away and these magnificent naughty kits are having a high old time, just as I have always suspected our cats do as soon as Kim and I are out of sight.

These kitties are in a schoolroom and I especially like the map of Catland on the wall. Careful study reveals that according to Wain Catland is made up of the following regions: Cats Dairy, Cats Meat Land, Mouse Home, Cow Corner, Rat Land, Beetle Lane and Persian Land. Wain and I see the map of Catland somewhat differently perhaps. (I am in fact the Queen of Catland as depicted by Kim on several occasions and therefore feel I have some authority on subject. One image depicting me in my Queen regalia can be in the form of a Valentine can be found here. Additionally I come pretty close in some of my finery as depicted in Kim’s Reincarnation Stories.)

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A book of Cat Tales is tossed on the floor and these kits are madly going at it. We’ll figure the one wearing the dunce cap is the ring leader, spilling the ink and assignment of the brown tabby next to him. Gray kitty is having a poke at his neighbor, who appears to have something nefarious going on in his desk – wonder what is in there? Meanwhile the maniacal look of the cat playing leap frog is pure Wain.

May I just state the obvious and say that Mrs. Moore had very good taste in cards? I would have liked to have known her. And we are so grateful to Master Couch for having the good sense to take good care of this card? Pictorama readers may remember that I came to Louis Wain late in the game for a cat enthusiast of the early 20th century. (Posts commencing the ceding of my Wain moratorium on a trip to London a few years ago can be found here and here.) My defensive posture was purely an economic one as the competition for his imagery, even the merest postcards, is extremely stiff and therefore costly. Nevertheless, I have abandoned that position and have traveled happily way down the Wain rabbit hole.

As some of you know, I am kicking off this New Year nursing my back which I seem to have pulled out of whack in the final frenzy of 2019. I tend to resent the reminder that I am human and have furiously thrown every imaginable treatment at it – although being flat on my back has resulted in numerous ebay purchases like this one. As Kim pointed out to me last night, time is probably what it really needs so I settle in for the long haul and contemplate the New Year – and dream a bit of what is yet to be discovered in 2020.

 

The New Year

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I admit when the New York Times posed the question of if we were indeed not just starting a New Year, but perhaps a whole new decade I was a tad overwhelmed. Suddenly the teens have slipped away and we are launching ourselves into the ’20’s. How on earth did that happen? It was a busy decade – in fact it was a busy year – and it is almost hard to look at the stretch from where we started to where we ended and consider it all of a piece.

I start by sharing a New Year’s card today which I have purchased, but will not reach my mailbox until later in January. (Technically this bends if not actually breaks a Pictorama rule about having items in hand when I write about them, but we know about rules and how they are made to be broken. I claim that privilege today.) I love this somewhat ambiguous image of one cat welcoming the other two, senior and youngster into the New Year, gesturing to the road, a mysterious half-smile on his face. The scene is a snowy one, but the path is clear. The elder cat seems to be saying, “Oh yes, let’s head on into this year!” (Not sure why this is Bonne Annéel rather than Bonne Année. Please feel free to enlighten me if you know or get the reference.)

The French can be depended on for New Year’s cards and I believe the art on this postcard is by Maurice Boulanger – a French artist for whom there doesn’t seem to be much biographical information.  Boulanger’s cards were being produced as early as 1903 – or at least there are some postmarked that early according to one website I found which attempts to catalogue the several hundred cards that were produced. (The postmark on this one is obscured, shown below, addressed in this beautiful neat hand.) Working during the same time as Louis Wain and clearly influenced by him – his cats seem to belong to, if not the same universe, certainly a neighboring one of slightly more sane felines. This card is not signed by Boulanger, but certainly seems to emerge from his stable of kitties.

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Highlights of this decade for me include this blog which came into existence around the halfway mark of the decade, August of 2014. In the wee hours today Pictorama hit 125 subscribed readers – thank you readers! (And a special hello to new subscriber, Ver It’s Peculiar.) I never seem to have the right moment to thank you all for signing up; please know that I am always encouraged by it. A new reader is the very most cheerful thing to discover attached to a ping! on my iPad. For those of you who have meandered around the archive you know that there are more than 600 posts, virtually every Saturday and Sunday. Many of you show up directly from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well and your interest is no less appreciated!

One of the most significant changes during this decade is that back in 2010 I was still working at the Metropolitan Museum, leaving the Museum wasn’t even a gleam in my eye. 2017 saw that surprising change after thirty years, when I moved to Jazz at Lincoln Center to continue fundraising but overseeing it. I write about Jazz more than I did the Met. Working at the Met after so many years was like breathing – it was hard to take a step back until after I left. They were family to me however and always will be. (My post about leaving the Met can be found here and some of my posts about my work with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra can be found here and here.) They too have become family – I find that Kim and I have been slowly absorbed into that, albeit very different, clan.

Most notably, I lost Dad in the latter part of this decade, having lost my sister Loren in the previous one. The loss of loved ones creates its own relative time – all time gets divided into before and after. (I wrote about my last days with Dad here and a bit about my sister here.) Those are the markers that live large in our mind’s eye.

Meanwhile, a look back on posts of 2019 reminds me that this year kicked off with recreating my grandmother’s Poor Man’s Cake (I’m sort of itching to make it again – perhaps it is to be a New Year’s tradition for me – yum, that post is here), covered authors Edna Ferber to my continuing obsession with the ever prolific Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Too many posts for me to list for those!) Work took me to the west coast (post here), Johannesburg (here) and most recently, Wisconsin (here). We started renovation on the apartment (too many of those posts to list as well), and best of all Kim’s book Reincarnation Stories was published in October. (Today it is on the Best Comics of 2019 list published in the New York Times Book Review. At the time I write this it can be found here.) I wrote my own two-part, very biased wifely review of Kim’s book which can be found here and here. Some posts this year were good and were well received, some less so. Thank you to those of you who continue to read regardless.

Looking forward is more important than looking back and in that vein Kim is hard at work on his next book, How to Make Comics, even as he continues to do appearances for Reincarnation Stories. I am not really a hardcore resolution maker, but it is my hope and plan to continue, and complete, the work in the apartment, fulfilling a dream of creating a wall of built-in bookcases for increased storage.

I would like to travel a little less for work, but I am not entirely sure that is an attainable goal as I already know I will be in London and Paris with the orchestra in the spring, and maybe Florida and maybe a trip back to Madison, Wisconsin also loom this winter. I would also like to take more time for myself – spend more time with Kim and my mom, get back to a more orderly exercise routine. (I have never written about how beloved my exercise routine is to me, but it definitely keeps me sane as well as fit.) This job seems to require endless time so that will be among the challenges of 2020.

So, for now, a toast of the writerly glass to you all, and my Bonne Année wishes to all for 2020. See you on the other side!

 

 

 

 

Gentlemen with Cats and Chicken

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a break from the ramping up of holiday madness all around us and spending a little time with these fine fellows today. Men with cats has long been a favorite sub-genre of my card collecting. (A few earlier examples can be found here and here.) This card was never sent, but someone wrote what appears to be the name Robert Hersir. (On a whim I looked the name Hersir up and discovered it means Viking King.)

I like these guys, and not just because they were smart enough to immortalize their cats and chicken when having this photo taken. There’s something frank and fun about them – the rakish guy with his askew bow-tie in the middle especially. Hat thrown down in front of him, shiny button boots of a day gone by fashion thrust forward, young striped tabby cat in his arms, looking somewhat alarmed or at least admittedly peevish. He stares right out at us from his day, back in the early part of the last century.

My father would occasionally hold one of the cats in the manner of this man, and he would inform the cat that he or she was in “cat prison”. It is a term and strong arm approach I have sometimes adopted with my felines as well when grabbing them up and holding them hostage in this way. (Despite or even because of this, the cats adored my father. I can’t say mine seem to enjoy the experience as much.)

Our guy’s suit, like the kitty, is striped and the photographer gets credit too for the symmetry of the image and how well the image works. It appears to be a photo set when I examine it carefully, a much worn one though it must be said. It also leaves me wondering who takes their kitty and rooster to a photo studio? I can only imagine a world that was a slightly different (more interesting?) place back in that time. Oddly, this is not the first rooster booster pet photo in my collection. I wrote about roosters as pets in photos at least twice last year. (Those posts can be found here and here.)

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The chicken in question, held by a fairly natty fellow with a posy in his buttonhole, looks calmer than the cat. He is somewhat indistinct and it is a bit of a call on my part to say rooster rather than hen, but I believe it is a fellow fowl.

Our third gentleman, who sports a sort of sweet smile, has an almost imperceptible black cat curled up in his lap. Like my kitty Blackie might have, this kitty has made himself comfortable for lap petting during the duration of the session. No stress for him. This man and cat are perched on a small bench of sorts while the guy with the rooster seems to be squatting, but it is hard to tell. All three men wear suits, the paper collared shirts of their day and ties.

I hardly need to mention that the painted backdrop is stained, peeling and generally tatty beyond imagination. The floor covering appears to be much in the same state. It suits these guys fine, but I can’t exactly imagine who came in next. Hard to imagine newly weds or vacationing duos lining up after, but it seems a fitting setting for these guys and their pets.

 

Sewn Up

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I type I pause to consider if today’s post was a Pictorama Toy post or not, because while I think of this little fellow as a toy, he isn’t. He is a sweet little practical item from a time more or less gone by days – a sewing pin cushion and tape measure. Now, I admit it is hard to imagine sticking pins in this fella (making him perhaps more hedgehog than kitty), but he would be very cheerful and perky to perch on your sewing table or to find in your sewing basket. When grasped you can hear the crunch of his kapok or sawdust filling (aren’t pin cushions filled with something to sharpen the pins though?), his eyes are glass and his cheerful red tongue can be pulled out for a tape measure. (I cannot not display this as it no longer can be made to retract.) He has a tag on his tummy, but any manufacture information printed on it has long faded away. I like his red plastic collar which has remained firmly in place.

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I have already opined previously on my inability to sew. (That post which features another pin cushion cat can be found here.) My maternal grandmother didn’t sew a lot, however she did have a sewing basket which I now only remember as round and I believe covered in fabric, although most I see from the same period are wicker so perhaps my memory is flawed. As a child the magic of the sewing box was all about the rare occasion of when it was opened and I could peer into the interesting bits and pieces inside. Sewing baskets make tremendous sense, housing all those sewing necessities in one place so that one can quickly get down to the task at hand. However, as I do it so seldom I seem to be loathe to spare the shelf or table space and instead have to scramble each and every time I sew a button on.

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The pleasant jumble inside this sewing box reminds me at least a little of my grandmother’s.

 

Crammed inside there were scraps of fabric, thread of course and fascinating tools whose use I had no idea of – nor have I necessarily learned about them since. The exception was the shiny coin-like needle threaders which always interested me – so bright and tempting! They are an exception because I eventually learned to use one and ultimately became utterly dependent on them for threading needles, especially as I get older and my eyes get more frustrated with the difficulty of this task. Wikipedia tells me that these have been around since the late 18th or early 19th century and that a head of a woman is generally stamped on them, which is how I think of them. I show the classic version as I know it below. Genius!

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Additionally, I am familiar with this model below of porcelain doll as sewing kit although I cannot remember who used one. Perhaps my father’s mother who sewed less than my other grandmother, but I have a very specific tactile memory of these. I think I was very small and slightly afraid of it.

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If I had discovered this little kitty along the way I don’t think anyone could have stopped me from nabbing him for my own. As it was, he was one of my very first black cat purchases from a now defunct antiques annex in Red Bank, New Jersey. He sits proudly among the other black cats where to my knowledge no one remarks on his utilitarian beginnings.