Gussie

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Poor Gussie deserved a better photo in my opinion – the photographer was poor in various facets of execution. The exposure is bad (and I have helped it a tad), but the development and printing manages to be even worse – blotchy, cockeyed and cutoff. (It is also, to be frank, dirty and missing a corner.) I assume that it is the product of a nascent photographer and is a credit to the process of early home photography that it was made at all.

Yet for all of this that the photo survives is touching. In addition, there’s something charming about it – even the way Gussie & cat is written with a period at the end. A series of people cared enough to keep Gussie and his cat so I have entered into that line of holders. Obviously for me the attraction is that Gussie is proudly showing off his nice tabby cat. This is a photo postcard and it was never mailed, nothing is written on the back.

While the erstwhile photographer didn’t have his or her chops on exposure or printing they had something of an eye for composition. The boards make up a very pleasing horizontal and vertical design, as does the board he is perched on, and Gussie is captured with his rollicking charm fully intact. I like his shadow self behind him. If you look carefully you can make out the food and water bowl for the kitty. It is clearly a cat domain.

The ongoing mulling I do over the meaning, value and saving of photos is more than I think my readers or I want to tackle on this Sunday morning. As I have mentioned before, my intention is to eventually collect these photos into a book. I like to think that all these photos of families, soldiers, men in hats and Gussie will end up together in a long chapter on beloved family felines.

Just a Song at Twilight

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: This postcard sat on a watch list on my eBay account for quite awhile before I noticed it one day and snapped it up. Sometimes, it seems, our attention wanders here at Pictorama. The nice fat black cat on this card first attracted me because he reminds me of one of my first stuffed cat purchases, a cat of similar proportions and girth. (While we strive for svelte, calorie calibrated real felines here at Deitch studio, who doesn’t love at least the image of a pudgy puss? And Cookie and Blackie would love to explore the possibilities of unfettered eating, I assure you.)

This card was sent on February 20, 1913 from Waterman, Illinois I cannot quite make out. It is addressed, in a childish hand in pencil, to Mrs. A.H. Seibert, Pecatonica, IL, RR no. 1. To the best of my ability it reads, Waterman, Ill. Feb. 20. Hello ma. Well I got here all right. Jennie was in Rochford. She had to go to the dentist. She has another wisdom tooth on the other side now it is not thought but hurts her. She did not get all she wanted but will probably have to come back to Rochford again. Well I will write you again. Good bye from…feel pretty good. WS. Clearly at the time such a card sent in the morning and received in the evening or the next day, rather than a phone call, would comfort a mother to know her child arrived safely to their destination.

Just a Song at Twilight refers to a popular song of the day and I would offer a link to it on Youtube if I could find one that wasn’t decidedly lugubrious. While Kim and I both believe such a thing exists I cannot find it so I will not tax you with what is readily available. (Dear readers, feel free to supply if you find differently.)

Since we live in Manhattan you would think we might be experts on nighttime noise, but I must say I mostly adjusted to the type of nocturnal life of the city without any trouble and rarely hear it now. As many readers know, I grew up on the water in a New Jersey suburb and therefore my earliest memories are of going to sleep with the sound of water lapping outside (a sound I love and one that immediate lulls me) and later, even though where we lived could hardly be called the country, everything from screech owls to the fluttering of bats under the eaves were some of the noises of the night. Returning to New Jersey those sounds are now more likely to wake me as I am no longer used to them.

Cats of course are nocturnal animals and this is true whether they live inside or out, although I do suspect that living in a small space with us in our apartment has perhaps had some impact on their circadian rhythms, aligning them a tad with our own. Gratefully, Cookie and Blackie seem to devote at least some of their more than a dozen hours of daily sleep to the evening. (Although if you want to read about our wake up kitties and their routine, which starts quite early, I wrote about it recently and it can be found here.)

However, cats raising their voices in nighttime song has long been a part of their modus operandi. Here in the city I occasionally hear mournful meows at night via an open window and it makes me nuts as I worry about the little fellow or gal. (Recent decades spent on the 16th floor means this happens less often than when I lived on the 6th and faced a garden, complete with low wall, which was well, like catnip to kitties.)

Cats howling for the sake of howling has long been memorialized in cartoons and song. I have two pieces of sheet music within eyeshot right now that allude to this. I have written about them before, I show one below. (Those posts can be found here and here.) I also wrote about a strange, pre-Photoshop somewhat mysterious collaged image of kitties on a back fence that I purchased and love (post can be found here) which I offer again.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Skim

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Meanwhile, this reputation for nighttime cat carousing is indeed one that is justly applied and has not fallen out of fashion with felines. Cats fight at night – in fact Cookie and Blackie have a date to fight at the front door of the apartment every night, usually at 10:00 PM, complete with strangled noises from Cookie which often result in my having to break it up. I have known a number of cats, I want to say mostly if not exclusively male, who have wandered the house caterwauling in the wee hours of the morning – a habit which is hard to live with and would be hellish in a studio apartment. My mother’s cat Red is a current practitioner. I refer to it as existential kitty angst – and it would probably get us thrown out of our co-op if Blackie ever takes it up.

 

Nestle’s

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: A bit of splendid advertising where cats meet cards today. When I think Nestlé I think of a chocolate bar which, to the highly discerning taste of my childhood palate, always seemed naggingly inferior and pallid to my preferred Hershey. As memory serves though, they were an early leader in chocolate milk mixes and chocolate being chocolate, was of course ultimately always a welcome event – preferences a technicality really. As a kid you largely take what you can get.

In my childhood estimation Nestlé’s powdered Quik was superior to Hershey’s syrup for cold milk as it mixed better and more easily. It came in yellow and brown tins and I still have the sense memory of using a spoon to pop open the lid. Hot chocolate was happily made with either, but I think my Hershey’s affection won out there as well. (Both were challenged by Swiss Miss later because it had marshmallows ready embedded which was very handy as mom couldn’t be relied on to remember to buy them.)

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In young adulthood I worked here in Manhattan as a chef for a Swiss Hotel, the Drake, and Nestlé nibbles abounded as the house chocolate of choice. I don’t think I had really focused on Nestlé’s Swiss origins before then. In my childhood the bars came wrapped in blue, red and white paper and it was Nestlé’s Crunch, more or less as shown below via Pinterest. For all of my memories of Nestlé chocolates I must say I never really focused on the accent on the é until now, funny. It is consistently used throughout.

 

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Meanwhile, these splendid cards were purchased on eBay recently; I bargained them down but still paid up for them and don’t regret it in the least. Their postmarks bear evidence of having been mailed in Great Britain in 1903, August and September respectively, but these were purchased from a US seller. In tiny letters at the top it reads H.M. & Co.’s Famous Posters in Miniature which makes me wonder if these were originally huge posters as still seen in the London underground for example.

These postcards were mailed to and from different folks in different parts of England. 1903 predates Nestlé’s purchase of a rival chocolate company (in 1904) which put them in the chocolate line of business, and was only just making its way to the US shortly after in about 1905. Therefore these cards were likely British and advertising Nestlé’s earlier incarnation as a condensed milk and baby formula company. Richest in cream these both declare!

Of course for me, it was these comical kitties that called to me. I love them together as a two-part comic strip – the skinny brown fellow drinking his creamy way to rotund plumpness from card one to two! Wise white kitty is the purveyor of the fattening feline dairy diet. In the second image, the dark clouds over the night sky have cleared and this backyard nocturnal perk is discreetly jollier in general. Orange/brown cat offers his gratitude in rhyme, Thanks for your feed of NESTLÉ’S MILK. It did me good – my coat’s like silk; And now I’m sound in limb and brain. I’ll never drink skim milk again!

 

 

 

Everybody into the Pool!

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: Kicking off this 1st of June post with a kitty fantasy worthy of my Jersey shore childhood, although this seems to be more of a mountain lake scene than the Atlantic ocean of my youth. These swimming felines sport an interesting array of swimming costumes that cross clothing periods – while one bikini is prominent, some “men” wear old-fashioned one pieces from earlier in the 20th century, as does a female kitty climbing up a diving ladder further back. A few wear swim caps – keeping their kitty coiffures intact?

Referred to sometimes as Mainzer Cats, this card is part of a large series of postcards produced by the Alfred Mainzer company of Long Island City, New York. (A local business with Long Island City being just across the East River from where I sit right this moment.) The company was in business from the 1940’s through the 1960’s, however the artist responsible for these cards was a Swiss artist, Eugen Hartung (or Hurtong) (1897-1973), who executed the series. So the moniker Mainzer Cats seems a bit unfair in retrospect – these are actually Hartung kitties.

Clearly the artistic and spiritual descendent of Louis Wain, (who I have written about on many occasions including here  and here for starters), Hartung picked up the whacky feline artistic baton of depicting anthropomorphic cats; his felines generally clad in human togs and portrayed in a variety of settings and situations – sometimes when minor disaster is about to strike, although this one doesn’t seem to show anything more serious than a raft tipping over. He is a bit less boffo than Wain and I gather he employed other animals in images as well – dogs, mice and even hedgehogs.

Kim claims to have had a number of these cards pinned up on the wall of his 1970’s Bay area abode and thinks some may linger in the depths of his files. (Um, are you holding out on your wife Mr. Deitch?) This card is the first to enter the Pictorama collection although I have a tugging memory that maybe I also owned a few as a child.

As for cats and water – I have known some more fond of it than others, but none that were interested in full body immersion, swimsuit notwithstanding. I have however known one or two to sit under a dripping faucet now and again – sometimes to drink from, but occasionally just for the bit of drip, drip, drip on their head. My cat Otto was prone to getting a bit too curious about a full tub of water which sometimes ended badly when she took an unintentional dunking now and again. I have had several cats who were committed to being in the bathroom when I showered – scratching at the door insistently if excluded – and more than one that discovered the space between the shower curtain and liner as an exciting cat shower experience perch, I guess not unlike the excitement going through the car wash as a child.

Time for More Men in Hats with Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo postcard was purchased several weeks ago and put aside, found and remembered today as I was having a quick paw through my piles of photos currently waiting to be deposited into storage containers or, more rarely, in line to be framed up. This postcard is in remarkably pristine condition for such an old card, never mailed, written on, nor put in an album.

The photographer had a good eye for setting these gentlemen up perfectly in front of this interesting house with bay windows and porch. (I have a soft spot for a good porch and I am ready to curl up on this one with a book for the afternoon. In fact I am slightly in love with this house in general and would love to explore its nooks and crannies further.) The upper story of the has these octagon shingles that I find especially cheerful too. I admit to being uncertain about the purpose of the post they are posed near – for horses perhaps? I never understood how horses were patient enough to stay casually looped to a post. I always feel that, like dogs, they probably should be leashed more tightly but, at least from watching westerns, evidently not.

However, most notably, the men have chosen to display this interesting early bike and to scoop up their kitty to include as prized possessions. Unfortunately, the cat has moved with feline impatience and is just a blur. I like the shot of the bike very much. (Watching American Pickers has given me an interest in the aesthetics of early bikes I admit.) Unintentionally, these fellows have given us a visual tour of chapeaux of the day – two variations on bowlers, fedoras and a newsboy cap. I think it is fair to say that the hats are largely worn at a jaunty angle by all. Four are clad in suits of various design and fit showing the sartorial options of the day – from baggy to quite tight – our biker sporting a more casual turtleneck sweater instead.

A subset of photos of hat-sporting men photographed with cats makes up a small portion of my collection. (Some posts about those can be found here, here and here.) I am a sucker for them. From soldiers, to guys sitting on a bench or a lone gentleman scooping up his kit for a snapshot, I am pleased that man clearly does not live by canine alone.

 

Time is Flying

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Who among us has not been smacked by time running away on us? The image of the hourglass with the sand running low comes to mind – or if you are a Kim Deitch fan, maybe a bossy clock with a human face glowering while he stands over you, urging you on. This postcard features the tailless cats from the Isle of Man, the origin of this card, which was posted on May 15, 1909 – or so is my best read on the stamp cancellation. It was mailed from a place called Douglas and to a Miss H. Woodrich, 15 Manchester Road, Southport. The sender of the card wrote in pencil which has faded, but I can read the following, These are Manx cats without tails. What do you think of them, ask Libs. Hope you are well & jolly. Love to all. Sadly, the sender’s name is obscured.

I liked the exposed claw paws on these kitty fellows as well as their action reaction to the bits being thrown at them. (Each one getting conked on the head with a different item!) I especially like the one across from what turns out to be the coat of arms for the Isle of Man, soon to be hit with a flying slipper. The top of the card reads Time is flying (it struck me in flight), I’ve nothing of a ‘tale’ but hope you keep all right. Then, more subtle but humorous is the translation around the coat of arms which is, whithersoever you throw it, it will stand. (This translation from our friends at Wikipedia. It should also be noted that this is an older version of the coat of arms which was changed in 1994, according to the same source.)

A number of years ago, after my sister died, I decided that I wanted to take a less adversarial approach to time which suddenly seemed out of control, and attempt to consciously slow it down. As someone who has meditated I felt that there may be mindful activities which allow us to slow time down – or I guess more precisely to experience it differently.

I chose to learn how to make daguerreotypes – an early photographic process that is fairly complicated to replicate today. Because of the exposure time with the subject (or sitter) it literally meant recording time in a certain way. From that I started making other kinds of photographs, both early process and silver gelatin prints ultimately as well. I enjoyed it and it served me well for many years, the taking of the photos and then the slow repetitive process with a creative edge that meant I was also mentally alert. I stopped for a myriad of reasons I will not go into right now, but it has been on my mind lately. Not necessarily to go back to making photos, but an activity that will serve the same purpose. Working out at the gym has served this function to some degree in recent years, and I am considering swimming. I am not sure, but my guess is you, Pictorama readers, will be among the first to know.

Canton Ohio Photo Studio

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is a sweet and interesting photo. The gentleman on the right appears to be in a WWI uniform – are they brothers? A fair guess that they are. The idea that that they posed this photo with their cat is of course extremely compelling for me. Nothing is written on this card and it was never sent. It is oddly filthy, with dirty fingerprints both front and back. Now that I have photographed it I will see about cleaning it, but am afraid I might damage it. Not like I know much about that sort of thing. These gentlemen pose in front of a faded background scene, their sharp shadows belying any illusion of realism.

Of course if I were to take a photo before leaving for war, of those dearest to me it would include my kits as well as my humans. This fellow was of course transported to said photo studio, M. Mimi’s to be precise, for this purpose. (I have my doubts about the quality of M. Mimi’s work, I must admit.) Those of us who live with cats are aware that, while the level of distress varies from feline to feline, in general they do not approve of involuntary locomotion and their distress runs from what I call end-of-the-world meows to mere dark muttering of malcontent.

I understand that some people have cats that travel contentedly (don’t look so smug!), but I have never been acquainted with one of those well adjusted fellows, not in my many cat relationships. Cookie and Blackie do not transport especially happily, but they are far from the worst felines I have known in this regard. When they were oh-so-tiny we transported them together in one carrier. This seems utterly impossible to imagine now. Anyway, I will assume that the cat’s appearance in this photo was a non-negotiable issue. Perhaps a copy of the picture went with the soldier and this one stayed here, as did the cat.

While I have often noted the tendency for people to grab their cat when they are being photographed, the idea of a posed portrait with one is much more unusual. In this case they had to also convince puss to sit still for the moment – and he or she did as it isn’t blurred at all. It’s odd, but the cat seems to be taking it seriously. In fact, all three are pretty serious. I can’t tell for sure, but I believe he has a cigarette in his left hand, uniform of the day pulling in some places, prescribed bagginess in others.

The man in the overcoat is a bit unusual as well, at least by today’s standards. He has kept this very long coat, hat and his gloves on for the photo. Under it he sports a full suit and tie, scarf. He smokes a cigarette. Unlike the cat he seems to be in a bit of a rush and they are awkward in their pose, not quite touching. The story is forgotten as far as we know, but the photo will be cared for to the best of our abilities at its current resting place here at Pictorama.