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.)

Scan 3

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.

a1510002.jpg

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!

 

 

 

 

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.

20170715-00005

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.)

8a80fbf1d7460942e6f26a51a732fc7a

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.

 

download-1

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.