Sit Up There Buster

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have long held the pure fantasy of legions of cats who not only are trained, but also perform with Busby Berkley-like skill and perfection. I am talking about a sort of an all-singing, all-dancing cat review, sort of circa 1933. For a number of years I suggested to Kim that this would be a lovely birthday surprise, and yet Februarys have come and gone and still, no secret cat rehearsals in the hall, and no birthday cat performance. Imagine! And there is no evidence that Cookie and Blackie will be the ones to break into show biz. Out of all of our cats, they are I think the least inclined to attempt miming human activity, although Cookie will engage in a game of fetch and will do cat yoga in tandem with Kim’s daily work out. (It is my belief that Cookie just want to show how much better she is at stretching and exercise than humans are. She is right – and she is doing it as I write this.) Blackie prefers to maintain his own state of cat perfection and disinterest.

Fairness does compel me to point out that while we at Deitch Studio may have fallen short of two-stepping kit extravaganzas for my birthday, Kim has on many occasions drawn such epics for me and in this regard I am, as I so often reflect, a very lucky woman indeed.

The jolly fellow who authored this card looks like he may be training his cat while sporting evening dress, but perhaps it is just the poor lighting of this photo and he isn’t in dinner clothes. I like to imagine he is however – how dashing! The cat is more kitten than cat, good to start training ’em young I guess, and Buster seems mildly game if somewhat disinterested. The training quarters appear to be a porch railing. He should be told that pointing your finger at a cat never works however.

This postcard was mailed from Los Angeles and the postmark does not show the date over the penny stamp, however it is dated in his neat hand, Sept-12-11 and it reads as follows, Dear Friend, I am glad you are having so good a time Fishing and Hunting. I wish I were there too. Will have some fine kittens for you when you get back. Truly Yours Billy Lindsay. It is addressed, Mr. C. P. Sprague, Gardiner, Maine. Mr. Sprague was quite far from home and clearly in a place sufficiently unpopulated that he presumably was able to get this card addressed in this fashion. Meanwhile, Billy may have been trying to create that Hollywood all cat review I am waiting for! Go Billy, go!

I have touched on trained kitties numerous times, first in the early post Peeved Puss Postcard, and also later in Dashington’s and my favorite, Mad Jenny – and probably several times after that I think. It is almost a subgenre for us at Pictorama. What this man needs to know is that cats do not train blithely and a deep reserve of cat treats seems to be necessary. However, starting in early while the feline is still a kitten as he is probably is a good idea.

Meanwhile, although this photo is of more or less epic bad quality I sort of love that about it. In fact, sometimes a photo postcard that is printed this badly charms me with the reminder that this was a very manual process at the time, evidence of the human hand, and that this is indeed likely to be a singular photo. Although I certainly have numerous mass produced photo postcards in my collection, it is these (not infrequently poorly executed) one-of-a-kind ones that hold great romance for me. I took this photo and I decided to make a postcard out of it – and sent it to you! It took some work and some planning, but I did it! In some ways for me the specialness of this is now lost – although I am very charmed by exchanging photos daily with great ease via the internet. It is a lovely few minutes I spend with my Instagram feed a few times a day, seeing what my friends are doing and looking at, not to mention those photos exchanged by text, email, on Twitter and of course on Facebook. We live in a time of visual bonanza. Still, the extreme singularness of the bygone printed photo postcard and the evidence of it is somewhat lost in our time of phone tapping and computer clicking ease.

 

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Buddies

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  One of the things I love about this photo is how someone has set the cat up on the chair, making the cat, dog and little boy all the same height. The dog looks vaguely protective, the cat wise and knowing. The child connects all three by having his hands on the back of the dog and draped over the cat. If it wasn’t for the old fashioned dress of the child this photo could be from any time, but the white night shirt style shirt and some sort of black stockings put it at the earliest part of the last century. It appears it might be early fall. There seem to be leaves on the ground, but it is warm enough for the little boy to be happily outside without a coat. While it appears to have been posed (the covered chair, comfortable for the kitty) I feel like the natural kinship between the three is shown. The card was never sent and there is nothing written on it to tell us who these three might be.

This photo, a photo postcard, illustrates a philosophy of mine that all children should have a cat and dog when they are small, because they can make the very best friends. They listen to and keep all your secrets, generally have more patience than anyone for your small child games and ramblings. I remember telling ours all sorts of things and having great times with them. As the younger of two children, the dog and the cat were generally willing playmates when no one else was interested in me. Their patience wasn’t infinite, but in retrospect it was fairly extensive. Frankly, I cannot imagine our kitties today, Cookie and Blackie, having nearly that much patience, but perhaps the fact that back then all of us started out little together made the difference. The dog was a puppy and the cat a kitten, when I was still a toddler myself so we grew up together. There are photos of little me carrying our cat Snoppy around, vaguely annoyed, like a rag doll. My mother, who was not always a fan of the dog, knew nevertheless, that she could be depended on to protect us and would also submit willingly to our attentions.

In a fit of enthusiasm, I will occasionally whisk Cookie or, more likely Blackie, up into a stronghold of ear rubs and kisses which they barely permit before squirming away, appalled. I haven’t tried telling them any secrets lately either, but Cookie is very devoted to Kim and frankly I suspect she’d spill the beans. Then again, maybe you have to be a small child to trust cats as well as to have them trust you?

 

 

There’s Gladness in Remembrance

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Kicking off the advanced Christmas season here at Pictorama this week with this recent purchase. This card caught my attention with its sheer oddity. I cannot exactly imagine how someone might have come up with the combination of a smoking cigarette, Christmas and cats on a postcard greeting. It makes me think that the designer was very tired and was desperate for ideas, or perhaps smoking something him or herself. Or maybe it was truly an example of these are some of my favorite things, like the song says.

Several of the cats seem to be escaping out of their surreal smoke rings, although that big, annoyed looking Persian is curled up on his or hers like a pillow. All fluffy Persian variations (or is it Maine Coon?) I can’t quite decide if four of these cats are the same cat or just similar markings. These are some serious looking kitties, especially the one without stripes at the bottom. It is obvious, but I might add, there’s nothing of the celebratory or festive about them – these aren’t some darling kittens – these are some frowning cats.

Meanwhile, then there is the burning cigarette and the matches, artfully falling from their match safe. More than anything about this card, which was never sent and without writing on the back, the match safe dates it for me to the early part of the 20th century. Books of matches were in high fashion by the 1940’s. (I have written about match safes in my collection on two occasions, Safety Match and Match safe – Ya Gotta Make Calls.

For my own part, I have never been a cigarette smoker, not even when I was a teenager. I have smoked maybe three in my life – I never saw the point in it; although I certainly understand that there are people who feel otherwise. Clearly this represents a time when smoking was both comforting and to some degree festive. My ambivalence about it does not extend to how good it looks in early films – it does indeed look sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

The sprig of holly is the sole festive Christmas touch. With Hearty Christmas Greetings…There’s gladness in remembrance it declares. Gladness in remembrance touches on the coming New Year – auld lang syne – out with the old year and in with the new. One can only wonder why this card was tucked away and kept pristinely for all these years except to say Christmas cards seem to be kept, although those are usually ones sent by someone. Perhaps, like me, the photo just entertained someone who found and hung onto it.

I have always been a conscientious writer and saver of cards of all kinds, even before my cat card collecting days commenced. As Pictorama readers and others know, Kim and I have been producing a holiday card together since we first started dating and it is time to start work on the one for this year. I admit to the possibility of some influence from this card as Kim and I begin to contemplate our card design for this year, but we will have to have to wait and see what comes of it. Keep an eye on Pictorama for an eventual preview reveal, but know that we are considering it as we partake of our Thanksgiving dinner later this week.

Firehouse Kitties

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: While firemen are frequently depicted rescuing our feline friends from trees, and Dalmatians get all the credit for being the canine kingpins of firehouse life, it is a fact that many cats actually rule the roost at our local firehouses. I grew up with a volunteer fire department, an impressively splendid thing in its own right with our local men training and risking their lives to rescue folks and put out fires. There was a firehouse of course, but to my knowledge no resident animals. However, here in Manhattan I assume traditional resident firedogs probably exist, but are not known to me. Our firehouses seem especially well suited to independently minded cats who require nominal care, and have the added bonus of tending to the rodent population.

From the firehouse cats stories I have read (and which abound on the internet, should you be interested) cats generally seem to find their way to the fold after being rescued, either from fires or other sticky situations. I assume it was probably ever thus and that this photo of our fire fighting friends from the early 20th century probably acquired their two cats the same way. If you ask me, these two scrappy kits look like they are ready to get off laps and mix it up a little, especially the one on the left. I was hoping that these photos would have a little more information in person, but sadly they remain a bit duped looking and I wonder if it wasn’t actually a primitive reprint process of the day – allowing everyone to have copies of the group photos.

I assumed that these two photos were of the same firemen, casual and formal portraits, but no. If you look carefully they are not the same men – the mustaches were the first give away. Still, I present even our cat-less firemen since these photos have remained together all this time, seems fair to keep them paired here. They are early photo postcards, highly solarized over time. Both have 1904 written in pencil on the back in the same hand, there is no other information.

It probably will not surprise any of my Pictorama readers that I keep gentle tabs and a tally of cats in my greater Yorkville, New York neighborhood. One of my regrets about no longer walking across the Eastside to work every morning to work is that I no longer maintain my regular nodding acquaintance with a number of cat friends along the way. One such feline lives in the Yorkville firehouse on 85th between Lexington and Third. This fellow with marmalade spots does not generally come out to mingle, but I have spotted him, clearly in charge, keeping an eye on the interior of the firehouse and presumably its inhabitants. I did a quick search today and his name is Carlow and I uncovered an interview he gave at Interview with Carlow the Cat. I have tried to get a good photo of him for years and have failed. However, thanks to the internet and my fellow blogger, here he is shown below.

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Curiosity and the Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I remember many years ago blithely quoting, “Curiosity killed the cat” to my brother who rejoined without missing a beat, “and satisfaction brought him back!” I had never heard the second part and loved it, so perfectly does it describe the intense nature of a curious kitty. Wikipedia pegs the origin of this saying in print to the early 20th century, however one can’t help but feel it goes back to a much earlier time.

If I remember correctly, the Butler cat in question was a long, svelte, but querulous orange tabby named Squash. He bore this rather inelegant name as he was the second, smaller orange tabby in the house. The elder was our massive cat Pumpkin, therefore Squash was a little Pumpkin. He was a sweet natured cat if a bit of a doofus, best remembered for being so long that he appeared to have extra vertebrae and was able to sit vertically like a human in a chair. He was also very attached to one of the other cats and could most often be found piled on him at any given moment. I don’t remember what it was that Squash was investigating at the time of this discourse. As we had a pile of cats I’m surprised I remember it was him.

These three-of-a-kind kits also appear to be orange tabbys too – stripers as Kim likes to call tabbys. Each of them is wearing a matching collar and what I think of as a bird alert bell. Whatever they are eyeing is going to have a fair chance of getting away thanks to those bells, assuming it has ears. However, as cat observers know well, a cat’s deep attention can be devoted to something we humans can’t divine or see. On numerous occasions I have found Cookie, sometimes alone often with Blackie, staring hard at one of the walls, unwilling to have their concentration broken or to be easily distracted. One can only assume that their finely tuned cat ears are focused on activity within the wall – oh my! And then there are occasions when you can tell they think something is alive and of vital interest – and it is not alive at all. Kim’s shoe laces seem to frequently fall into that category in this house, as does a recently revealed nail in the wall which drives Blackie to distraction almost daily.

These three feline beauties are sitting on an nice stone wall in a warm looking cascade of light and their fluffy fur coats shine. I have the changing light of fall on my mind these days and it could well be a sultry fall afternoon, but that could just be me too. Regardless, the person behind the camera not only caught this trio of cats at a great, unified moment, but also with bold shadows that echo them below. It is a photo postcard, although it seems like a late runner to the genre, not as old as most of what I purchase, and probably but not definitely professional. In addition, it is in perfect condition, but the nubbly scalloped edges do peg it to a certain period. There is no writing on the back and it was never sent.

Each cat tail is curled around the kitty in a different stage of unfurl and it has to be said that our friend to the far left with the largest white bib and the chap in the middle are far more intent than their brother on the far right. He is looking at whatever it is, but also appears like he might just yawn and head for a nap shortly too. Maybe he is just fooling me though. All have their ears pointed forward and precise cat toes lined up at the ready.

Orange tabby cats run predominantly to the male – Google tells me about 80/20 to males – and I have referred to them thus. However, out of the four orange cats I lived with over the course of my childhood it should be noted only three were male, so we Butlers defied the odds somewhat. Meanwhile Calicos run to virtually all female. I have found that both run toward certain personality types, but perhaps more about that another Pictorama day.

Flying to the Moon

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I guess I am a sucker for kitten balloon photos. You may remember an earlier, similar card in my post Flying Dutch Kitties, which is in all fairness, a better photograph. It was the moon that grabbed me in this one – I do love a good man in the moon. (I am, after all, married to Kim Deitch. His man in the moon images are, of course, the best and one of the many sterling qualities I married him for.) This one looks full of mischief to me. I can remember being a little kid and looking hard at the moon and being fairly sure I could put together the face of the man there.

This appears to be an American made card, sent from Chicago in 1912, but the specific date is obscured. It was sent to Austria however, and there is a long note, penned in tiny German I have no hope of translating. Landor, the maker of the card, seems to have been partial to cat photo postcards, made at the turn of the century, but I cannot find the history of the company online.

Unlike the masterfully constructed set in Flying Dutch Kitties, this one is deceptively simple. As if you could have easily taken this photo at home with a couple of kittens, string and tissue paper. For me, these are the photo equivalents of how I felt about the Little Rascals when I was a kid. You would look at those various stitched together vehicles, clubhouses and staged shows and the construction seemed like it should only be just within your reach – which of course, wasn’t true at all. Now I frankly marvel at the thoughtful construction and technology of them.

As for me, I have failed to record Cookie and Blackie doing any of their “tricks” for the camera – hind leg standing and boxing; Cookie giving Kim high fives; or her skill in moving a small rocking chair she is partial to. Candid photos of orchid eating or displayed on Kim’s desk is about the best I can do with these two. Too bad – I could be a contender for the Queen of the Cat Video on Youtube if only I was a little bit faster with the camera.

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Cookie & Blackie in an undated photo

 

Painted Puss

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This rather lurid painted photo caught my eye recently – I guess it was something about the saucy looking woman with this cat draped around her shoulders. (My cat Zippy used to occasionally climb up around my neck when he was a youngster – while I was sitting at the drawing table. It seemed very sweet, but was a little tough on the neck and shoulders after a few minutes. I don’t know how he got the idea – I have never had another cat that did this.) Somehow the colored cat’s fur and woman’s hair have more or less merged into one here. The painted cat expression can’t hide a certain annoyance when we look closely – somehow they managed to leave kit’s whiskers white as well as some chin hairs. She, on the other hand and if somewhat garishly painted, has quite the come hither look. You boys better watch out!

This is a German card and the postmark is illegible. It was sent to someone in Holstein and there is a pencil note written in German which I have not attempted to translate, but the sender’s name is Erna Steine.

This photo reminds me that my maternal grandmother had matching high school graduation photo portraits, cap and gown, of my mother and her brother, my Uncle John, hanging in her living room. They were the first hand-painted photos that I ever saw and I was always fascinated by them. My mother’s in particular looked nothing like herself. I wouldn’t say that it had as much impact on me as the somewhat terrifying, dramatically technicolor picture of Jesus in her bedroom (that’s another whole story – Kim and I were just discussing that yesterday) which more or less scarred and colored my views on Christ for years, but it stayed with me and formed and lodged an image of my high school mother in my mind.

My Uncle John looks exactly like a younger version of him in his photo – all red hair and green eyes. As for my mother, perhaps it is the fact that my mother truly never wears make-up. (I wonder sometimes how I can be her daughter since I have delighted in it since my early teens.) The painted photo gives her vivid lipstick and rouge. My mother’s nose was also broken in an accident after that time, and it was set slightly differently – bottom line, she is barely recognizable. Yet of course, in another way she is, especially when I look at the photo with adult eyes. When my grandmother’s house was cleared out and ultimately sold, I believe my mother ended up with both photos. My parents have just moved and almost everything is still in boxes – I must remember to ask where those photos are. I would like to have them someday.