All in the Family, cont.

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Continuing the family theme from yesterday, I have one of those photos that just got better and better for me the longer I looked at it. This is a very celebratory group and unfortunately they, like yesterday’s family, failed to note anything about the nature of or participants in this photo. It is my thought that this celebratory group is a wedding party, bride’s family to her side – although the little guy peering through could also be of that clan, since I am already making assumptions about family features.

They are posing with a single symbolic celebratory drink for toasting, each sporting a lavish corsage or elaborate boutonniere. Of course, the reason I love this photo is that they have rounded up the family dogs and this nice black cat to be in the picture. The beagle seats himself willingly on the one side while the other fellow is being held in check, collar or short leash stretched ready to tear madly off in some sort of get away. My friend the black cat is somewhere between patient and not as he considers his next move. He appears to be a rare all black kitty, although perhaps there is a patch of white on that tummy some place hidden from the camera, nonetheless I am glad these don’t appear to be superstitious folks and he is beloved enough for a place next to the bride.

We document special occasions with photos of family and pets often make up part of that family. How often do you see a photo of someone, an author photo or just a newspaper photo of someone posed at home, where they have scooped up the family cat or grabbed the pup? While it is said that you choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family, in a sense we do. We marry and join families and we declare that the people closest to us in a variety of ways are family, defining it for ourselves in many ways. Clearly our pets make up part of that family for many of us, and I love to see that it goes back this far, to the early days of photography.

 

 

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A Happy Birthday to Me

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stole the image here today – he is not in the Pictorama collection, but he seemed to want to wish me a Happy Birthday. It was used for this purpose and sent to someone named Marjorie on August 21 of 1907, sent from Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie Janet, Uncle Allen, Beaumont & I, and signed by Auntie Marion.

Today I draft this post this poised on the threshold of my birthday (for the record, perched also on the edge of a computer chair also, which I am sharing with a less than cooperative kitty who believes he owns it, Mr. Blackie). As I stare down the barrel of the coming year, it is a time I take stock and figure out how I might pull my socks up a bit in the coming year. Like many people I am in fact ambivalent about my birthday, getting older is not all that entertaining after a certain age and being reminded of your mortality more sobering than celebratory certainly. My approach to it is tackling it two-fold – planned celebration and a hard look at the year ahead and behind.

I remember when this approach to birthdays began to formulate. On my 21st birthday I suddenly found I was daunted by the prospect of my birthday for the first time – I had crossed that line between looking forward to the annual march toward adulthood to suddenly realizing I was there, but had no idea where I was going. I was living in London on a year abroad program in college. I had a perfectly splendid time living there, finally realizing that many possibilities were open to me – I could decide to live in an exciting city rather than a small town, and the world was a big place to explore with many possibilities. However, when my birthday arrived on a cold damp day in February (which in all fairness it always is – in New York there is often a foot of snow on the ground and I have canceled endless birthday plans around the weather) I was suddenly overwhelmed and realized that I was far from home and those who loved me. Adulthood was upon my and I had no idea what I was suppose to do with it.

Deciding not to be beaten by the day I attacked it. I kicked it off by walking into the upscale hair dresser of one of my wealthier roommates used and had my shoulder length hair clipped into the shortest of boy bobs. (We had a barely functioning shower in our flat, and I had been considering this for a month or so since moving into this new place, and washing my hair with the meagre hot water was nearly impossible. Kim has clearly expressed a preference for my hair long and I anticipate his shiver of dismay when he reads this.) I called a good friend, Don Bay, and threw myself on his mercy and asked him to take me out. I then went to a favorite antique and junk store located on the King’s Road and purchased a flowered silk dress, cut on the bias, from the 1920’s; a black wool jacket with houndstooth trim; an Egyptian influenced necklace – probably also circa the 1920’s, and a tea pot in its own metal warming sleeve. To me it looked pleasantly like a space ship. I loved that tea pot. The spout chipped, but I never had the heart to throw it out and still have it.

I dolled myself up in my purchases (sans teapot, of course) and Don took me to dinner at a Greek restaurant – somewhat shocked as everyone would be for weeks by the newly shorn hair. We had a long night on the town and I remember coming home very late and calling my mom. I have always spoken with my mother on my birthday figuring she is the only other person to have witnessed them all – and I had not been able to do earlier in the day. The operator, very British, chided me for calling New Jersey at such an ungodly hour – how funny! I can’t imagine an American operator doing that. Mom didn’t care; she was glad to hear from me and we talked a long time.

Meanwhile, my sister Loren had the ritual of calling and waking me up on my birthday which started when she left for college – in order to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday she would say. She announced one year that I should take my birthday off from work as celebration and she agreed to take the day with me. At my behest we went to the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History – it may have been the year of its inception. I had a strong yen to see it and it seemed like the perfect pre-lunch activity for us. What I didn’t realize was that she was actually somewhat horrified by the butterflies which, in a rather insistent way, kept landing on us to gently suck the salt off our skin. Surprising to me because she was not squeamish about many things, but I always loved her for not wanting to spoil my fun and gamely taking the butterflies on.

Sadly, it has been more than a dozen years since Loren died and at first birthdays were an almost unbearable reminder. I still miss the morning calls, but friends have piled in to fill the void in various ways. I have continued the tradition of a day devoted to myself and my endeavors – this year Kim and I have a day of adventure planned poking around some junk stores and bookstores. (In the rain, not snow this year.) In addition to a day to myself, about the same time I also instituted dinner or lunch with my fellow Aquarians, spaced throughout the month, which stretches the birthday spirit out and ensures I see people I don’t always get much time with. Dinner with Eileen (where we also have our fortunes told annually) is on Monday night. Lunch with Ada, who is in her 80’s, is next week at the Met. Whitney was at the end of January to accommodate increasingly difficult schedules to juggle. New Aquarians await meeting and are always welcome to join the club.

Meanwhile, having devoted the past ten months to a new job, I have my work cut out for me in the coming twelve months – and I suspect that it will provide all the adventure I could ask for at the moment, including a trip to London at the end of the month. As I finish this post, it is my actual birthday. A large box containing a rather extraordinary toy (future post) which arrived from Belgium in January, awaits my opening, and the day with Kim stretches ahead like a glowing like a gem, despite the downpour. I am a lucky girl indeed and it is a very happy birthday already I think.

Family Portrait with Pets

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo struck my fancy the other day. It is the sort of photograph which I liked better and better the longer I looked at it. It is, if you will, the sort of bread and butter photograph Pam’s Pictorama is largely made up of – early 20th century photos of people posing with cats. This one, identified on the back as taken in May (with a ? in place of a day) 1936, with nothing else written on the back. It is a photo postcard, but it is printed on a lesser, lighter stock than they usually are and as a result feels and looks more like just a photo – curling a bit with age. It was never mailed and I don’t know how well it would have stood up to those rigors.

I assume this is a portrait of a family, or at least mostly so. There isn’t a strong resemblance amongst them, but enough to convince me when I look closely, especially around those participants in the center. Only a single man and boy show up in this preponderance of women and girls in mostly spring finery. And of course what sold me was that between the dozen people crammed in here, no less than five of the family pets were scooped up for inclusion. While the three cats and the puppy caught my eye initially, it was the little girl holding the rooster that really made it special. I have debated on the possibility of Mr. Rooster actually being stuffed, but I think he is just standing at attention – there’s something about her hand around him that make me think he is alive. The kitten next to him is taking it pretty well if that is the case, but perhaps they know each other well. In general the cats seem to require a certain two fisted clutch in order to be kept a hold of – the puppy is content with being held, as they often seem to be too. I like the idea that when someone said family photo all these critters were scooped up too.

On this spring morning these folks are presented as a neat and well dressed group, boasting Depression era fashion including sporty berets on three of the girls, the toddler among them. Warm enough day that most of them are in short sleeve dresses, although they range from that to coats. I am somewhat undecided about whether that is some old snow stuck on the fence behind rooster-holding girl, although I land of the side of probably when I blow the photo up. I think you could have that on an early day first warm day in May where spring is just beginning to sort itself out.

When I began Pam’s Pictorama it was for the sole purpose of organizing my photos, mostly those of people posing with Felix, so that they could eventually be published in a book and to entertain myself with this project while recovering from foot surgery. Pictorama took on a life of its own expanding almost immediately and, more than 400 posts later, it has covered a lot more territory than that. Still, when I purchase a photo like this, I mentally file it in a future chapter devoted to photos of people and their pets, and oh what a book it will be.

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.

 

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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