Letters from a Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today feline dedicated post was a birthday gift from my good friend Eileen Travell. She acquired this precious, slim volume at a store I long to experience one day and that I wrote about in an earlier post, 3 Little Kittens, which can be found here, and describes that gift purchased there as well, The Salem, New York shop is 1786 Wilson Homestead (1117 Chamberlin Mill Road, Salem, NY; their website which can be found here). It has set me to dreaming about a future summer day digging through their wares. My copy is stamped School Library, Saranac Lake, N.Y. on both front and back fly leafs.

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While this book is clearly meant for children, complete with very large and easily read text, I am not sure I would say race out and grab this book to read to your small child. Suffice it to say life was cheaper and harder in 1879 and that is evidenced in this book. The overall premise of the book is that while a little girl is away visiting her aunt she receives a series of letters penned by her puss in her absence. (Yes, the remarkable nature of a cat writing letters, however sloppily printed, is covered in the story, although never fully explained. The methods of post are detailed however.)

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Sadly kit has a hard time of it in the absence of her mistress with everything from a spring cleaning of the house, which terrifies her, to an accident with a barrel of soft soap, which I assume is either lye or the lye and fat makings for soap, which almost does her in. All about the plot is is given away in the first part of the book which is penned in the voice of the young mistress now grown.

However, when the little mistress describes how much she loves her kitty and what a glorious cat she is you know that H.H. was herself a cat lover and an understander of the feline nature. (Kim speculated that the timing is right for this book to have inspired Archy and Mehitabel, first created by Don Marquis in 1916 and collected first in 1927. As many of you know, it is best known for being illustrated by George Herriman of Krazy Kat fame.)

Letters from a Cat Published by Her Mistress for the Benefit of all Cats and the Amusement of Little Children has an original copyright of 1879. My edition is from 1930. It has seventeen illustrations by Addie Ledyard. The author H.H. turns out to be Helen Hunt Jackson (b. 1830 and d. 1885, née Helen Maria Fiske) a famous poet and writer of her day.

Jackson was the daughter of a minister, author, and professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College. Her mother having died when Helen was 14, she and her sister were fully orphaned three years later. However, the father had provided for Helen’s education and she attended a boarding school where she was the classmate of Emily Dickinson with whom she corresponded throughout her life. Helen Hunt Jackson was very much a part of the interesting and broad group of writers and thinkers in the greater Amherst area of the day.

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Jackson begins writing after the loss of husband and sons over a handful of years and before she was much more than 30 years old. (Hunt was the surname of this husband, she eventually remarries while taking the cure for TB in Colorado years later and takes the name Jackson.) Her earliest works are published under the H.H. nom de plume. She became interested in issues surrounding the poor treatment of Native Americans after hearing a lecture in Boston by Chief Standing Bear in 1879 (interestingly, the year Letters from a Cat was published).

Her best known work, Ramona, published in 1884, is a story of a young woman of mixed Scots and Native American heritage, was hugely popular and spawned five films and even was thought to expand the tourism industry of Southern California at the time. While it may have been the romance of the story that made it so popular, Jackson wrote it as a way of showing the plight of the native people. She kept up a very real and fierce lifelong battle with Washington over the treatment of the Indians and fighting for the return of their land and rights.

Of the illustrator, Addie Ledyard, there is really no information except for the trail of books she illustrated which are still available. At a glance I would say cats were a specialty, although she seems to have illustrated at least one volume of Louisa May Alcott stories. Following my nose on her illustrations may lead to some other interesting discoveries.

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This illustration shows Ceasar, the handsome, huge black cat who arrives in town and is an  important plot point.

 

I am reminded of an obscure, antique volume I had years ago and gave to my mother, written by another poet who also wrote from the perspective of her cat. If I can remember it and find it I will share it in a subsequent post. I always think of it when I see a cat watching out a window as her cat called that reading the newspaper daily.

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Letters from a Cat is available on Project Gutenberg (with illustrations) and Google Books, as well as in reproduction and various earlier reprints over time. With renewed thanks to Eileen, I suggest all you cat collectors get on this one.

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Earlier volume of the book.

 

 

 

I think it will cheer you up…

Pam’s Pictorama Post: We here at Pictorama feel the need for a good shot in the arm by this point in the winter. January was a grueling month to get through and spring is still so far off, alas. Therefore, as we stand perched on the threshold of February, I offer this entertaining Louis Wain tidbit, The Street Orchestra, to those like me who need a boost.

I have been much taken with Louis Wain recently and you may have noticed that I have been indulging rather freely in the purchase of his postcards. All of the elements of this 1904 street scene symphony remain relevant today – the children, (are the kittens also selling fruit? with a flag of Italy stuck in their cart?), the musicians, beggar and beg-ee, the laborer and onlookers. The fellow seated in the middle of the card could be taken either as a stump speech-maker (my first thought), or my preference is that he is Mayor of this block so to speak. Squarely in the middle of things he observes and comments on all. Every active block needs a Mayor it would seem.

The restaurant in the background is what really makes this card however. While the offerings are all very entertaining, some still have a tiny bit of bite by way of a kind of cat cruelty that Wain tends to lace through his work and specifically his postcards. Louis Wain does not just give us toothless, jolly felines – his kitties still exhibit some of their teeth and claws, their cat nature.

The restaurant offerings here include: Pickled Red Herrings and Boiled rats in sauce, (and my favorite albeit almost illegible) Cats Meat a la East End – where a plate of leftover mystery meat bits comes to mind, and we are Noted for our mice soup, with Best chicken patties and finally the appeal that You can milk your own cow – 20 cows to choose from. Cow milk is additionally advertised on the fence, somewhat cryptically, as Try our noted cow  – best milk, no pump kept on the premises. And finally, if that doesn’t work for you there is also, Good beer – best in town.

While some collectors might turn their noses up at a card that has been written on by the sender, I feel as though the neat script addition to this one adds to the charm of this card, If you look hard at this I think it will cheer you up. HMD. I couldn’t agree more! On the back, in the same hand it reads, So pleased you are a little better. Love to Sis as well as yourself. It is addressed to Miss N. Harrison, 6 Strensham Road, Balsall Heath. It was sent from within Birmingham in 1904, but the month on the postmark has been obscured. I am sure it did its job of cheering though.

So, happy February dear readers – and I do hope that if you look hard at this, it will cheer you up.

Made in Japan

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I should be old enough and smart enough to stop speculating about things I will never do, because some time around your fifth decade you start to realize that those proclamations will just lead to egg on your face – at least they occasionally do in my case. I have long been snobbish (at least in my own mind) about china cats and have more or less thought that I could not be seduced into purchasing them for my kitty collection.

However, the black, white and orange fellow caught my eye on ebay recently, with his rakish sort of Pete the Pup look, and as I purchased him the one with the blue scarf crossed my path and I picked it up too so he’d have a friend. It seems somewhat beyond my ability to find any information about these knick knacks so I cannot tell you if they proliferate in a variety of colors or sizes, only that I do not remember seeing them before.

One is stamped with JAPAN on the bottom and something painted in Japanese as well; the other has nothing. As I photographed them I noticed that the orange and black one is a tad larger and they are made from molds that are ever so slightly different. There is something very cheerful about their expressions and I like them together. They have yet to find their precise home in the apartment, but they will find a safe perch where I will hope they can reside undisturbed by feline frolics or human gaff.

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A couple of years ago I was mesmerized by a truly splendid display of Japanese sleeping cats, Nemuri-neko, which means sleeping or peaceful cat, in the Kutani ceramic tradition in an exhibition devoted to cats at the Japan Society. A dozen or so of the most beautiful examples were lined up like real, lazing pusses napping on a long wooden display dividing the room where you could almost imagine they were sunning themselves. Most if not all were on loan to the exhibit by the sister of the friend who had invited me who said they resided lined up in a similar way in her sister’s San Francisco kitchen.

I immediately fell in love with these and would very much love to own one of these early pieces. These sleeping kits were originally carved in wood and there are versions from about every period from their inception, some time around the late 17th century, to those contemporary ones churned out now. Some undated, older versions below. The white with the gold pattern is the most common, but I have a hankering for a less common black one myself.

The highest quality of these, unsurprisingly, goes for a fair amount of money. Given the generally rough and tumble nature of our tiny space this seems like an unlikely purchase in the foreseeable future. However, you never know and one of these days maybe I will be writing about a line of these fine feline fellows, curled up and sunning themselves by our window as well.

The Great Deitch Studio Card Reveal

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Ta Da! It’s that time of the year! With Thanksgiving running late it was a tight turnaround this year and apologies to anyone who hasn’t gotten theirs in the mail yet before I do the online reveal. (And that includes just about everyone at my office.) As some of you might know, the day after Thanksgiving is the day when I sit down and do the first go at the card. This year it pretty much fell together with that initial session and here we are.

Pictorama readers aren’t going to be surprised that the recently renovated kitchen played a role in the Deitch Studio pictorial summing up of the year. (Although I could have shown our window installation as an alternative. Cats installing new windows? Um, gives me vertigo to think about. Those recent renovation posts can be found herehere and here – just for starters.)

I have set Cookie and Blackie to stirring up a storm here. The kitties are very fond of the new kitchen (counters have been duly jumped upon, the floor rolled over and over on, and the cabinets duly sniffed and inspected) although disappointingly the new fridge is too high and narrow for Cookie climbing – she liked towering over everyone on the old one. Of course, in reality we rarely let the cats cook and discourage their use of the stove in general. (I don’t mind them using the microwave, but worry they will be careless and use aluminum in it. And Blackie was showing an unfortunate interest in jumping up on the stove early on which we needed to compel him not to do.)

Kim let me have my head on this one and the result is more Pam than usual in execution I think. Although he always neatens things up (especially lettering – I don’t do that properly at all) and the shading always makes things pleasantly Deitchien. (A phrase I may have coined earlier this year in my happily and totally biased spousal post reviewing Kim’s Reincarnation Stories which can be found here and here. Kim’s book is of course the other big news of the year – the cats could have been reading about themselves in it. Or complaining that they didn’t play a bigger role.) The cats’ expressions are a bit more Kim-ish than Pam too. He has given them a slightly maniacal mad scientist look – probably closer to their true expressions.

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From the opening of Reincarnation Stories.

 

As I believe everyone bemoaned this season, with Thanksgiving falling a bit late in the calendar the holiday season is a bit compressed. Kim inked quickly and the printer turned it around fast (a nod to Bill from Yorkville Copy, which no longer exists as a storefront – he comes from Westchester to pick up our original and copy, score and return annually), but that only left a week to get them in the mail. I hedged our bets by making it a New Year’s card.

As I write this part of my brain is taken up with the things that still need doing, the apartment is in a state of chaos, and I long to have a proper workout at the gym after an endless week of work related events. I know you, dear readers, are probably thinking much the same so thank you for spending a little time with Pam’s Pictorama today. A Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and of course every best wish for the New Year from all here, feline and otherwise, at Deitch Studio.

We Are Very Comfortable

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Much like yesterday’s toy post, full access to my stuff has allowed for the first photo postcard post in quite awhile. For all of that this is a fairly recent purchase from ebay and it just entertained me. Cats lined up, each a variation on a striped tabby design, displaying varying degrees of contentedness on some sort of fur declaring, We are very comfortable in Colo. 

I will start by noting that the only time I have seen a cat encounter real fur was decades ago when an elderly friend wore a fur coat (equally elderly) to my apartment. My cat Otto made it clear that shredding that coat was now her new found life’s ambition. Ultimately the coat had to be closed in another room, protected from her mania, but I have never forgotten her enthusiastic reaction.

The card appears to have been made in the early somewhat homemade process where a stencil was applied for the shape of the image and the lettering done by hand. I assume it was produced on a small scale – wouldn’t make sense for it to have been a one-off. It was never mailed, nor is there any writing on it. I guess this was for the vacationer who wasn’t willing to commit to having a great time or wishing you were here. Were they available for sale, a small stack of them, at a homely hotel somewhere there?

Today I am packing (warm clothing) for a quick trip to Milwaukee this week. I wrote about another trip to Madison recently (available here), and the opportunity to travel through parts of this country that I have never visited before is one of the aspects of my job, following the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to strategic points on their tours. This is our Big Band Holiday tour, a favorite everywhere it goes, which will wend its way to Manhattan in about a week. I am so pleased that almost a hundred friends will join us for the concert followed by a reception. (My first shot at this tour was on the road by bus with the band through the Southeast and you can read about it here.)

Colorado is a state I have never explored – only changed planes in Denver. I have agreed to speak at an event there in August so I will see Denver then. This kind of travel brings my father to mind. His job as a camera man for ABC News meant driving across the country, up and down and across constantly in the early years of his job. (Over time local news bureaus shared more of their own coverage with the national affiliate and there was less of this domestic travel and more international and confined to the East coast.)

Like Wynton and the orchestra Dad drove or rode, in his case equipment loaded into a car or SUV rather than a bus, three or four person crew crammed in. Dad did a lot of the driving, in retrospect I am not sure why except it didn’t bother him to drive; he probably preferred it. Long rides in cars, not to mention heavy camera equipment and his height, eventually contributed to a long-life struggle with back problems and in later years his car was littered with back cushions and devices. Dad liked to eat good food and he could suggest restaurants in locations all over the country, from Newark to Pittsburgh, to St. Louis. He remembered them all – and remembered those places where none could be found.

So today I will pack my bag; I suspect it is never as spare and economic as his. (But in fairness he wasn’t a woman who will host events over the entire course of his visit.) And I will wonder if there is a restaurant in Milwaukee that has been there for decades that I really should be trying.

 

Saving Something for the Swim Back

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Devoted readers of Pam’s Pictorama know that, outside of a few occasions when excessive travel overwhelmed me, I pretty much sit down at this computer every Saturday and Sunday and write. Sometimes you all are subjected to a diatribe about what is on my mind and today is one of those days. As I am surrounded by change today, the nature of change is very much on my mind as is my own role as the agent of it.

For readers who have been following it, the kitchen renovation is finally pretty much concluded. (Various aspects of that tale can be found here , herehere and, alas also here.) We are waiting for a microwave to show up, but otherwise it has finally come to rest and just in the nick of time before we lost what remains of our collective minds. All that is left is the unpacking which has commenced and am determined I will finish this weekend. Kim and cats had it hardest being here each day with the daily construction. While all the guys were nice enough it is a small space and it was a lot to have in your face every day. Cookie in particular had to have long conversations with me about it each evening in the beginning of it all.

The kitchen looks great and most importantly seems to be easier and nicer to work in which is after all the point of a kitchen. The cats have taken full possession of it – I find them rolling and stretching on the new floor – each taking turns being king or queen of the new space.

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Cookie captured mid-roll and stretch on the new kitchen floor. There is tangible relief for all that the cat dishes have returned to their former location in the kitchen.

 

I have a long held theory about cat memory which is that it is about two weeks long. At the end of two weeks it has more or less reset to the present being all they remember. Back when we had a cleaning woman who came every other week I figured she was an all new event for them each time – they didn’t really remember that this would keep happening. (However, my cat Otto really liked one woman who spoke to her in Polish leaving me to wonder if Otto had been Polish in another life or if all cats responded well to the language.)

According to this theory, there was a moment in the middle of the month-long renovation when the cats had pretty much forgotten that there was a time when the apartment wasn’t boxed up with kitchen stuff and workmen didn’t spend part of each and every day banging away and making a smelly mess of the place. By this notion, sometime after Thanksgiving, but well before Christmas they will forget that this is the new kitchen and it will just be the kitchen. This is how cats get along in the world, it is their own process for survival which has evolved over centuries of feline lives.

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Blackie taking his turn atop two cartons of Reincarnation Stories which turned up in the middle of the packed up chaos.

 

Of course for us humans it is ultimately the same, although our memories (for the most part) are longer, our awareness of the process probably deeper. (After all, who knows what cats really think?) I may have previously opined on having a cat-like dislike of change because it is my true nature. I come to it slowly and with trepidation, and there is some real reluctance if I have to be the actual agent of it, as I was in this case. Nonetheless, it is also part of my personality that if I make up my mind to do something I pretty much grab it by the ears and do what needs doing until it is done.

I don’t know if it is age or just my experience, but as I get older this tenacity has become more pronounced and it has come to my attention that there is a sort of take-no-prisoners aspect to my approach in these situations. It takes me a long time to rouse myself to action and my decision making process is prolonged. Once committed however, I am all in.

If I drift into contemplating my past lives I wonder if in one I wasn’t a rank and file, but especially tenacious, foot soldier in let’s say Genghis Khan’s troops. (For those of you who have missed my recent wifely review of Kim’s new book Reincarnation Stories the two-part review can be found here and here, while my own reincarnation tale can be found here.) Once I accept the bit in my mouth, reluctantly or otherwise, I am driven on all cylinders and there is no way around, only straight through. And I deeply suspect that the Genghis Khan reference may have resonance for some of this who work with or encounter me in this mode.

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In my office I put a quote up recently, save something for the swim back. It seems like good advice to consider, but hard for me to follow. Once let out of the starting gate I am pretty much at a dead run from beginning to end. As I sit, rather exhausted from my exertions both at home and at work for the moment, a sort of carnage both personal and professional piled up around me, I am contemplating the sustainability of this approach. Yet, like the cats, we are who and what we are and to some extent we have to accept that.

Renovation: Right in the Thick of It

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I sit today at my computer perch, words fail to describe the renovation chaos we are currently existing within here in our tiny abode. We kicked off the fun with a mandatory window replacement project requiring that the entire contents of the apartment shift to the interior most side and be covered against ages old flying plaster as the windows were taken from their frames. Brawny men used power tools to yank out the old and then sheer strength to bring in the new.

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Kim somehow manages to continue working on some tracing as the windows get yanked out and then replaced. This taken from my spot at the computer – the only choice!

 

Cats spent the day huddled in the bathroom, the barricade buttressed additionally by our mattress and a chair or two. One and done – the windows were done in a day (a few terrible tense hours really) and the army of men moved onto the next apartment. We were number one – the very first in the building – and we are relieved as we watch their march continue through the building – progress pausing for the occasional very rainy or windy day. (If you missed it I posted about the pre-game packing of the apartment in a posts that you can read here and here.)

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Cookie the morning of window removal – deeply uneasy and unsure why.

 

For one thing, I swear I had no idea how much stuff I had managed to cram into our tiny kitchen over the years. I honestly (utterly naively) thought it could be packed in two hours. Man, was I ever wrong! Boxes and boxes (and hours) later I realized that I had held onto dishes that had been given to me decades ago I had utterly forgotten about and that I had utensils (some obscure) that I last used in my professional cooking days – which are now a full two decades behind me.

Some of these (a particular crimper of pie crust comes to mind) were hard to source originally and much beloved in their day, but have remained unused for years now in response to my present pie-making-less life. (Sadly, to a large degree, calorie control means that I exist in a largely pie-free eating state as well.) I am reminded of a life I might have imagined for myself in my twenties – wine decanter and matching glasses anyone? Dessert plates? I will try to cull the herd on the unpacking side. Meanwhile, boxes filled with breakables teeter in piles on one side of our single room apartment.

Acknowledging how hurried the packing really was I now harbor a secret deep concern that I have destroyed our delicate eco-system and will never be able to return us to a normal life. I am reminded of why I waited so long to get this work done, the last real renovation having been done when I moved into this apartment more than twenty years ago now. (Kim and I are hovering on the brink of 25 years since we got together, about two weeks from today, and I moved into this apartment about six months after that.)

While I am not especially picky, peeling linoleum, aging counters, cabinet, and a chronic broken overhead light were demanding attention which seemed impractical to tackle one project at a time. In addition, despite my lack of pastry producing these days, we really do cook in our kitchen pretty much daily. (Unlike some of our fellow storied Manhattan denizens, we do not keep cashmere cardigans in our oven as storage.) Ovens and refrigerators have come and gone over time. However, job changing, helping my parents move followed by Dad’s illness and ultimate decline, have all meant that I have invested no time or energy in the apartment. It has come back to haunt me and I am paying the proverbial piper now.

We are approximately in the middle of the kitchen process – or at least I would like to think so. The stove disappears on Tuesday, as does the water. The fridge will (somehow) find its way into the living room for the duration. (That will be interesting.) I will batten down the remaining hatches and figure out a way to heat coffee and heat the occasional item over the coming week or so. Our devotion to smoothies like to take a hit in the near future as well. (I wrote about smoothies recently, opining on the absence of them when I travel. The post can be found here.) Like our cats, we get disoriented quickly without our routines and our nerves fray rapidly.

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Kitchen dismantled and in progress. The floor is sporting its originally incarnation of linoleum here, recently uncovered.

 

In terms of our cats, Cookie has taken the process especially hard. She is a precise little creature and the ongoing disturbance is really taking a toll. Each night when I come home she and I sit on the couch and she meows the entire story out to me, insisting that I pet her and scratch her ears while she does. She meowed in outright alarm while I packed up the kitchen. I would say she is in a state of high nervousness that only a female house cat can achieve. Meanwhile, her brother Blackie, continues to nap on my spot on the bed, largely unconcerned. I won’t say he is entirely unaffected, but it is remarkable the difference in temperament.

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Blackie curled up in bed, as usual.

 

And yes, for those of you who are Pictorama readers ongoing – all this with Kim’s new book Reincarnation Stories hitting the stands last week! (My two-part review of the new book can be found here and here.) A very nice review came in from NPR (with a shout out to Pam of Pictorama – in addition to the excerpt from the New Yorker online and some other previews. (Always promoting the family business here at Deitch Studio, those links are below.)

Next weekend, despite apartment woes, we will be in Brooklyn where Kim will sign books and have a public conversation with fellow cartoonist Nina Bunjevac. (Comice Arts Brooklyn at Pratt Institute – I think they go on at 5:00. Kim will be signing books and I will set up with some t-shirts and original art work for sale.) Things are hopping here at Deitch Studio all around. Stay tuned for the next installment and wish us luck!

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Cookie this AM on her new favorite perch, two boxes of Reincarnation Stories.

 

Links to some early reviews for Reincarnation Stories:
NPR – Kim Deitch Spins His Yarns

Kitten on the Keys via the New Yorker

The Many Reincarnations of Kim Deitch

Info on the Comic Arts Brooklyn gig