Pam’s Pictorama Post: This very homemade photo postcard caught my eye for some reason. It is dated January 15, 1920, handwritten on both front and back. It was never sent and I don’t know where it hails from, but it is a snowy January locale. An out of season litter of kittens is scarfing down a meal with what appears to be their mom, on the side of this clapboard house.
I can make out a winter washtub, buckets, a stool and what might be a water pump although some of it is a bit indistinct. Kitties are being fed on a wooden walkway, presumably raised above the snow to minimize the inevitable mud being traipsed in the house. This cat quartet is enjoying meals from somewhat outsized bowls – the one kitten downright dwarfed by his and you wonder if he will need to actually climb in to get the last of his dinner. I am sure, however, that he or she will manage.
I grew up in a home that became increasing well endowed with cats over time. With a beginning investment of one, then two, somehow we slipped into a bevy of kitties over time. Once we weren’t quick enough and a litter of kittens set off a chain effect, and for a number of years the household expanded to accommodate a more or less two to one cat to human ratio. Seems, at least for us Butlers, cats are a slippery slope.
This mini herd of felines would all come running when they heard my mother call, Chow time! To my memory there was no getting picky over food types and flavors back in that time. There were rather generic cans of cat food and bags or boxes of dry food and cats ate it – unless of course they were stealing food off the table (one cat, Zipper, managed to steal a steak off the table – dropped it right into the happy jaws of our waiting German Shepard, she who definitely won the lottery that day), or committing some other food related sin. Being picky was not among those sins however.
Predating the chow time call was the simple sound of an electric can opener which made the cats of the day come running. For the younger reader, this device was very popular before the advent of the pop top can. It came after the hand can opener (several which still reside in my kitchen), but made opening the numerous canned goods of the day quicker I guess. They still exist, but seem to have waned in popularity. Of course this meant that there were many false food calls for cats, but they remained at the ready nevertheless.
Our cats, Blackie and Cookie, are on a fairly strict eating schedule of 6am and 6pm daily, although they have dry food to snack on between times. Kim has the primary responsibility for cat feeding (and Blackie’s insulin shots now which follow immediately) and the kits are pretty good about it although they, like all cats, would love to adopt a more open handed feeding schedule. We continue to demur.
Mom’s cats, on the other hand, enjoy a less regulated, ongoing Butler buffet of wet and dry food. Hobo, our wily stray who has been showing up for more regular meals now that I am more frequently in residence, gobbles two to three cans at a go. I joke that he must have a hollow leg, but I guess he is a fellow who is unsure where his next meal will come from and maximizes his opportunities. For the cats in residence, the caregivers and I open cat food cans with impunity upon my mother’s request and the pantry groans and abounds with Chewy boxes.
Home is a topic which is much on my mind these days. As Pictorama readers know I now spend part of each month in New Jersey, near where I grew up, with my mom helping out there now that she is in failing health.
I have always had a cat-like desire for routine and part of that is being nestled in the same place as much as possible, with my things around me for comfort. Even as a small child my mother would comment on my determination to make a space mine and settle into it.
As I have gotten older that also means Kim and the cats most of all – home is where the heart is after all. While I have enjoyed some of the work travel I have done, being uprooted from them and home has always been done a bit grudgingly.
Therefore, a new paradigm that pulls me out of my usual and sends me off to Jersey periodically has been a bit painful really. Although now over the past year I have pressed that into a sort of pattern as well it is somewhat less jarring. It is always hard for me to gather myself to leave on a Sunday night when I just want to stay curled up on my couch. I have my great indulgence which is the ride I take in each direction, comfort Aussie Shepard on my lap for pets, which allows me the luxury of travel on my own schedule.
I keep a suitcase lightly packed, but mostly I have clothing, toiletries and running apparel there. Like me, my laptop has to be disconnected on one end and reinstalled on the other. On the other side of the trip is mom’s little Cape Cod house, a bedroom for me which the cats there only cede to me with great reluctance. I gave everyone a peek at Peaches in last week’s post which can be found here.
To be frank, mom’s cats are not enamored of me as a group. Beau, an enormous pitch black cat, allows me to pet him, but mom’s other rescues are skittish and generally not for petting which is disappointing. (I recently wrote about Stormy, cat of mystery, here.) I miss Cookie and Blackie’s affection when I am gone.
My morning routine there is to have coffee with mom very early, 5:30 or 6:00, before heading out for a run if weather permits. I schedule myself this way because early morning is the best time with her as she starts the day. I make a large pot of coffee in a percolator identical to the one in New York and which all of mom’s caretakers is now enamored. Mom can no longer drink it, but appreciates the smell as it perks. I make a good pot of coffee.
I generally keep my run to around 4-5 miles in New Jersey. I run more slowly there – lots to look at and also I jog slowly over many types of terrain. Although the majority of my run is through a sort of sidewalk suburban heaven, through neighborhoods and sports fields, I also run through a heavily wooded area, over wood chip paths, over tree roots and past the occasional deer. People nod and say hello in New Jersey, unlike in Manhattan where you never much do that, but dogs here are more likely to lunge for me than jaded city pups. I see endless bunnies and chipmunks abound, cats watch me from porches and dogs bark at me from behind fences and windows. There’s even a rooster on my route although I have not heard him in awhile.
While stretching outside upon my return I take an inventory of the outside of the house and anything that seems amiss or needs attention. It is remarkable to me that one day you can look at the front steps and realize that the railing needs paint and is starting to fall apart at the bottom, that gutters need attention or the driveway has a sag. Recently I realized that there was a huge air leak under the front door despite a storm door in place.
Mom’s is a track house built in the 1950’s – identical ones probably dotted the neighborhood at the time although her prime location near three schools, endless sports fields and small shopping area, has converted most of the lots to considerably larger homes. Her house, originally quite small, had an addition of a main bedroom, bath and an area bumped out to enlarge the kitchen. It now has four bedrooms, two in the dormer upstairs, and three and a half bathrooms. As it nears its seventh decade I can see that maintaining it is difficult, but more attainable than the houses of more than a hundred years that appeal to me aesthetically.
As an apartment dweller for my entire adult life, the actual reality of home ownership has been a rude awakening as I take over some of the responsibilities for mom’s house. Mike the yard guy, the rat exterminator, David who paints, Fitzroy who does odd jobs, Larry who helps with the computer – mom holds the reins still on all of it but slowly I am starting to engage.
I am generally there on workdays so my return home is usually followed by a quick breakfast and then to my “office” upstairs in one of those bedrooms. I try to have a proper lunch time when I am with mom (my friend Suzanne often picks me up and we hit a great restaurant called Tavalo’s for the best sandwiches I know) and I attempt to end my day no later than 6:00 at least for meetings. During times of duress, the same friend will offer up a glass of Prosecco with cheese and crackers at the end of the day, bringing it upstairs if I don’t surface.
It amazes me that our apartment in Manhattan is so much quieter than mom’s house. While there is a roster of caregivers coming and going throughout the day and night, it is more the folks tending to the house’s needs and a litany of visiting docs which makes the small house feel like Grand Central station at rush hour. (I have written previously about mom and her caregivers in a post that can be found here.)
And then, before I know it, time to pack back up and head home to Deitch Studio. Much like at the beginning of my trip, there is a tug to stay here too, the gravitational pull of staying where I am, but now at home in both places.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Just a quick note and a ho, ho, ho to you all. It was a quiet start to the day here in New Jersey. I decided to give myself a break from running today after my efforts yesterday when it was only 8 degrees out.
Nonetheless I was up early and putting the coffee on. My coffee has become a great favorite among mom’s caregivers – I perk a mean pot and am well set up for it down here with a pot identical to mine at home. I wish you could smell it.
Kim is on his way – traveling with my dog friends Cash and Penny. He is coming for the down and I will head back to New York with him tonight. As a result I am starting to gather all my bits which are spread over mom’s house after four days here.
Keeping an eye out for Hobo. So very cold we’d like to make sure our stray cat friend has a good meal. He stopped by the day before yesterday for a meal and inhaled three cans.
Yesterday found a friend’s wife just returning from the hospital so we packed up a whole lot of Christmas dinner (mom had ordered enough for an army – really!) for them to have food for a few days. He is so kind to my mom that it was a great pleasure to do something for them.
Mom has CNN blaring as always, although I have Laurel and Hardy on the television in the bedroom for some holiday relief. Holiday reports are coming in from friends all over which is nice to hear. Eileen, cold in Vermont, Eden and Jeanie warmer in California.
The eating has commenced (biscuits! First round) and a second pot of coffee perking in advance of Kim’s arrival. mom’s cats are sleeping off their first meal of the day although not sure Stormy has braved the fray.
So Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at Pictorama and Deitch Studio.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Drum roll please…because today we have our annual Christmas card reveal! Here at Deitch Studio we have been producing a holiday card for a few decades now. One day we’ll have to see who has old number one because, although I knew we kept some, I am not sure we can lay our hands on it. In the first year, and maybe the one that followed, we hand colored each one (differently) with colored pencil – but we had a smaller distribution back then.
For those who are new to the card this year the general process is that, after discussing the general subject first, I do the initial drawing. Kim responds with his version and then we might negotiate this or that, back and forth until it is an amalgam of our styles. In general, if we appear on the card, the rule is you draw yourself. (A few card reveals from year’s past can be found here and here, but the archive is chock-a-block full of them!)
This year however, Kim has been admiring the view from our window and it permeated my thoughts when I sat down to draw the card and it fell together quickly.
For those who haven’t visited Deitch Studio for awhile, yes, the plants have indeed increased in number and lushness this year. A friend commented on that. For those who follow Pam’s Pictorama regularly you know that Blackie had a rough year and we almost lost him to a bad infection and subsequent diabetes. In fact we had a mini-emergency with him just this past week as his sugar dropped too low. Despite that he is looking like his old self, has gained his weight back and his coat is thick and shining as shown here.
Cookie would have been just as glad (or so she says – frequently) if we hadn’t bothered bringing him home. They are sister and brother and fight as such – love to hate each other I say. It gives them something to do. Cookie is the talker in the family and at nine years old still chases her tail (daily) like a kitten; often in the bathtub. Go cat go! I say she has one cat joke and that is to hide behind the shower curtain in the bathroom so she can jump out, meowing, at an unsuspecting type coming in. I fall for it several times a week. She does a victory lap with her tail after.
The view out the window is obviously much simplified, although I like to think it somehow captures the overall sense and mood. Kim was very light in his touch this year and really let my original drawing shine through. The view is quite wonderful, but it is especially nice at night when it is a twinkling wonderland. When I can’t sleep, I come and sit down on the couch (usually with Cookie these days, who in turn requires ear scratching) and spend some time looking at it.
One of the interesting aspects of the view is that in recent years it is also the northern end destination of my frequent runs. Now when I look out I know it differently and I know the trip under the bridge and up to 114th Street intimately firsthand. I have written more about running in New Jersey than here in the City, but it is in reality my more frequent, if somewhat more static route. (A New York running post can be found here – and one from New Jersey here.) The path along the river is soothing, if windy in winter and hot and sunny in summer, whereas the suburban New Jersey path is more varied perhaps and has surprises like visiting deer and suburban highlights.
When I purchased this apartment I had no idea how beautiful the view was as the windows were too dirty to see out. Now it is our escape, bringing the whole world into our single room and we wouldn’t trade it.
So as the holidays approach and 2022 comes to a close, Merry Christmas and the best of New Year’s to all from the four of us at Deitch Studio!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Although I am (and always have been) very fond of sleep, when I was a child I assumed that many of the truly interesting things in the world were going on in the middle of the night. Somehow I thought (knew?) that grownups were prowling the nights while I slept. They were watching gently muted television shows which were blue-lighting bedrooms or out at fantasy dinner clubs based on images I formed from early films. I imagined them sitting our suburban backyards, walking the streets and on moonlit ocean beaches. I imagined that somehow their night selves were more interesting and some day I would join them.
When I was very little and couldn’t sleep I would sometimes roll into an empty built-in bookshelf next to my bed and curl up there. The enclosure somehow being more comforting if less comfortable and it freaked my parents out in a mild way. My mother still talks about it and I have a visceral memory of it. (Of course I have no empty shelves in my adult life.)
My older sister, Loren, slept little and would go to bed late and get up early, although once asleep she slept soundly as far as I remember. When we were tiny she would usually be up for a late whisper or even prowl around the house together while our parents thought we were asleep. (During our adolescence we would fall asleep to her violin practice nightly which typically went on until about midnight.)
I always liked a cat on my bed for company if wakeful and from the time I was a small child I would lure them up at night. My first cat here in New York, a tuxie named Otto, slept wrapped around my head on my pillow most nights. She was the very best about sleeping with me and always kept me company.
Blackie heeds my call many nights (Cookie almost never and if she does she prefers Kim) and often sleeps at my feet where I find him snoring softly (he does snore) when I wake between the hours of 2:30 and 3:30 many nights. I like to find him there and give him a few pets and feel a gentle purr in response, but unlike young me I rarely wake him to keep me company. I usually slip out of bed leaving him and Kim sound asleep.
I am likely to have fallen gratefully into a deep sleep earlier in the night and wake to find my mind going from a manically busy dream right into a full tilt wakefulness. Sometimes I can lead myself back to sleep, but other nights I cannot and I lay in bed with a parade of thorny worries making maneuvers and marching through my brain until I finally give in and wander to the couch and take another hit of melatonin.
If I am reading a book I will read a bit (my posts about reading Judy Bolton novels can be found here and the Camp Fire Girls helped many a night and the first of those posts can be found here), but sometimes I scroll through my Instagram feed (I have conferred with @missmollystlantiques in the wee hours and bought photos from her) and see new posts from folks in other parts of the country and other parts of the world where their day has started.
Of course, sometimes I give into work and during the height of the pandemic unknotting worries about work snarling my brain would wake me so entirely that clearly the only resolution was to get up and do something about it. My colleagues grew used to responses to their inquiries time stamped for these late night hours. If I responded to a text from with my boss it could go on for a long time though as he is a notorious nightbird insomniac as well. (Jazz musician so of course!)
There are nights (many in fact) where I do the calculus of income to date at work and fret about how the gap will get filled before the end of the fiscal year, what needs doing to achieve it; budget is often on my mind one way or another. Other nights I fret over staffing or hiring issues. Recently I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about where a new hire would sit and wondered in the morning why it had so obsessed my mind the night before, the lens of sleeplessness magnifying things in an odd way. In the before times (pre-Covid) it might have been responses to a dinner that were especially slow in coming or thinking about an upcoming trip for work. Sometimes I get good ideas during these hours, other times not.
These days I am likely to be thinking (worrying) about my mom and may find a late night response to an earlier evening email from her. I like to see those, but am careful not to answer her because she will worry about my sleeplessness. She always writes that she hopes I am not seeing the email until morning. When I am in New Jersey with her I turn the television on to put me back to sleep which it often does. Here in New York our apartment is too small and I worry that even turning on a lamp will wake Kim and kitties.
I am aware that experts say that looking at a computer screen will wake you further. I do not find this and instead often take comfort in my electronic book or a gentle interaction with the evidently not quite sleeping world and find a short interlude distracting enough to soothe me and send me back to sleep successfully.
I do know from my own late nights and early mornings that there are legions of colleagues and friends roaming these same night hours. I see time stamps on other emails that confirm this. I frequently joke that we all know we could schedule a meeting for 3:30 AM. My friend and colleague on the West coast is usually having her sleepless interlude when I am first up and have started my day here in New York. We have email exchanges until she (sometimes) goes back to sleep for a bit once my work day has truly begun.
Running has helped me sleep better and in turn my early morning run is one of the reasons I urge myself to get back to sleep. As I generally get up around 6:00 (feeding time for the kits) it makes the timing of taking an actual sleeping pill, even a half, difficult to time. I tend to give into it a few times a month but generally prefer gummies that contain both melatonin and something called Rescue Remedy.
On a particularly bad night nothing will work, even after attempting to bludgeon the sleeplessness out of me with all of the concoctions above. On those nights there is no sense of camaraderie among my sleepless counterparts, just me and my fretting.
The author Steven Millhauser (a favorite of mine and gently disliked by Kim) writes about the night and describes it in a way that captures the way I would like to feel about it. If unfettered by place and responsibilities, I could freely roam the night with long neighborhood strolls and fill that time with creative production rather than nattering worries and concerns about early morning meetings and a long exhausting day ahead I might learn to love those odd hours. He devoted a great novella to a single night in a Connecticut neighborhood, Enchanted Night, although it is a short story called The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne that made me realize he was a kindred spirit on the subject.
Thursday night I attended a concert featuring Cécile McLorin Salvant and she talked about being inspired to write a particular song after reading a Colette quote about insomnia, on her phone in the middle of the night; leaving me to wonder if she was googling insomnia at the time, or Colette perhaps? (She also said that it was a New Year’s resolution to keep her phone out of her bedroom which failed almost immediately.) In its early stages, insomnia is almost an oasis in which those who have to think or suffer darkly take refuge. For me the key word is almost.
And of course I know that some of you, my dear readers, are also reading this very post in the middle of the night and I hope it sends you back to the Land of Nod and so, sweet dreams.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: These inquiring little fellows caught my eye and I liked how the writing was stenciled into the negative of this very old card. Clearly something entertaining was used to capture their attention just off camera. The tabby in the middle has moved a bit and is a tad blurry as a result. I suspect this handful of kits was used again and again as models at the studio. The feet of the two tuxies are huge and those must have grown up to be some big cats.
Kittens and mittens to back at least as far as the Mother Goose poem which has verses where the kits in turn loose their mittens, find their mittens, soil them and then wash them. The verse ends oddly however with Mama smelling a rat nearby. I suspect ratty was dinner, however the thought is never finished and an odd one to end the poem on. (In its entirely it can be found here.)
The term making mittens refers, as far as I know, to a cat kneading with claw paws. I didn’t grow up with that term however. That action was always starfish paws to us, or mushing when we were very little. I call them claw paws these days especially with my kitties whose claws have grown too long I’m afraid. The term starfish paws came to us via a volume by May Sarton, The Fur Person, a wonderful book chock-a-block with cat love and lore which I have written about previously and that post can be found here. Blackie has a bad habit of doing it while sitting on my lap and my knees are scarred with his ongoing and intense ministrations.
There are many photos of be-mittened cats on the internet, the indignities which I will ignore except to say that folks have hung onto the idea over time.
Although this card has a somewhat homemade look, it is the product of a large professional studio. Stenciled neatly at the bottom is Pesha Photo. This turns out to be Louis James Pesha who owned the eponymous Pesha Postcard Company of Michigan. His work is largely known best for his photos of the Great Lakes region and enjoys some ongoing popularity today. To my knowledge I have not purchased other cat cards made by him previously. A quick Google search reveals mostly the aforementioned landscape and water views.
Mr. Pesha was born in Ontario, Canada in 1868 and moved to the United States in ’01 starting his photo studio then. Evidently at first he specialized in cards like this one, popular subjects and trick photos. He had long photographed the landscapes, railroads and scenes around him and began printing and selling those as postcards later on.
Pesha dies tragically young in a car accident (he owned a luxury steam engined car purchased from the White Automobile company and I wonder if the one shown above is the car in question) in October of 1912 while visiting his parents. He was only 42 and he leaves a young daughter (no mention of a son in his online bio) and widow who continues the business until postcards pass out of fashion in the early ’20’s.
My card has an indicia pressed into the lower right corner which I assume also marks it as a Pesha card but is illegible and I depended on the writing on the bottom, Pesha Photo 1517, etched into the bottom.
This card was sent at 3 PM on January 21, 1911 from an unidentified location to Mr. Elmer Rosbury in Toledo, Ohio under General Delivery no less, and received by the post office at 9 AM the next day. (Much better delivery than we can hope for these days I might add.) The writing is in pencil and it is difficult to read. As far as I can tell it reads, Dear Elmer: – Will write tomorrow had a girl Friend down from Minders (?) and we went to this Farmers Blow Out last night. With love from Ethel.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Here at Pictorama we enjoy certain inflection points during the year and the great Valentine reveal is one of them. Today is the day and welcome to all!
For those of you not in the know, each year my wonderful husband (Chief Artistic Genius and eponymous creator here at Deitch Studio, Kim Deitch) creates a Valentine’s Day drawing for me. Discussion about it begins seriously after Christmas and a period of development is followed by execution in early February. (A few examples from prior years can be found here, here and one that even features the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra as cats here.)
Some years I have very general thoughts and other years I may have more input. This was a rare year when I had a very specific request. I wanted an actual portrait of our cats, Cookie and Blackie! It is a perfect fit into my collection of images, usually vintage photos, of people and their feline friends. (These make up a whole sub-genre of images here at Pictorama so poke around the archive if you want to see some!)
You see, it started months back when a couple of kitties I follow on Instagram, Sadie and Dottie, had their portraits done. Sadie is a tuxie and her sister Dottie is, as self-described, a sort of cow spotty white kitty with black spots. Sadie and Dottie (@sadieanddottie) have a robust 13.3k followers and despite what you might think, I don’t actually follow a large number of cats on IG. There’s a cat in Japan, white with a comical big black mustache, who is dropped into my feed occasionally (name in Japanese so I don’t know), and a calico named Fudge who I like to see once in awhile. However, cats actually make up a smaller portion than antique jewelry, although more than rundown old houses for sale.
However, Sadie and Dottie’s mom and dad somehow manage to provide followers with a pitch perfect and pleasant stream of kitty triumphs and frustrations doled out at just the right pace. On some long, stressful days sitting down for a few minutes of treat time or bird watching (and chirping – which in turn makes the ears of my kits twitch as does the treat time meow) is the perfect antidote. Often I share a good post with Kim (and occasionally Cookie or Blackie), usually while sitting on the couch together, or in bed. I’m sure if Cookie and Blackie really understood they would be peeved at my defection of attention as it is they are just mildly annoyed by the thing in my hand which prevents two handed petting at times.
Sadie and Dottie (media stars that they are) have had their portraits done several times and it got me thinking that we really needed was a Kim Deitch portrait of our pair. I mentioned it to Kim who promised me that he would make me a grand one. Somehow months later as we were discussing my Valentine I decided that it was the appropriate moment and I knew he would deliver.
I was also thinking about years ago when Kim did a spectacular portrait of his friends Jay and Kathy with their Sphinxes and I was thinking of a picture that combined both elements of kitties romping in their usual pursuits and a straight ahead portrait of them – and today’s Valentine is it!
In addition to their likenesses front and center, their typical Cookie and Blackie romping is shown around the border. We have: catnip banana munching; chasing (Kill the Guy! the only game they play together); each shown with their own style of water drinking from a mug; neck biting (the denouement of Kill the Guy – but also sometimes B just walks over to C and starts biting her neck); Cookie chasing her tail and of course eating! Eating is their favorite activity and they would do it on demand if we allowed – but no. Here at Deitch Studio we have wet food at twelve hour intervals 6:00-6:00 and dry food in the interim.
I am shown sporting a star-patterned sweat shirt I actually wear most winter mornings agains the chill. (I am wearing it now as I write this, paired with my elephant toile print pj’s which I wrote about once here. It also highlights some morning cat activity here at Deitch Studio.)
Cookie, despite having left kittenhood far behind, still chases her tail almost daily. It is largely a morning occupation for her and if you know her you can see a fit of it starting to come on her as her tail seems to (rather independently and enticingly) commence twitching in a come hither sort of way. Sometimes it takes place in the tub (dunno why, but it does) and occasionally she combines it with trying to scare someone coming into the bathroom by popping out from the shower curtain. I call this her cat joke. Go Cookie!
The maniacal expression on Blackie’s face as he gets yelled at for biting Cookie’s neck here cracks me up! I am yelling, No neck biting! no doubt. Meanwhile, while Cookie is in charge of requesting fresh water (there is a division of labor between them always – for example it is Blackie’s job to wake us for food in the morning, although Cookie observes from the doorway), Blackie likes to drink his water standing up at the flat files in a quasi-human sidling up to the bar kind of pose. Line ’em up and keep ’em comin’ barkeep! Cookie prefers a more traditional go at it.
I think Kim has done an entirely excellent job with the center portrait likenesses as well. Blackie is quite handsome and debonair – he knows he is a very good looking fellow and he is displaying a certain stuffy cat dignity here. Cookie has her more mercurial expression – paw resting lightly on that wild and erratic tail of hers.
Although wall space is always a premium here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama, I am tempted to get this one up somewhere. It is a great favorite already and my loving thanks to Kim for executing my request so splendidly and lovingly! Kim, you’re the best! Happy Valentine’s Day to all.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: A watery sun is just emerging on this July 4 morning here in NYC. It isn’t a sun that has made up its mind for the day, but it is at least a relief from the downright cold and rain which commenced on Friday and peaked (hopefully) yesterday. If I was planning to picnic I would be guardedly optimistic about the outcome. I will definitely take hazy sun over none today, although my holiday plans are not more celebratory than a long walk along the river later.
Today is a jewelry combined with cat post and I am thinking about this locket which reached our shores from Great Britain earlier this week. I purchased it from Mia, aka @therubyfoxes on IG. I have written about Mia previously (that post can be found here and one about my other Instagram jewelry connections can be found here), and I had asked her about a pretty decorative chain which it turned out would require extra links on the back to make it sufficiently long enough to wear.
While that isn’t a huge project, until I return to visiting the office in midtown on a regular basis I don’t seem to be able to hook up with my jeweler in the Diamond District. They do not have a storefront and these last months have only come from Jersey at odd hours as well. They have had a set of pearls I had restrung back in March of 2020 which we continue to negotiate about. Anyway, I was sufficiently discouraged from the purchase.
However, a thought did scratch at the back of my brain. I had landed on Mia’s online shop recently (therubyfoxes.com) and taken note of an especially nice heavy, silver art deco locket which stayed on my mind. Her description listed it as sterling, Birmingham made circa 1879 via the hallmarks (maker’s initials MJG). Left to my own devices I would have pegged it for the teens here in the US, but what do I know? I can imagine one of my Camp Fire Girls wearing it – or perhaps their older sister?
Mia points out that the Victorian design was deliberate and the symbols are ivy and belts. According to her listing the ivy is for friendship and connection while the belts represent eternity, loyalty, strength and protection. The idea that this was more of a locket of friendship than romance appealed to me in an odd way – and these days who doesn’t need strength and protection? Mia kindly included a chain to wear it on and the deal was done.
Lockets are interesting things as you consider what, if anything, you will put in them – that which you will then keep close to your heart. I think my younger self saw this as a bit of a responsibility actually, even intimidating. I was years away from meeting Kim still so he wasn’t an option at the time. (Meanwhile, I am also a bit obsessed with these sort of small silver containers to wear on a chain which could hold any interesting tiny thing. I once missed out on one that was Native American years ago much to my sorrow. I could still need one of those and Mia also has one of those in her shop. Hmmm.)
I have written a bit about how my taste in jewelry has shifted over the last year. I have surprisingly returned to an interest in vintage costume and everyday pieces of the kind that I collected through high school, college and early adulthood – although most seem to hail from Great Britain this time around. In recent years I had invested in fewer, more singular pieces, almost always gold rather than silver. I had a gorgeous bee ring made for my birthday a few years ago by a genius jeweler in Los Angeles, Gizelle Strohkendt, which I wore virtually daily until mid-March 2020.
I purchased my very favorite (lucky) horse ring from her years ago, which she made from an antique cameo. We have something else in the works now too. (Although I have known Gizelle from my in-person visits to Los Angeles over many years, she too can be found on IG under @murielchastanet_finejewelry or at the Westwood Village, LA shop of the same name. These beloved pieces I mention are definitely future posts jewelry friends!)
Oddly the purchase of this locket represents a desire for one that goes way back to my early days here in New York City right after college. There was a rather excellent store on First Avenue, just blocks above the 59th Street Bridge, which carried some Art Deco furniture and odds and ends, as well as several cases of jewelry roughly from the same era which I focused my attention on. It was a mere block or two above my favorite antique toy store (an early post on that shop which ignited my antique toy collecting passion can be found here) and it was a habit to occasionally treat myself to a wander down from my home in the East 80’s and poke around in both.
I was chronically broke at the time and so there was definitely more looking with only a few purchases. However, I had noted a display of lockets behind the counter in the jewelry shop (can’t bring the name of the shop to mind at all sadly), and one day I wandered down to have a good look and see what the odds were of purchasing one.
However, what I found when I got to the counter were kittens instead! It turned out that she also rescued animals. Whereas her regular gig was fostering dogs, this litter of kittens had come her way and had been living in the basement of the shop where they were kept from over the enthused pups residing at home. They hailed from Brooklyn originally. Of course their adorableness frolicking around the shop also had got most of them adopted quickly.
There was a tiny male tuxedo who immediately jumped from his counter perch into my arms, doing the hard sell complete with purrs and kisses, and a clear desire to come home with me. He had had a terrible eye infection he was recovering from and his runny eyes had probably been the deterrent to his speedy adoption. At the time I had a female tuxie named Otto Dix (yep, thought she was a boy) and I had been considering a second cat. Lockets entirely forgotten, I went home to think about this cat acquisition.
Pictorama readers probably don’t need to be told that I was back very soon after to see if the little fellow was still there. The woman told me he was promised to a man, but she felt better about sending him home with me. She lent me a carrier and Mr. Zippy came home with me that day. Silver lockets dismissed in favor of this new family acquisition. Sadly, the shop closed not long after, although I would see her occasionally selling furniture at the big antique shows on the westside Piers in subsequent years.
Needless to say, the twenty years I enjoyed my much beloved Zippy emphatically eclipsed any possible jewelry purchase. However, when I saw this locket in Mia’s online shop my mind went back to the yen that took me to that shop decades ago. Furthermore, I suspect Mia will like this story as she too is an animal person and shares photos of her kitties (fluffy beautiful Enid and remarkable kitten Astrid) along with wildlife around her home in the stunning British countryside.
As I try to put together a vision of Post-pandemic Pam she is evidently sporting British finery (a lot of lucky horseshoe pins showing up) from more than 100 years ago – probably paired with a wardrobe of nice sneakers I am envisioning since I have realized that I am not inclined to consider anything else on my feet going forward. Not sure what will replace sweatpants, workout clothes and the two sundresses I have in rotation, but we’ll see. I intend to sport this find for my first in-person work events in August, sneakers and all.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is kicking off with this great little advertising card I bought on a whim sometime over the last few months. I like a good cat advertising card and this kitty couple caught my eye. I love that they are holding each other’s paws and their curled tails. They walk on tip toed hind legs – Cookie and Blackie only stand this way in order to box with each other, or perhaps a bit of a stretch when something above interests them. Her expression is sweet and his a bit concerned – concerned being a bit of a go-to expression for kits I find.
She sports the human attributes of a parasol and bow. They are both nicely striped tabbies and the pattern creates some visual interest. Oddly, Doggett, Bassett & Hills Co. was a shoe company and these kitties are decidedly shoeless. Doggett, Bassett & Hills was one of Chicago’s first shoe dealers and manufacturers under the name of Ward & Doggett, founded in 1846. By the early 1870’s they had peaked, but then declined and disappeared in the 1880’s. (All this from an online encyclopedia of the history of Chicago which can be found here.) The website mentions a Lake Street address, but this card is for one at 214 & 216 Madison Street, Chicago.
Despite the fact that I think of Chicago as a city that has done an excellent job of maintaining many of its old buildings, a quick Google image search shows no extant old buildings at this address now. I am always hoping when I search for an old address I find that I will find the building intact even if its former moniker is long gone. I don’t believe I have achieved this to date.
These pre-printed advertising cards abounded in the period and cats were a favorite subject so they are a bit of a sub-genre here at Pictorama. Merchants must have gone to printers that had endless examples to pick from and chosen a card image to then have their text added at the bottom and sometimes also on the back. I often wonder about how you knew that you weren’t choosing the same one as your competitor just purchased yesterday.
I have written about some of the others in my collection (above and below) and those posts can be found here, here and here. (All of these examples have their advertising text on the back.) Still, seems a bit odd that the folks at D,B and H would choose these barefoot felines, but who am I to tell them how to sell shoes?
There are marks on the back from where this card once resided in an album of some sort, the way and reason many of these have survived. People did seem to hang onto them though – much more so than the boring business cards we generally see today – a few tucked under the plexi cover on my drawing table converted to desk and littering the surface remind me. No one is going to be saving the card from the pest control folks residing there. (Moths!) Cats sell and Madison Avenue has never entirely forgotten that lesson.
Pussy cat postscript: Ah, Caturday at Deitch Studio! Cookie is rolling and stretching at my feet and meowing for attention as I write this. She still chases her tail and was at it earlier, even at seven years old. (I must say, it does have a sort of come hither twitch at the end.) She is by far the chattier of the two kits and wants to converse every morning at some length – we are charged with responding or are subject to her wrath. (Meanwhile, if Blackie ever chased his tail it is a long forgotten practice and he snoozes most mornings after he’s eaten. The difference between boys and girls?) Kim is discussing how awful it would be if he were married to Cookie (I’m pleased I get a higher rating), and it would quickly end in divorce court with a sharky kitty attorney (one a bit smarter than Cookie he added) he says. We’ll have to see if there’s ever a story about Kim and his cat wife – and divorce court kitty!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: As is sometimes the case, a birthday post has been nudged forward by the great Deitch Valentine reveal. My birthday comes right before that holiday and has a way of getting mashed up with it. As Pictorama readers know, my idea of a birthday celebration in the before time was for Kim and I to spend the day poking around an antique toy store here in Manhattan, and checking in at a few places I would happily classify as junk stores and then grabbing lunch. (Past birthday posts can be found here and here and always resulted in a pleasant acquisition of stuff.) Covid times do not allow for that and I wonder what merchants of that kind will still be with us when we get to the other side, as well as restaurants.
Kim gave me this rather splendid ancient Halloween toy which I found at auction and is the first of its kind to enter my collection. His head is paper mache and his body is a woolly felt. His red ruff is a bit of silk and he is perched on a wooden handle. He can be moved gently like a puppet and I think he would have been a jolly addition for a child celebrating the holiday and is the right size for that. Unwrapping it in the morning, along with some birthday cards (yes, I still send them via the mail and receive a few in turn) launched the day nicely.
I was born in a snow storm. My mom often tells the story of her decision to go to the hospital as soon as she sensed it might be the day and having a look at the weather forecast. (We Wheeling women are planners!) It was a good decision because the snow piled up rapidly and by the time I was born in the late afternoon, the New Jersey town of her own birth and where they were staying with her parents, was under a deep blanket of snow.
My father brought her a large box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. (Dad always brought us boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day – Whitman Samplers and puffy heart shaped boxes of Russell Stover ones.) As the story goes, the long-standing family doc visited her in the evening (he had not delivered me, an obstetrician had) and sat on the edge of her bed and ate his way through the entire box of chocolates! Much to my father’s surprise when he showed up, the empty box remained and he gave his wife a sideways look (it would have been quite an accomplishment after giving birth only hours before) until she realized and let him in on the demise of the candy.
Having a mid-February birthday has meant a regular routine of canceled or rescheduled plans over the decades. I won’t say there is snow on the ground for everyone of my birthdays, but several major snowstorms stick out in my mind including one where I stubbornly went down to the East Village to meet someone and incredibly found myself in drifts of unshoveled snow waist deep. A few years later, there was a weekend trip with a then boyfriend that sadly had to be canceled, but instead he booked us into a wonderful old-fashioned hotel in midtown where we watched the snow pile up around us.
To be honest, I find birthdays a bit overwhelming. When I turned 21 I decided to take matters in my own hands; I invited a friend to join me and I concocted a worthy day of celebration. Once I had a job, my sister insisted that I take the day off from work and to reinforce the idea Loren also took the day and we spent it together a few times. The first time we visited the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (it was endearing to me that she went despite the fact that later I found out that they actually freaked her out) and had lunch together. Loren also had the habit of calling me at the crack of dawn on my birthday, stating that she wished to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday. (A good friend of hers keeps the practice via text and email rather than phone at 5:30 or 6:00 – although the day at Deitch Studio is already well underway by then these days.) I still miss it every birthday.
Many years ago I founded the practice of a series of dinners with friends and colleagues who also had February birthdays throughout the month, a birthday club of sort that embraced people from all aspects of my life. Sadly in recent years it has whittled down to just a few (fellow Aquarians, feel free to speak up!) and of course this year bringing all more or less to a halt. Covid combined with piles of snow! Still, I look forward to catching up with those folks annually and have the space to just relax and check in with each other.
Somehow even my game of pretending outdoor eating is like being on an Arctic expedition couldn’t meet the challenge of the weather for outdoor dining this year. (My last outdoor meal was at the end of December and there was snow piled on the ground already. We sat under heaters and were offered blankets sealed in bags. My layers and boots combined with the consumption of a hot toddy and hot soup kept it festive for a bit more than an hour before we decided we were done.) My birthday week the restaurants were largely in agreement with me and weren’t even trying as they dug out from what the snow plows dumped in their al fresco dining areas. I think I will bring my own polar fleece blanket if I tried again before spring.
This year I did however take the day off from work and despite being home I really came as close as I have since last March to unplugging. My office was very thoughtful and flowers arrived from one faction and a lovely bag of cheese and treats from another. I purchased a new chair for work as I have been perching on a very worn one sans arms and my back has been in violent protest. (My trainer, Harris Cowan, told me that no arms on the chair was a big no no as he tried to get me to stretch my way out of the lower back pain.) While I had intended to buy it for myself for my birthday my mother stepped in and made it a birthday gift from her. Several days prior to my birthday it arrived and Kim and I put it together which, while challenging, we managed handily.
I deeply suspect that buying a desk chair is a bit like buying a new mattress – it can be a very expensive mistake and it is hard on the face of it to judge how spending hours in it is really going to work out. Going to office supply stores to try them out seemed out of the question under the circumstances, nor do I think you can really tell what it will be like to sit in something for hours on end by just sitting down in it. It is a decision you are going to live with and therefore somewhat intimidating to make. I researched them online (there were none without complaints, but I decided on which things I thought I could live with if true), decided on a medium sort of price range (they quickly go from inexpensive to more than a thousand dollars), and picked one. Sadly, I was told about four days later that the chosen one was no longer in stock and I went with my second choice.
Although I am still adjusting things around it (table height of the drafting table I use as a desk still isn’t right) it was a fine choice. The cats fight me for it daily in fact (they adore it) and as I write this at our “big” computer (I work on a laptop during the week) Cookie is curled up in it. She has been asleep in it since last night and she has one eye half open staring at me wondering if I am going to take it away from her. She and Blackie go to war over it almost daily – war hoops and boxing over the right to claim it. In general I would say Cookie has the edge in the amount of time she spends in it – she is very determined. When shutout Blackie goes back to sleeping on the bed, Cookie often to the chair I am sitting in now – which used to be the chair of cat choice. When Cookie and Blackie allow, I sit in it for upwards of ten hours a day and I am very glad for the arms in particular – especially when work requires I be on camera for long periods of time.
In the spirit of birthday, I also purchased myself the pin below. Last year I had purchased an old school medal which declared, Improvement in this very different year I bought this one with hearts from Great Britain which instead offers Best Wishes. (This purchased from an Instagram seller I am very fond of following, @fiorisfinds. Hey Marco! Thank you!) Nice to give myself encouragement where I can.
I have not resigned myself to the idea that I won’t still figure out a birthday meal of sorts with at least one determined friend, and perhaps at least a call or a Zoom call with another. A few of the elderly ones will have to suffice with cards and emails this year. When the weather warms up even a smidge I will see if Kim and I can’t get out of the apartment for a day in another part of town – everything outside of the immediate environs of Yorkville feels exotic these days. And when we do, I promise to tell you all about it.