In the Night Hours

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.)

The current sleep uniform here at Pictorama, shown from the site, The Cat’s Pajama’s. I am partial to cotton pj bottoms both summer and winter.

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 is a bit worried and wakeful here.

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.

Blackie and Cookie in napful bliss.

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.

This series lulled me back to sleep many a night in 2020.

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.

My folk’s cat Red used to sleep with me when I visited in Jersey. He seemed to feel that it was his duty as official concierge kitty.

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.

East River sunrise.

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.

I recommend Steven Millhauser – perhaps for a sleepless night?

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.

Mitten Kittens

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.)

My copy of The Fur Person by May Sarton.

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.

Pesha Photo not in Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

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.

An automobile, seating what are believed to be his wife and son [?], is parked in front of one of Louis Pesha’s photo studios. Dave Burwell Collection, Sarnia Historical Society.

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.

With my best Caturday wishes to all!

A B&C Deitch Valentine Portrait

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!)

Sadie and Dottie in a recent portrait by @crownandpaw.

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.

Sadie and Dottie in an earlier IG post posing with their portrait by @paintermurray_pet_portraits.

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!

Kim Deitch portrait of Jay Rogers and Kathy Goodell with their cats and collection.

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.

It’s the Kim Deitch Valentine ’22 reveal!

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.

Blackie posting in front of his picture the other morning, perched on my desk chair.

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.

Locket

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?

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

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!)

Muriel Chastenat, Gizelle’s mother and the eponymous founder of the shop now in the hands of Gizelle and her sister Charlotte, aka Charley. Shown here in an early photo of the shop (which still looks exactly like this) taken from an article celebrating Muriel, published at the time of her death.

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.

Lovely little package arrived earlier this week. It was wrapped in a page from an old tome on London theater which caught my eye and I read.

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.

A polaroid of Zippy as a kitten, curled up in an envelope box.

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.

Doggett, Bassett & Hills

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.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

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.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

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.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

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?

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

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!

Cookie also likes to claim my work chair in the morning.
Blackie, snoozing earlier this week and showing some fang!

Belated

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.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

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.

Carl Schurz Park in the snow the day after my birthday.

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.

Snowy February view from our apartment.

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.

Eileen Travell at a birthday dinner last year.

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.

Cookie in full possession of the new office chair earlier today.

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.

Cookie on the former chair favorite, now a lesser perch.

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.

More Mainzer

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s postcard post is devoted to the heir to the Louis Wain wacky anthropomorphic cat throne, Eugen Hartung. Hartung is sort of the Otto Messmer of cat postcards. Hartung is a Swiss artist (1897-1973) whose career blossomed in the United States after WWII somehow became know by his publisher’s name, Alfred Mainzer. Was it post-war anti-German sentiment? Was it conscious like Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, or did it happen of it’s own accord? For whatever reason, Mainzer’s name is the one prominent on the back of these cards it is the name I knew them by until I started digging a bit for a blog awhile back. I wrote about one of these cards I purchased back in 2019 and recounted some of this history. (That post can be found here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Much to my surprise, two handfuls of these cards found their way to me back in December. After retrieving a mysterious package that had been left for you in the parlance of our doorman’s communications, I discovered that a friend who lives on the other end of 86th Street (and who I haven’t seen in person given our pandemic times) had dropped off a packet of these cards for me. Evidently she had found them years ago when cleaning out her parent’s house and put them aside for me. In a recent apartment renovation she discovered them again and brought them over. When I emailed my thanks she said that she remembered thinking when she found them that I was the right home for them and she was glad she had finally united them with me.

Oddly enough though within the month, another handful of these cards showed up in a Christmas card for Kim. I want to say it was either Rick Altergott or Evan Dent who sent them along. I apologize for this slip of mind and not remembering better. I was struck by how odd it was that two bunches of these cards should find their way to me at the same time. If you’re reading please raise your hand so I can correct this and thank you properly!

These cards were still widely available when I was a little kid and I always liked them – purchasing them when I could although those particular ones are long disappeared. They have a texture to the paper, that I remember with tactile memory, and the deckle edge lives in memory too, somehow rooted in the 1960’s in my mind. It turns out that, on the other side of the country, a young adult Kim Deitch was purchasing them in Berkeley. All great minds think alike it seems. Little did either of us know that decades later Deitch Studio and Pam’s Pictorama would unite to be the blissful cat laden bower that it is today.

I have long wondered why, although extremely popular, Hartung’s cat cards have never risen to the level of Louis Wain. (I have written several times about the cat artist genius and some of those posts can be found here, here and here just for starters.) I think in part, although plenty chaotic and wacky, they lack the underlying maniacal frenzy of the Wain universe. They are beautifully choreographed compositions and there is a prettiness that Wain’s drawings don’t have. As Louis Wain himself began to descend into mental illness, the drawings had an increasing edge to them – until of course they become almost entirely abstract. At least this is my theory. Even at their most frenzied they are a bit polite and well bred in a way that Wain isn’t.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

I give you a selection of a two of my favorites out of the group, more to come. This Western scene above – a cat cowboy evidently breaking a bucking bronco goat – was a evidently a much beloved one. It has multiple push pin holes in the top edge where someone kept it on view. (None of these cards in either bunch were ever mailed.) A girl cat is using a home movie camera (circa the 1950’s or ’60’s) to film the action and she’s right in the midst of it, tail politely poking out beneath a short skirt. In the top right, one cowboy pushes another off his perch on the rails and a Siamese cat is amongst them for diversity. I once owned an Annie Oakley jacket like the one worn by the fleeing fellow in the lower right – was my favorite jacket for years and I wore it until it fell to pieces.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The next one is this family scene of kitty chaos. I think it is very funny that these cats are dog owners and it is the dogs that are causing today’s troubles. The cats are exceedingly genteel and the cafe scene is decidedly European. The spilled drinks appear to be hot chocolate (the children were drinking it) and the waiter’s spilling tray is full of petit fours. (The one young fellow, strategically under the tray, is preparing to snatch them up as they fall.)

Comically, two birds watch the action from the lower right – none of these well-bred felines pays them any mind. The cats are civilized and all the others are playing their animal roles. This card is heavily faded along the very top edge, but only a persnickety collector would have issue with this. It too has many pin prick holes, top and bottom, from being on view somewhere.

I end today by saying I would expect that at least a few more of these will find their way to the pages of Pictorama so cat card lovers stay tuned.

Felix: in the Beginning

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a theory that cats like to hear their origin story – that every cat likes to hear (albeit in a soothing tone, while being petted in a calming way) how they came to live with us. Blackie is bigger on this tradition than Cookie, although she is the star of the story and she likes that part, enjoying it in her own way. He settles into comfort on my lap and is lulled to sleep by it.

The story goes like this: Kim and I had spent days looking for a pair of cats and that particular day we made a last stop at Pet Smart where a rescue group, Angellicle, was adopting out kittens. (There site can be found here.) Cookie, a tiny little speck of a kitten, was clearly tired of the way this was going. She leapt up in the cage to get our attention and then, our little girl who although she likes being petted detests being held, leaped into my arms with all the adoration, cuteness and purring she could muster – which was considerable. Our boy Blackie, who has turned out to be a lap cat, was, on the other hand, very scared and could barely be held for his trembling.

After a few hours of kitten school instruction, required by the group, the kittens who eventually became known as Cookie and Blackie, were presented at our apartment by the man who rescued them. (He called them Thing 1 and Thing 2 and occasionally I still call them Cat 1 and Cat 2.) There was a third in the litter, a tabby, and he kept that kit along with an older cat he already had. He told us that a stray had given birth to the litter in his basement in Brooklyn, on a pile of fabric he kept for his clothing design business.

Cookie, true to form, came bouncing out of the carrier to inspect the new digs and Blackie, eventually peeled out of the back of it, reluctantly accepted his fate and ran under the bed for the next ten hours or so.

However, late that night I woke up to find Blackie curled up between us, contentedly asleep. My stirring caused him to wake and he had a moment of panic, but then decided it was awfully comfortable and we probably weren’t going to kill him, and went back to sleep and has slept on the bed with us most nights since.

Young and indulged tiny Cookie and Blackie on Kim’s desk.

That’s pretty much the origin story I tell them – different things emphasized for each cat – you get the idea. Kim (politely and with all due respect) thinks this is nuts, but is used to it I suppose. I have done it with each of the cats, each with their own story, and my mom does it with her cats. It’s a Butler family thing I guess. I am convinced that they never tire of hearing it. I hope I haven’t put you to sleep like Blackie!

All this to say, its good to remember your roots and to celebrate your origin story. Pictorama’s origin goes back to my boredom during the extremely long and tedious recovery from a foot surgery I had, actually not so long after we acquired Cookie and Blackie – in my photos taken in or from bed where I spent all day every day, they are still adolescent and leggy.

I decided to establish this blog as a way of organizing my nascent photo collection, especially the burgeoning collection of real photo postcards of people posing with big Felix dolls such as this one – with an eye toward maybe eventually collecting them into a book. Almost immediately I also began documenting my toy collection, another origin story there; I have been collecting those much longer. I settled on the Saturday and Sunday format for my posts within the first few weeks.

Blackie examining my foot post-surgery back in 2014.

Since seeing the first people posing with a giant Felix photo postcard in John Canemaker’s book Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat I wanted to know more about them. In fact, wanted to own them. A reproduction of that one from Canemaker’s book is below.

Over time, in my photo collecting I began to stumble on them, endless variations of Felix different sizes and locations, tintypes, glass negatives and photo postcards, posed in England, Australia and New Zealand. I purchased every one I have been able to, although inevitably one or two has gotten away – and yes, I remember each one of those, regretfully!

The first Felix photo I ever saw. Not in the Pictorama collection.

Meanwhile, it is a happy day when a new Felix photo comes into Deitch Studio and this one showed up about a week ago. Although it is printed with a postcard back, the paper is lighter than I think of generally with these photos. Like most, if not all, it was never mailed and nothing is written on the back.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Although most of these souvenir photos seem to be on or at the beach, the only evidence of that here are the sand pails and shovels held by the children. Felix has been set up by this lovely broad staircase, lined with stones and leading up to some flowering shrubs at the top. The rocks continue and make up the wall behind Felix.

The children are dressed up, by our standards anyway, for a day at the beach and the little girl has a bow in her hair. They both have slyly happy smiles though – and of course Felix sports his usual toothy grin. He is a fine specimen, an extra large size, almost dwarfing the children, the adult in the group. Felix offers an arm which, as shown in many of my other photos, one could wrap around oneself to get a chummier shot with him. One foot is showing a bit of wear, but otherwise he is looking well tended.

The set of wheels that intrude into the lower left corner are curious though. A careful examination shows a seat above and a platform between them – if not a wheelchair at least a wheeled chair of some sort? I wonder.

Putting the Dog Before the Cart

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s photo is not only suffering from age, but probably from being under exposed in the first place. In person it also has a bit of solarization that photos from this period often get, almost as if the silver is rising to the surface, making it even harder to see. I knew this when I bought it (to Miss Molly’s credit she does nothing to enhance the images of the photos she sells – that doesn’t happen often, although in my hobby I come across it occasionally), but I loved the image and I decided to take a chance. It is small, the image is only about 3″x4″. So, my apologies for its inherent short comings.

This photo appeals to me because I would have adored having such a set up as a child. I have written on several occasions about employing our long-suffering German Shepard, Duchess, and my cat Snoopy in a complex series of games and scenarios. The fact that, at least as a small child, I would not have had the appropriate real estate needed to really enjoy such a contraption, I will leave aside – you need some real acreage to really sport about it something like this, but wow – you’d really be doing something!

I have long contemplated that the connection with our domestic animal friends is different when you are a small child. Is it because you are, in reality, that much closer to their own intellectual bandwidth at that point? Or are you just communicating more freely? I have always wondered. I can remember long childish conversations with them both, prattling happily along, looking deep into their eyes as I spoke, absolutely certain they understood every word.

Perhaps because of the sheer amount of attention paid to them, they would allow me to undertake all sorts of indignities that I wouldn’t dream of inflicting on my pets as an adult – trying to ride the dog, dressing up the kitty, adventures with the doll carriage and the like. My parents would intervene occasionally if things got out of hand, but generally we were left to our own devices. I would have been on this dog cart thing in a minute given the opportunity. Duchess, somewhere in dog heaven, is perhaps grateful the opportunity did not arise.

My new always-at-home life has changed my relationship with Blackie and Cookie. It isn’t a coincidence that shelters have been emptied of dogs and cats during the pandemic. They are excellent company during these days that merge into one long working day.

The daily routine of Cookie and Blackie was forged early here at Deitch Studio, formed around Kim working at home and his day. Kim and the kitties start the workday (very) early, and he is in charge of their feeding, morning and evening. (Eating to cats is, without question, the most important part of the day – a brief but glorious interlude. We have strict feeding times in an, ever-failing, attempt to keep them from driving Kim nuts all day while he works.)

Until the middle of March I was on the outer edge of this cat constellation, home on weekends, but otherwise generally in the ongoing daily act of coming and going – packing a suitcase and leaving for days at a time on occasion, very undependable. They expected it and my departures and arrivals frankly rarely rated so much as a flatten ear or a greeting glance from either.

I noticed the other day when Kim went out for a walk that the cats sat by the front door the entire time, staring at it. Waiting and willing him to return. They clearly have very little faith in my ability to open a cat food can.

Yet, I think the cats have, over the course of more than four months, completely erased my daily departures from memory. I too am now a daily fixture – if a slightly less useful one. Blackie makes his appearance in Zoom calls and demands a 3:30 cuddle no matter what else I am doing – and Cookie helps me work out daily (she likes it when my trainer, Harris, appears on the iPad for a FaceTime workout where she flirts with him a bit), and both fight me for my work chair. Kim can vouch for the fact that I talk to them all the time – Cookie tends to actually answer. She’s the chatty kit of the two.

And of course I believe they understand me, or at least a certain percentage of what I tell them – mostly encouragement about being the best kitty in the whole world!  and the handsomest boy cat! and even the occasional please get off of the desk – thank you very much! – it isn’t philosophical discussion for the most part. I will have to be home many months longer before I can perhaps find my childhood knack and we can enter into long talks about the meaning of life together, Cookie, Blackie and I.

At Night All Cats are Gray

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a French postcard post about a card I purchased on eBay from a French seller. Something about the illustration appealed even if the drawings of the cats are a bit too stylized for my taste, it works in this context. The card was offered with two color variations – the other being predominantly pink and is still available as I write this.

The title is a Google translation (I use these handy, if occasionally mechanical, translations throughout this post), but sort of romantic nevertheless. I have frequently tripped over cats at night in our apartment and wondered which one I stepped on often enough, although as Pictorama readers all know, our cats are black to start with so I might argue the point. Not to mention that they meow differently so one is sure to know who you have offended.

This wonderful smiling moon (which is what first attracted me to this card and is very Deitchian) peers out from the parting clouds on this late night feline fiesta, atop a shingled rooftop in France, and shines down on this scene. This card was never mailed and is covered with writing (in French) on the back which I share below, but is beyond my limited means even to get the gist of – please share if you are a French reader and can translate! Meanwhile, I especially like the jolly pink roof.

Scan 2.jpeg

 

In the lower left corner our singing fellow is identified as Music Lover Pussy. (I believe I wrote last week about caterwauling kitties, in my tribute to my dad’s cat Red which can be found here.) He sings a little tune, Mi-mi-la-re-do-si! Blackie has this tendency to vocalize and was just working his howl on me the other morning. He likes to get me out of bed at  a specific time each morning so he can immediately curl up in my spot while it is still warm. I suspect that only I could think that is cute rather than strictly annoying.

IMG_0082.JPG

Blackie, annoyed and waiting for the spot, the other morning after howling at me. 

 

The next cat over is a Black Cat (who) loves jazz enormously. Appropriately as the jazz kitty he is the most dynamic of the group and has the traditional black cat, back up pose. Below him N’aime pas le mou! translates roughly to doesn’t like it soft. Meaning, I gather, that he likes his jazz loud!

The truly gray cat in the middle is identified as Gutter Cat (gosh – seems like an unkind moniker) and he is growling and muttering about jumping? Below Angora, elderly cat, labeled cat it says, long and silky coat is the passion of old men. As the senior member he has a nice perch atop of the chimney stack and draws the viewer’s eye to the windmill, on a hill, in the background. Tiny lights from the town below twinkle and I realize that this card is actually a tight little composition.

Lastly we have the only woman in the group – White Cat (who) responds to the sweet name Minette and spends her time on success. I take this to mean she only pays attention to big spender boys? She is aloof in the lower corner. I am not sure any of these fellows is worthy of her attention. So there.

Nocturnal feline visitors on rooftops and fences make up an entire genre of cat sheet music (see my post of some here and here); postcards such as the great Louis Wain version I featured here; and even photographs, as below and posted about here. While I always find the plaintive evening howl of a cat outside distressing (yes, we do hear them even on the 16th floor where Deitch Studio is perched), the nighttime howling of pussy cats is a long-standing kitty archetype. Me-ow!

Skim

Pams-Pictorama.com collection