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.

Hankering for Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Buckle up for a very, very Felix day. For new readers a chance to catch up on part of my collection dedicated to the early representations of the famous animated cat and for dedicated readers some highlights of the past along the way.

I don’t think it would surprise long-standing Pictorama readers when I state that I look at a lot of Felix items and generally have a sense of what is available. Therefore when I come across something I have never seen before I’m pretty sure it is indeed unusual indeed. If I am unable to acquire it I more or less assume I will likely never see it again – we do find there are exceptions. However, it was in this spirit that I must have broken my own rule (one that I generally only write about objects and photos in my own collection), when I wrote a post on a Felix handkerchief that I lost at auction back in November of 2018. (They are shown in a slide show below – these are sadly of course not in my collection.)

I paired the post with another on some handkerchiefs that belonged to my Dad which I carry in my purse, or did in the before time when I carried a handbag daily. (Those two kerchief dedicated posts can be found here and here. Strangely my forays outside, limited that they are, seem to mostly take place with a credit card tucked in the back of my phone now, unless I am required to provide my own shopping bags at the store. No one seems to want cash these days.)

Therefore, much to my surprise, I was able to score this single, but rather wonderful item which I share with you today. Unlike the frolicking, mouse chasing Felix in the earlier post, my hanky shows Felix deep in thought, doing his famous Felix walk. What I think of as Felix’s I’m thinking walk, has its origin in the earliest Felix silent cartoons and was his signature pose -for some reason I always think of Einstein when I see it. Felix knew how to strike a pose and there is also a sort of Ah ha! pose that frequently follows the walking and thinking. (And of course there are the wonderful things he does by disengaging his tail and using it for various purposes. We’ll perhaps discuss that another time given the opportunity.)

Felix sheet music from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The then very popular phrase Felix Kept on Walking has its roots in this famed animated walk. (Although it also came to have a slightly racier meaning – as depicted on the plate below.) The Felix walk was celebrated in song, sheet music, song of the same name is shown below, but also in pins and other ephemera in the early collectible period. (An instrumental version of the tune can be found here, but in some ways for the full experience of the novelty tune you need the vocals which can be heard here. Or you can just chuckle over the lyrics here.) Some of the stuffed dolls from the 1920’s have Felix with a hump on his back and I have wondered if somehow it didn’t tie out to the bent over walk in deep thought, hands behind his back.

Felix Keep on Walking plate, Pams-Pictorama.com

Kim believes Buster Keaton satirized a few minutes of the Felix walk in Go West, 1925. An animated Charlie Chaplin, who obviously had his own trademark walk, does the Felix walk in the rather splendid Felix cartoon, Felix Goes to Hollywood. (It can be found on Youtube here. All these external links only good at the time of writing – they tend to come and go, especially the Youtube ones.) The Felix walk was known by all, a popular culture icon of the day. And, despite numerous redesigns over the decades, some remnant of the deep in thought walk stays with Felix right on up to the newer cartoons I watched as a child in the 1960’s.

Felix Lucky Bucks cut-out. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.
Pams-Pictorama.com Collection. Felix making clever use of his tail.

The handkerchief I acquired is small as seen here, definitely child-sized, and not quite as white as the image appeared in the photo provided. No matter about the condition of course and what to expect of such a fragile item which is rounding 100 years in existence. Hard to imagine a time when small children were encouraged to carry a hanky – and perhaps the lure of Felix helped keep them from losing it? I especially like the thought marks emanating from his head.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

This handkerchief, like so many other fascinating early Felix items, hails from Britain. The embroidery is fairly small and concise. I don’t know much about embroidery but my guess is that it is hand done, but probably by an adult. Although I have not seen the evidence, I assume there were some sort of kit or template you could acquire. I wrote about an embroidered apron, also lost at auction, which must have similar root. The Felix apron post can be found here, also a 2018 post. It was called Breaking the Rules and I would be perfectly happy to have another shot at purchasing it too!

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Postzegeltaal: Stamp Language

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: While I purchased this because I was in a Halloween mood, it is an interesting way to have promoted a long ago and evidently foreign postal service. Perhaps ours in the US today could use such a boosting campaign? A witch and a toy black cat can do a lot for business, at least in my opinion.

This card, never mailed, is Dutch. The stamps featured on the card entice and call out to the viewer to: think of me, call me, give a shout, stay true to me, visit soon, shout soon, as well as I love you, I’m waiting for you, 1000 kisses. Oh the things you can say with a postcard – the possibilities are endless. (A reader tells me that the stamps indicate that the card is from 1957 or later.)

Why there was a need to promote postal service, as well as why they might have used a Halloween motif is somewhat beyond me, perhaps that information is just lost to the sands of time. However, she is a fine looking witch and the black cat toy she is shushing or sharing a secret with appears to be a very nice and fluffy looking one. His or her kitty head is appropriately cocked for listening to the witch.

I would say this nice toy is based on Steiff, but fluffier in the tail and overall design than Steiff, more appealing for my money. (For me there has always been something a bit lifeless about the series of Steiff black cats. Unlike their teddys which all seem to have a knowing gleam in their eye, the cats seem remarkably without character.) One bright cat eye gleams out at us. A great toy overall – I would snatch him up in a flash.

A quick Google search shows that not surprisingly Halloween is a relatively new Western influence for the Dutch. (The reader who wrote in agreed that Halloween has only started to gain traction in Holland in the last decade or so and therefore it is a bit hard to explain why the image.)

Perhaps as we consider an upcoming winter largely to be spent at home again, we might all think about who we might surprise and cheer up with a handwritten missive. I have perpetuated a long held affection for the handwritten word as a special way to remember someone or cheer them up. I send my mom cards for every holiday I can and have for many years and she looks forward to them in the mail. When I was younger and traveling I was an excellent correspondent and would at a minimum send postcards from almost any new locale.

On the receiving end, I can tell you that the mail became far more interesting once Kim became resident – Deitch Studio mail was quite different and far more interesting and exotic than my own. A prodigious letter writer himself, Kim received many – also interesting packages with books, videos (and later dvd’s) might show up unbidden. He continues a written correspondence with a clutch of people, although like me some handwritten relationships supplanted by email. My own correspondence has slowed mostly to the aforementioned cards to a small group of people – otherwise largely gone to email. However, it is a cheerful thing to find in the mailbox among the ads and bills. (Yes, I still largely pay bills by mail.)

However, it is no mystery that here at Pictorama we enjoy a great many lovely parcels coming in the door as I am constantly adding photos and items to the collections here. It is always a cause for joy when one shows in the mail, especially during these quiet days.

Nicely some of the folks I buy from frequently these days, largely my new Instagram sellers, pack their photos with extra care, enclosed in waxy envelopes with a note or a sticker, frequently adding a few random old photos they have around or a note. Miss Molly tends to use whatever is at hand for her homemade packing and sometimes I laugh at what old boxes and papers she has employed to ensure a solid package.

I have purchased two items from a woman who sells jewelry and clothing, predominantly from the teens and twenties. She’s British and lives in the countryside there and is largely known to me as Wassail Antiques although I gather she is also Rachel.

Wassail Antiques, aka Rachel, takes stunning photos of her items and seeds equally beautiful ones of the British countryside surroundings of her home as a backdrop to them. Looking at them always cheers me and takes me out of myself and the four close walls of Deitch Studio at least for a moment. She is evidently a professional photographer – taking pictures of musicians in the time before the shutdown. Her packages arrive wrapped in layers like splendid little gifts, an old photo and a note thrown in. They are an event to open, beyond the appealing items within.

A partially opened package from @WassailAntiques

At some point I may take more time to share those items – oddly both are silver rings. This is somewhat notable to me. In the before time I liked to wear rings and wore gold ones on a variety of fingers daily – my lucky horse cameo, a huge bee ring made for me by a jeweler friend on the west coast for a recent birthday. However, for a variety of reasons (finger swelling and apathy among them) I have generally not been wearing rings during our time of captivity and have actually rarely put on any jewelry.

The ring from within!

These rings remind me a bit of ones I might have purchased when I was younger – appealing colored stones set in sliver with Deco designs. They cheer and please me in a quiet way. I have worn them out for my limited forays into the world and even just around the apartment to cheer a dull day.

This week I gather myself and put on an inexpensive flowered fall dress, purchased for upcoming Zoom events such as panels or teaching gigs in the coming weeks. I was headed to get my hair cut for the first time since February (I was not one of the folks who had the foresight to do it before the shutdown) and I thought my hair dresser of 20 years, David Smith, would appreciate seeing me in something other than sweatpants and I wondered if I still knew how to get properly dressed.

I pulled my now shoulder length hair into a braid (I haven’t been able to wear it that way since I was about 25), pulled on an ancient leather jacket and my old straw hat. I put on the rings and even applied a bit of make up before heading over to the west side. As I went to enter the basement staircase to Smith and Morgan, a young man paused and with a grin looked at me and told me he loved my dress. I thanked him profusely for the compliment, we exchanged a few more words of mutual appreciation and then we beamed at each other for a moment before continuing on our way, basking in a brief moment of connection and the sheer enjoyment of being outside on a gorgeous fall day here in New York City.

Mooning Again

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It has been a long time since I bought what I call a moon photo. When I first started collecting I looked at them endlessly, purchasing a few along the line. One is pinned up in my office – that place I used to go to daily and have barely laid eyes on for the past seven months. I realized the other day that I missed seeing the toys, photos and sheets of early music adorned with cat imagery that I surrounded myself with there. I retrieved a few things on a trip in recently, but am thinking I may need to rescue a few others on my next trip. (This very special box made by Kim resides on my desk there and I think it needs to come home to my now home office desk on the next trip. I wrote about it once here,)

A Deitchian decorated one-of-a-kind box

Years ago I saw a wonderful accumulation of moon photos, all framed together – each one top notch. It was at an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. A quick search on their website shows some really great ones (you can find them here), but it was the great eye that had put them together in a frame a certain way that appealed to me. Some things seem to be better when you amass good examples of them together for display. If I had the space I would consider investing the time in creating a nice moon photo grouping like that. Instead I have my wall of people posing with Felix-es I guess. (The photo below from an April 2018 post which can be found here.)

Images from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

When I first considered taking up photography (both the collecting and the taking) it was the idea of the sort of joy that people seem to bring to posing for photos like this that interested me. It is the same with folks posing with Felix – they get a big smile on their face just by being there. It remains one of my goals in life to find a moon set and get my photo taken in it. I briefly wondered about building our own moon photo set, but there are some things a studio apartment really cannot accommodate, no matter how creative you get.

An early entry into my collecting was featured in a short post at the very beginning of this blog. It is below and 2014 post can be found here. It is a nifty variation – a full moon and it seems like a professional postcard that was produced en mass rather than the sort of individual snapshot. Still, for me, all moon photos are of interest. They can run into a lot of money and if seriously collecting them you would be forced to pay up for the most part. Therefore, given my other weaknesses, I am a somewhat desultory collector of moon photos.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Today’s photo interested me in particular because one of the participants is holding a small animal – I am guessing dog although one could make the argument for cat. The man in the dark suit is holding it in a grip my father used to call cat prison – holding the kitties, with both of this large hands, in this no nonsense sort of hold – usually when they were within reach and doing something somewhat undesirable. It was not cat-escapable. When ultimately released the cat would shoot forward like a feline missile. Annoyed at the interruption of its wrongdoings and the temporary containment and limitations imposed on its inalienable freedom.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

It seems to me that dogs don’t seem to require this sort of strong arming for photos under most circumstances – they usually get with the program pretty quickly and pose with the family. Either way I have an extra soft spot for folks who bring along the family pet for such photos.

That roguish fellow with pet notwithstanding, our photo participant posers are a fairly serious looking group. Two out of three women are smiling – the woman in the middle isn’t and I don’t know why because she has the best spot, smack in the middle, white stocking legs, ankles crossed, hanging right over the edge of the moon. The photographer had a good eye for this set up and composition. It is a bit faded, one imagines that the developer used was probably well into its long day of use.

The set is a slightly less imaginative one than some and sadly the moon face is largely cut off from view – I always like to see those variations and here we just see the tip of the nose. (The photographer loses points for that. He or she also loses a few points for the distinct shadows behind the people which kill the illusion to some degree, although it does give us a better sense of the construction of the set.) The clouds are a tad lumpy, but there are stars which I tend to approve of in my moon sets. The card, like most of this kind, was never mailed and there are no notations on the back.

I leave you today with a snapshot of the Felix photo wall – there are a few additions pending and soon it will march over the ajoining top of the kitchen door and ultimately wander down the other side. (There is another, smaller annex of Felix photos, tintypes, in the hall near our bathroom.) Small apartment or not, I always say there’s always room for one more Felix photo.

Pams-Pictorama.com

That-a-Ways

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am crazy about this odd little item I purchased recently. He is about five inches high and constructed with a thin sort of wood. I believe he is homemade, but very nicely executed. There is an odd little knot in the wood atop one eye which mars the overall effect a tad, but generally a job well done. He is only painted on one side, his back is all black. (Something was written on the bottom, but it has faded beyond reading. Part of it appears to be some numbers, but they don’t make sense as a date.)

Can anyone else read what’s on the bottom?

I suspect that there was some sort of pattern which may have helped instruct the execution of his charming off-model self. Like many of the most interesting (and creatively conceived of) Felix-es in my collection, this one hails from Great Britain – the 1920’s and ’30’s had to be a fiesta of Felix related items, the stuff of dreams!

I suspect that this fellow was somehow part of something, like a crystal radio set from a kit or pattern. These have always appealed when they become available, but I have never seen one in person and they go for a lot of money. This seems a smidge smaller than I imagine those being, but not by much and I have not seen one like it.

Homemade Felix sign, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

I purchased another wooden Felix not too long ago and was somewhat disappointed by it’s size and girth when it arrived. (Bigger and heavier than anticipated. You can read that post here: Felix and The Ebony┬áRoom.) I have previously written about the fact that I don’t always pay enough attention to size when I buy online – or my idea of it is wrong. This seems to be an occupational hazard of my collecting hobby and has resulted in, among other things, a four foot box of Mickey Mouse arriving as a Christmas gift from Kim one year. ((I have written about that acquisition, of our giant Dean’s Rag Mickey in the post here: Big Mickey.)

Dean’s Rag Mickey, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

However, this Felix is exactly how I thought he would be and his pose assumes good Felix-y action.

For those of you who have been following the addition of new shelves to our tiny abode, I will assure you that I am getting close to a big reveal of those and this little fellow is taking a front and center spot. I will say this however, It has created a lot more display space and gives me the delightful prospect of figuring out how I might ultimately fill them up.