Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I am sharing a photo postcard that just wandered in the door this week. It turned up in a search because of the black cat drawing in the upper left corner, but I think it is an image that those of us who were once art students find familiar and that is why I bought it. Although this postcard was never mailed, it is inscribed with “Daydreams” in a neat script and underlined on the back.
Our aspiring artist has his inspiration images pinned up along with what I assume is some of his own work. These drawings largely appear to be exercises in commercial art and perhaps that is how he ultimately made his living. His brushes, which looks a bit large for the art pursued here, are neatly sticking out of a jar. When I look very carefully I wonder if there aren’t two other photo postcards perched under the lamp, at least one that might be this same space depicted previously.
Our artist appears to be mulling, posed artfully and self-consciously, over a photograph of a woman and at his leisure, sitting back in his chair with his feet up. Very natty, our artist is wearing a tie and is neatly combed. The photo documents a space and time well despite the artifice.
There is something odd and somewhat wonky about the printing of this photo and I cannot help but wonder if his friend the aspiring (perhaps not yet entirely successful) photography student from down the hall attempted it. Recognizing that it hails from a time when a photo lit exclusively by a single bulb would have been challenging to execute (film being much slower), perhaps that is part of the issue. However, it is also printed poorly with dark edges from where it was not properly set for printing, an errant over-exposed corner in the upper right. Over decades it has solarized in the way that early prints sometimes do.
It reminds me of studio spaces in I had in college and later the areas I have devoted to drawing in various apartments – some favorite postcards or reproductions pinned up along with some recent work, a work lamp, brushes at the ready. He is neater than me, by far; I generally was covered in black pastel (a favorite medium) or really made a mess earlier with oil paint. My photography work of more recent vintage was executed elsewhere so no pets or humans would be injured by fumes or chemicals in our tiny abode. Kim says this photo reminds him of a young him as well, although I will add he seems a bit disparaging about the prospects of this young man.
My drawing table, alas, has been my work desk, as shown above, for the last two years and sees more action that way than it was for producing drawings. (I wrote about setting up that work space in an oddly popular post that can be found here.) It can’t be seen in the photo, but I do keep some photos around me at my desk as well, among them one I recently acquired of me and my sister as tiny tots, in a long forgotten yard somewhere.
Meanwhile, as I write I sit at the far end of Kim’s long work table as I type this. It is a personal idiosyncrasy that I write my blog sitting at our big computer, not my laptop. I think I have mentioned before that Kim’s work table is a long, wooden table that I think was designed more for dining than for drawing. We bought it at the 26th Street flea market from its maker years ago. The antique table I had assigned to Kim early on had fallen over from the daily use.
I guess Kim’s workspace is a glorified and professional version of this student one, with an enormous pile of finished pages at his right, some favorite books and his lucky dogs in front of him and our mutual collection of early photos lining the walls above. He is not, it should be noted, someone who likes his own work up on the wall around him. His workspace and my mine sit side-by-side these days and are pretty much central to our daily lives with the two cats, here at Deitch Studio.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I woke to this 12 degree morning, bright as a new penny, here in New York City this January day and had no idea what I wanted to share with you folks today. Coffee in hand, I wandered among my possessions and reached into a pile by my desk of somewhat unsorted photos and odd items that seemed to need a bit of consideration before posting. I pulled out this item which somehow Kim hadn’t even seen come into the house; given the intimate dimensions of Deitch Studio this is indeed unusual.
This scarf struck my fancy when I saw it and I bought it on a whim knowing it wasn’t not my usual side of the street. The pointy Felix-es around the boarder tickled me – I am a sucker for a pointy Felix as some Pictorama followers know – and I like the color combination.
However, when it arrived I was a tad disappointed overall. The fabric is a bit thin and the design is a bit odd – the text which appears to be an interview with Pat Sullivan, an idea I sort of like – is strangely and unevenly cut off by the center image. While I realize that once you wear it as a scarf it wouldn’t much matter it offends my sensibility as an object.
The scarf has a (rather conspicuous think) note that it is the product of Determined Productions, San Francisco worked into the boarder design and it was produced in 1989 as per (yet) another note on the boarder which give the copyright of Felix the Cat Productions, Inc. which (Google informs me) resides in nearby Hamburg, New Jersey. I guess I give it a B- grade.
There was a time when I wore a lot of scarves and my wardrobe boasted many. It helped that the Metropolitan Museum produced them and I was able to purchase them at a steep discount for myself and my family. (I had learned to tie them, after a fashion at least, during my college year living in London, brighting a small number of outfits with bright scarves of different colors and prints. Nothing fancy but a method or two that work for me anyway.) The offices at the Met were often cold and a scarf made practical sense – many people had the same idea and in winter would find us all wrapped in them and wool shawls from the store there as well.
My current offices (when and if I visit them which is still rarely) are also chilly in winter, but somehow I have fallen largely out of the scarf habit although they still reside in my closet, languishing with a lot of other unused office clothes at the moment, a sort of a time capsule despite a recent clean out. (My efforts in this area and further thoughts on various aspects of the potential return to the office can be found in a post here.) I tended to layer on jackets and sweaters instead. Here, working from my perch at home, I also just ten to add a layer although this apartment and especially that corner of it, tends to be warm.
Recently I was working from my mom’s house in New Jersey and assigned myself an unused upstairs room as my office. That room turns out to be quite chilly and as I had few items of clothing with me I did wrap myself in a big wool scarf I had with me for my afternoon of Zoom calls. Folks asked about it, never having much seen me in one and wondering where the heck I was that I was so cold. (A navy wool cardigan has been sourced as a permanent resident of the New Jersey branch of my operations, as a way of addressing this issue, but a scarf may still be required. I will be testing this out later this week anyway, but will arrive better prepared.)
The question of how daily work attire will emerge from this long hiatus of going to an office is unsure – as is the precise nature of said return. There are days when I think I should just toss everything (potentially piles of nicer trousers, tops and jackets) but the three pairs of nice jeans, two sweaters, two tops, maybe a jacket or two for “dressing up”, that are currently in rotation. They could rattle around in an otherwise empty closet with a lot of running tights and sweats. Meanwhile, a return to scarf wearing in the near term seems unlikely.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today we are continuing our New Year’s weekend with a Felix post. This fellow is the last in a big buy I did from an unexpected and wonderful online auction in Great Britain this October. It was one of those affairs which had been moved online because of Covid and it was my lucky, toy collecting day, because I would never have been treated to the likes of it otherwise and some of these dealers are not online sellers. Given the amount I spent I would say they were glad to have run into me as well! (I have written about the other acquisitions, the amazing Deans Eugene the Jeep and a great postcard here and here.) Christmas came in October this year without question.
There is in my collection, a rather huge and very impressive Dean’s Rag Felix, the likes of which I have never seen otherwise, nor have I even met any kissin’ cousins until this fellow crossed my path. The story of that guy I will save for another day as I have not yet memorialized him here in the Pictorama archive of toy tales, but it involves a trip to London, spending more than I ever had on a toy (and I have never, ever told how much that was…) and emptying a suitcase to bring him home safely – who cares about clothes?
I have written about the famed Dean’s toy maker previously – a few times devoted to some beloved Mickeys and also a rather exceptional Pluto. (Those posts for fellow toy fans can be found here, here and here just for starters.) Deans produced Felix in a variety of sizes according some old catalogue information I have seen. I would like to be more educated about them and will share as the information comes to light.
This chap caught my eye immediately as I strolled through piles of photos from a variety of sellers and, as I remember, I started bouncing up and down in my chair with delight! To make it even better (how does it even get better, right?) the seller was including the photo below of a little boy with a very similar Felix! Pictorama readers know that this is truly a wonderful two-ffer for me as the Pictorama archive sports many Felix photo images as well. I could hardly email my desire to purchase them fast enough.
The young man posing with this Felix toy seems to be at a photo studio. He is perched on something that looks more like a small table or piano bench perhaps. While Felix appears to be warmly embracing him, he seems a bit awkward with his arms are gingerly around Felix which makes it feel like it probably isn’t his toy but a prop. This is a photograph rather than a photo postcard and there is no information on the back aside from a pencil number (no studio information) and some evidence that this was at one time pasted into a photo album.
Felix stands about 17 inches high. He has rather bat-like ears, a tad over-sized. (Peter, the seller, kindly offered to reinforce Felix’s ears which I agreed to – as it happens they had also been reinforced on my other Dean’s Felix. They must have been made thin and wore out quickly. His head swivels to allow for a saucy pose or two.
As you can see, this Felix is missing his nose – and of course the photo shows us what it would have looked like with nose. I am considering fashioning a nose out of felt and maybe just pinning it on so it would be easily removable. However, you can also see that the shape of the nose is still there. The eyes are an interesting sort of celluloid, at least that is what I think they are. Oddly, both in my photos and the original ones from the sellers, his hands seem a bit clumpy although they are not in person.
Felix has the delightful Deans Rag Book labels on the soles of his feet, shown below.
As it turns out the seller, Peter Woodcock, is a somewhat reformed Felix collector who is just dipping his toe in the water of selling some of his collection although he and his wife Leanda have a robust antique toy business (many lovely bears),although I am not sure I would have found them online if it weren’t for the 200 Years of Childhood toy show moving online for this year. (I assure you that this is among the few silver linings I can attribute to Covid.)
I suspect that my tsunami of Felix enthusiasm is a tad overwhelming for Peter as I pepper him with questions and theories, but I so rarely get to correspond with a fellow Felix toy fan. Yay Peter! I have coaxed a few more Felix-es out of him so stay tuned as I think 2022 is going to be a very Felix year indeed.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Welcome to the Pictorama reveal of the Deitch Studio holiday card memorializing the year that was, 2021. A tip o’ the hat this year to Kim who carried the ball a bit more than usual and this one has a slightly more Deitchian appeal which is always a good thing. (For those of you just joining this year some previous card reveals can be found here and here for starters.)
I only learned about Krampus as an adult, although years ago now. I do find this sort of shadow Santa fascinating and the idea that not only was Santa watching to make sure you were nice and not naughty, but this dark side Santa was going to come after you if you were a very bad kid. It makes sense though that Santa wouldn’t be all sweetness and light – I mean, how interesting is that after all.
While the concept of Krampus has its roots in a Norse underworld character the name Krampus is derived from a German name. I gather that there are German and Austrian festivals (which not surprisingly involve some drinking) where the Krampus story is played out via a run through town by Krampus glad participants. The runners carry sticks, like those used to beat said naughty children, and scare onlookers. Can’t say I am sorry to have missed this. The Catholic Church at one time made an effort to ban Krampus which was, given his increasing popularity, clearly unsuccessful.
Our Krampus has all of the key characteristics – a hairy beast with great lolling and pointed tongue, goat horns and cloven feet, but we’ve replaced the beating chains and sticks with lightening bolts.
Poor Cookie and Blackie are clearly fretting about and totting up their misdeeds this year – poor kits! – and sharing a mutual dream of this monster. Oh gosh though, who in thinking about 2021 doesn’t feel a bit like this sums it all up? No worries though – Cookie and Blackie will receive toys, catnip and ear rubs Christmas morning just as they always do. And 2022 will dawn in a week and we’ll all turn the page and hope for a truly great New Year!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Here at Pictorama we have been known to indulge the off-model, the fraudulent and in the case of Felix, sometimes even the somewhat demonic period renderings of his visage. Unlike the iron hand of Disney, Pat Sullivan (a faker himself who claimed to draw Felix when it was in fact Otto Messmer) didn’t seem to have the bandwidth to control the proliferation of fake Felix-es, especially those being churned merrily out by the British.
These jolly, and some might point out occasionally terrifying, toys form the bedrock of the Pictorama toy box. And yes, they leer happily over us in bed each night from their various shelf perches. (Some posts featuring those free-form Felix, presumably unlicensed, toys can be found here and here, just for starters.) Meanwhile, eBay listings for Felix may cover everything from Krazy Kat (see yesterday’s post about his identity crisis here) to, oddly, Mickey Mouse.
In his two-dimensional incarnation I have some examples of liberties taken as well. In my possession is a set of postcards made from stencils one could purchase for this purpose. The hand traced and colored results can be found occasionally in the sorting through of Felix memorabilia. A post about these cards before I knew about some postcards made from the stencils can be found here.
All this to say, I snatched up this odd card recently on eBay. It is a bit fragile and the postcard stock perhaps a bit lighter than it might be. I liked the hands on hip blocky Felix body – the tail curls up and around for a nice juxtaposition. Things get a bit odder up around the face – the ears are off and the nose too long and bulbous. However it is the filling in of the eyes and mouth that give him his distinctive oddness.
Upon closer inspection, there is a signature (people ripping off Felix rarely did that I thought to myself) of the renderer, Louis Ollier. A quick search mostly turns up work by Ollier and there isn’t much on his biography. I believe that folks have somehow conflated his biography with a famous bone surgeon of the same name who was born in 1830 and died in 1900 – clearly this is not the same person as he couldn’t have drawn Felix before his creation almost 20 years into the new century. This fellow was working mostly in the 1930’s, although I turned up some oil paintings that might be his from earlier decades.
In addition to a number of sketches for sale by Ollier what I was able to figure out is that his gig was he would do sketches of famous people, send them to the person and ask them to sign and return if they were pleased with it; Ollier would sign them as well. As far as I can tell, some of these were then made into prints which also bear Ollier’s name or sold as originals. Evidently there is a substantial body of his work devoted to race car drivers, although those were not among the ones I turned up. My guess without knowing, but based in part on the subjects I could find, is that he was British.
Ollier entered Felix into his pantheon of the famous and thus depicted. Felix seems to have declined to countersign this postcard – perhaps the likeness did not please him? And then question printed below, Puzzle – Why does he keep on laughing? Well, Felix does chuckle a fair amount, but usually only after he does something especially clever.
This postcard was never used and perhaps it is most notable that I never saw one before which means there probably are not a large number in circulation. I found frankly uninspired renderings of Robert Taylor and Edward G. Robinson online, but the drawing of Sydney Horler (a British writer of thrillers) is available on eBay at the time of writing and I share it below. I suspect somehow he was more successful with lesser known subjects – they feel looser and more free.
However, for what it is worth, his drawing of Felix, perhaps unexpectedly, brings Mr. Ollier a smidge more immortality here in the annals of the Pictorama collection today.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s toy acquisition is part of the loot from lightening striking multiple times at one online toy sale in Britain this fall. Within a few hours I had redistributed some hard earned cash to three dealers. One was a small purchase, a wonderful postcard though of a girl in hunting garb aiming at a Steiff teddy. (That post can be read here.)
Today’s Jeep came from a dealer whose toys seemed to skew more toward traditional bears and dolls than somewhat obscure comic characters. She was lovely however and I will hope there is a chance to do future business with her.
As it happens, I have always had a soft spot for the Jeep and frankly had no idea that Deans Rag Company produced one, but as soon as I saw this one I snatched it happily up. For those who have not read the original Segar Popeye strip, I say do yourself a favor and settle in with the full run and have a good old read. I originally read the dailies serially via a wonderful edition of hard cover books that our friends at Fantagraphics published years ago. (They have subsequently published the Sundays as well.) The full glory of Popeye in his native medium bears little resemblance to the somewhat limited range of the animated cartoon character of my childhood and it was one of the nicest rabbit holes I ever headed down in comics.
Among the discoveries, such as characters Ham Gravy and Castor Oil, was Eugene the Jeep. The Jeep, for those of you who have not encountered his mystical self, is a dog-like animal from Africa who can, (among other things) appear and disappear at will, walk on his hind legs, always tells the truth, and can utter the single word, Jeep! (Wikipedia has a rather cogent explanation of him and his back story which can be found here.) The Jeep represents a sort of the high point of that strip for me – a charming and mystical character which possesses somewhat limited if extraordinary powers.
The first mention of the Jeep appears in March of 1936, although he takes his place in the strip later in 1938. While researching this and the dates associated with it I had a moment of wondering how the first mention might have intersected with the introduction of Punjab into the Little Orphan Annie strip. The equally mystical Punjab was introduced into that strip almost exactly a year before in February of ’35. Makes me wonder if it inspired Segar or if there was something else afoot in the world that inspired both. I am not well versed enough in these things to say, but will perhaps pose the question to one of our better informed friends such as Bill Kartalopoulus, comics historian. Maybe it was just in the air. (The question of whether or not the army vehicle with this moniker has the strip as the origin remains somewhat unclear to me, but is definitely possible.)
Much like Krazy Kat, and even Felix to some extent, the relatively simple shape of this character seems to have inspired somewhat strangely inaccurate three dimensional recreations and I have looked for a splendid soft Jeep toy for a very long time. Kim has spoken of one that passed through his hands in the late 80’s which I have had trouble finding. I think it might be this model below, just spotted on eBay.
While the earnestness of this Dean’s Rag incarnation cannot be denied, down to the lucky four leaf clovers which decorate him, somehow he is a bit off kilter. He is about 7 inches in height. (I have not had a chance to dig really deep to see if he came in a number of sizes, although as a rule Deans character toys did. Having said that he does seem a tad rarified so there isn’t much online. Somewhere I have a CD which has the history of the Dean’s catalogue on it which will enlighten me if I can find it.) My example has a small tear on the neck and toward the tip of the tail. The only other example I can find has a worse tear at the tail with stuffing emerging – at first I thought it was a characteristic of the toy.
He has, as is necessary, the wonderful Dean’s Rag Book Company imprint on the soles of his feet. (For some reason those imprints fill me with great joy – if I were to come back in a future life as a vintage toy I would very much want to be a Deans Rag toy proudly sporting this indicia.)
As toy collector and seller Peter Woodcock pointed out in an email these small toys soiled and tore easily with handling and did not survive in large numbers. (Peter will emerge further as a subsequent character in the tale of this sale as he parted with something truly delightful which I purchased as well.) A quick look over at Mel Brinkrant’s collection shows a few pristine examples, as well as one or two other examples I must keep my eye out for – I can see the corner of another of the Deans Rag ones and I would say yes, it is larger. (For all things Mel and his beyond extraordinary collection you can go here. Talk about a happy rabbit hole!)
Researching this wonderful toy has reminded me that within these cramped four walls is a new volume of the pre-Popeye Thimble Theater strips. (It can be found here on Amazon.) I think I need to curl up with that oversized volume in bed for the remainder of the weekend. It is snowing gently outside and I cannot think of a better way to wile away this afternoon and evening.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo postcard is among the more beat-up in my collection. Although it was never sent (and nothing is inscribed on the back) it suffers from some folds and marks as well as something blue it was exposed to which has lightly colored front and back. Nonetheless, I am pleased it survived and it was jolly enough that I was compelled to add it to the Pictorama library.
This nice group – I cannot say or really guess if family or friends – have posed themselves nicely on this stoop. A careful look at the details of where they are standing makes me realize something is a bit odd; there are bits of trim that look interior (at the top and above the door), but the bottom half looks like a stoop and sidewalk, an iron gate to one side, so I am not sure what I am looking at precisely.
This card cames via Great Britain where it does seem there was a time when it wasn’t unusual for a group to grab a Felix toy – large or small – and add him to the photo. I will always wonder how and why this started although obviously I find it charming indeed. Having Felix in your family photo was a thing and I have written about a few other images in my collection which have this same ad hoc quality of Felix inclusion. A few of many examples in my collection can be found in posts here and here and shown above and below.
What we choose to grab or do when we are asked to mug for a photo can illustrate something about us, revealing what matters most to us. I always like someone who grabs up their kitty of course (in fact I immediately like them better), but this does assume a certain level of patience on the part of the feline who does not always comply. I have commented on Blackie’s growing fondness for Zoom calls, but he has also been known to show up for a stroll over to Kim if he is on camera. Kim says I read too much into Blackie’s burgeoning public persona, but I think that kitty has a thought about what he is doing although I don’t claim to entirely understand what that is either.
Perhaps posing this tiny Felix was just a way of showing that they were having a good time and a bit of a giggle. The card is a professional photo postcard and it is possible that the photographer brought him along too I guess. Was Felix a beloved totem or a professional addition we will never know, but here he is waving to us probably almost 100 years later and he has won these folks a permanent home here at Pictorama.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today we are celebrating some recent apparel acquisitions, both which came to me in fairly unorthodox ways. Both are notable for baring a passing but undeniable resemblance to Kim’s sometimes comics avatar Waldo and other Deitchian cat characters.
The first came via a DM heads up from our friend and comics history expert Bill Kartalopoulos (@kartalopoulos) on Instagram one day. The supplier is called Yarrow Goods. They offer the shirt in black as well as the combo I purchased shown above, and they have subsequently introduced the same Doin’ Great logo in Japanese (no idea why), but nonetheless perhaps more interestingly, as a sweatshirt. If it was a hoodie there would be smoke arising from how fast I took out my credit card, but I think a large pullover one could be a great addition to my winter running attire layers nonetheless. I love the t-shirt although my consumption of cotton t-shirts is low. However, it could become my winter pj top once serious seasonal chill sets in.
In my opinion, it bears perhaps a more striking resemblance to the protagonist in Kim’s Alias the Cat. (For anyone fans who missed it, Alias can be purchased on Amazon here.)
The other shirt was much harder won and came over the transom in a very unusual way. One night over dinner we were watching American Pickers and I noticed that Mike Wolfe was wearing a really great baseball shirt which also sported a Waldo-like character with a dollop of Waldo’s joie de vivre.
Let me start by saying that a good baseball shirt is truly an essential part of the Pictorama wardrobe. My fondness for them pre-dates the prolonged pandemic embracing of ongoing at home casual attire, but have only risen in my estimation during this time. They seem to possess a multi-function quality which morphs from extra layer in bed, to a layer while running and not to mention a hedge against morning chill first thing for that predawn cup of winter coffee. I had a series of soft and thin cotton ones from The Gap which I literally wore to rags. Quite simply, I wanted this shirt and I wanted it badly.
Luckily I could read the words Hydra Glide on it clearly and that lead me to the makers of the shirt over at Dice Magazine. Not surprisingly (for those of you who follow American Pickers anyway) this turned out to be a motorcycle magazine.
American Pickers has long been a favorite of mine and I guess among the sins of my television watching Kim might favor it. My fondness for it goes way back and pre-dates an addiction to home renovation shows (I favor the ones with old houses in another part of the country I could theoretically afford if I sold our studio apartment) which I first discovered while on the road for work and became my go to over the past 18 months to unwind. (There was a long early pandemic period where we watch way too much CNN which I have entirely barred absent the sort of natural disaster which might make it necessary to briefly venture back.)
For those of you who are not familiar with the show, it is essentially a low budget show on the History network with these folks who travel around the United States poking around old buildings, barns and attics and buying stuff to sell in their shop. They give some explanation about the objects along the way and although it leans heavily toward early motorcycles, bikes, cars and related advertising (which I have admittedly developed an appreciation for), toys and things more squarely in the Pictorama purview turn up. I have on occasion seen a wind-up toy and trotted off to eBay and purchased it. (See a post here although unidentified as such, and a great tin rollover Pluto I wrote about which can be found here.) Of course since Pictorama and Deitch Studio have acquire only policies we are unlikely to ever invite them to dig here.
Admittedly, there are times when I while watching I wish they would have a better look at an object I’m interested in (oh man, wait, why aren’t they interested in that film poster? was that a Bonzo dog I just saw?), but on the whole it is a more satisfying than frustrating experience. The shop’s online presence, at a glance, does not seem to extend to the items sold in their stores so alas, no chance to score that foot long photo you lusted after in a recent episode as far as I can tell. However, all this to say, while beloved in their own way, they are not exactly who I would expect to look to for contemporary fashion.
I found the shirt with surprising ease online at DicE Magazine. However, of course it was an old item and they were sold out. Living in the age of the internet and feeling persistent, the show wasn’t even over before I had located it in Japan at a site called Webike. I ordered it, but will save you the excruciating details which played out over more than a month with additional fees and the shirt stuck at some sort of holding company, Google translation of the site failing me and a plea for help to the company going unanswered. (Don’t try this at home folks!)
Freakishly, just as I gave up, I went back to the original site and (yes!) scored one. Meanwhile, the wheels of Japanese commerce also eventually turned and yep, a second one showed about a week later. (Final cost to date unknown.) I now own two and frankly I like it so much that if they were less expensive I would give them to everyone on the Pictorama holiday list. For now I may just order another and tuck it away for a future rainy day – especially since I bet a bunch of you are hitting the website now.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write on this (chilly) October morning I have a large standing plastic Santa and suitcases wedged behind me, piles of dry cleaning around me, and a mini mountain of off-season clothing tucked into plastic bins within view. These bins are of course filled with clothing that, due to the pandemic and not traveling into the office – or even seeing much of anyone – I haven’t touched in two seasons. I did have a moment of thinking I should just get rid of all of it.
It should be noted that this tower of tubs is so beloved by Cookie, who now spends her day lounging on top of them, lording it over everyone else in the apartment how high up she is, that I have decided that when this is all over I need to buy her a tall cat tree. I dislike them and we have so little space, but it makes her excessively happy.
When I left Pictorama readers last week we were drying out Kim’s notes on our visit to the whorehouse museum in Butte, Montana by spreading them across our one room studio apartment. (That post about our trip to Butte and the story that came out of it can be found here. The beginning of this three part tale can be found here.) I failed to mention that, in addition to the clothes that were destroyed by the storm, the rest were damp from having sat in the water filled basement – so those also were spread out here and the combination giving the apartment a distinct musty smell. I bleached cleaned the locker and the objects that encountered the water and I thought I was done. However, a few days later the building required that everything be removed from the basement for the duration of “several weeks” while they put in new dry wall, paint, etc. And so we find ourselves more crammed than usual.
Ida also forced the hand of two leaks in our ceiling and we have the delight of spending the coming week intimately acquainted with workmen tearing out these sections of ceiling and making repairs. Sometimes I marvel at how much can really go on in our 600 square feet. I laugh when I look at tiny houses and think they have nothing on us here on 86th Street in Manhattan. Anyway, an industrial dehumidifier is on loan from the super and runs day and night. At first I was dumping gallons of water daily. It seems to be doing its job, decreasing amounts of water are disposed of twice a day, and it will disappear with the ceiling repairs. (Blackie loves the dehumidifier, Cookie hates it. It is loud.)
I am very aware that although annoying, our damages are nominal compare to that of others suffering from this and other recent storms. However, this apartment which is perched at the very top of an aging white brick building, which was erected in 1960, seems to attract leaking and flooding and pipe issues which we fight, repair and hold at bay ongoing. This is merely another in a long line of repairs, all of which we tell ourselves must be the ultimate one.
Still and all, as I pointed out last week, part of becoming intimate with the basement relegated possessions has had a silver lining. For me, it came in the form of a long forgotten oil painting. It is mine and by this I mean I painted it. I have shed much if not most of my artwork aside from my photographs which are tucked into boxes. However, a few favorite paintings are tucked under the bed and this one was in the basement. It is largely unscathed by the experience although I have cleaned it up a bit after its probably decades long sojourn in the basement.
I have painted since childhood. I learned to use oil paint in high school and I knew I had found my medium in paint. I love the smell, the texture, the colors and really just about everything associated with it. The stink of the paint, turpentine and linseed oil immediately relaxes me and takes my mind elsewhere, even if I just catch a whiff as I walk past the Art Student’s League on my way to work. I have also always drawn and I began life and figure drawing also in high school. In college and beyond this slowly morphed into a long series of self-portraits. This is one of the last I did, back in the apartment prior to this one where I had space to paint, and it shows me in bed with my beloved cat Otto who frequently slept on my pillow in that fashion. My other cat Zippy on top of me. I don’t smoke (never have) so the cigarette is just an addition to the composition.
Lack of space when making the move to this apartment meant that painting eventually gave way to photography – early process photography including daguerreotypes and platinum prints. But, as they say, that is another story.
I find that I have enjoyed looking at this painting, currently propped up against some boxes by the front door. One day Kim suggested, out of the blue, that we hang it. Funny, I had been thinking the same thing. Some rearranging of photos to be done, but we think we found a spot for it where a wooden mask from Bhutan currently resides.
Meanwhile, even before the contents of the locker migrated up to the apartment, one day Kim wandered out of the apartment and downstairs where he retrieved an entire box devoted to story boards for a film of one of his stories that was never made. It is dated 1983 and I share the first few pages here. It is made up of a compilation of a number of stories that appeared in various publications over the years (I remember one reprinted in his compilation Beyond the Pale, one about a potato headed boy) with the goal of tying them together into a Deitch flavored film.
This was in conjunction with Brian Yuzna, of sci-fi and horror film fame, during a fabled stint in North Carolina, in the pre-Pam days of yore when Kim lead a somewhat nomadic life down South, dotted with intervals in Los Angeles. It seems to have reached a zenith with Brian turning his hand to his film Re-Animator (Kim makes a small appearance at the end) and somehow Beatifica Somnambula never being finished. However, Kim regaled me with stories about props that were constructed, giant fiberglass potato head and others.
Oddly Kim had been mulling over a bit of business from this odyssey for a future story – not the upcoming book, but the one after that – so the rediscovery and chance to paw through the box of story boards was especially welcomed. I won’t spoil any future story surprises, but when you eventually read Tales of the Midnight Demon think of this post.
I guess all this to say that creatively what is made is never completely lost. I am mulling how in a small way I might start painting again, although paint covered cat paws immediately come to mind. While I will be (very) relieved to have our storage restored to us and maybe have the apartment back to a semblance of normal before Thanksgiving, I think I will bring Santa upstairs this year. Maybe instead of a Christmas tree, we’ll get that cat condo and decorate it this year.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today as promised, is a more Deitchian day than yesterday’s launch of this tale. I left yesterday’s readers hanging a bit at the point where, after Hurricane Ida, we found out that we had several feet of water in the basement of our high rise building in Manhattan, a basement where for decades we have kept a storage locker which (to some degree) alleviates life in a 600 square foot studio apartment. Hurricane Ida hit New York on a Wednesday night and Thursday dawned sunny.
We were banned from the basement which remained flooded, but the elevators made a cautious return online in the morning and I took a run and surveyed Carl Schurz Park and the East River Esplanade. Aside from several feet of water remaining in some of the lower spots, the park was okay and a clean up of broken branches and opening of storm drains was underway. The actual Esplanade, along the water, was washed clean by the rain and river water and to my surprise no detritus remained. Such flooding where I grew up resulted in everything from garbage to fish washed ashore. (Boats broken free of their moorings and would be found high and dry would await neighbors claiming them and even a mattress had to be removed from the yard after Hurricane Sandy.)
Since Kim and I were on the last leg of our vacation we had decided to head over to Dizzy’s, Isaiah Thompson was playing in a quartet of recent Juilliard grads I know from work and it was Kim’s first time back at the club since our recent reopening about ten days before. We walked across Central Park and skirted some areas that remained flooded, including Bethesda Fountain. As we walked a thought occurred to me and I asked Kim pseudo-casually, “So, um, were your notes for the Butte, Montana Details magazine story in the basement locker?” Kim said no, he didn’t think so. I thought otherwise, but nothing we could do about it right now.
The set was great that night and the waiter who knew me well from my many nights at Dizzy’s was happy to see me and Dizzy’s was starting to feel like home again. At the end of the evening I came back to the table to find him and Kim talking with Kim regaling him with the story of our trip to Butte. (Kim still sports a straw cowboy hat from a K-Mart in Butte and he was wearing it that night.) Somehow Butte, Montana was in the air. (I wrote about that trip to Dizzy’s and our vacation here.)
It was late Friday afternoon before we were allowed our first go at our locker. Puddles were still all around and an industrial fan was blowing. A cough of water spilled out when we opened the doors of the locker and a sort of river smell was everywhere. When we say water we use the term lightly because in addition to water from the East River and rain run off in New York City you are also being treated to sewerage.
The winter coats had gotten some of the worst of it, one was already molding which I threw out. The others I would ask the dry cleaner if he would attempt to clean them. (Of course they were up to their ears in bags of clothing from my neighbors when I got there.) He agreed and a few bags of wet clothes that seemed like they might stand a chance went over to them, luckily just a few doors down from our building.
An industrial juicer, some old editing equipment and the remains of a lightbox of Kim’s were trash. A light-up standing Santa, a tree star and some other holiday decorations seemed largely intact. By this time reports of deaths across the tri-state area had already begun to pile up (they were to top out around 24) and being in our basement, with a watermark about four feet high brought home the horror that it must have been for people trapped. This made us philosophical, but far from cheerful, as we tied up bags of clothing that would not recover and piled up other soaked possessions alongside our neighbor’s for the trash.
Then there it was, a folder, now soaked, with Kim’s notes and photos from a trip to Butte, Montana to cover a story about a whorehouse museum which was closing there – one of the longest running whorehouses in the country, the Dumas Brothel, and also the last standing example of a whorehouse architecture imported from Amsterdam, way back in the 1890 (or so) when it was built and opened. We had made the trip back in about 2000 when Kim was hot off of two articles he’d written and illustrated for publications in Details magazine. These were, for lack of a better term, comics-journalism – a story for the magazine researched, written and illustrated as comics. The first was his visit to death row and about the execution of Ronald Fitzgerald. (Republished in the 2006 Best American Comics, this is the best way of seeing it now.) Kim’s story of visiting Fitzgerald and getting to know him, his story and family before attending his execution, had been well received by the magazine.
The result was the opportunity to pitch another assignment which turned out to be a story idea credited to my dad who had been talking about an early computer virus named Melissa in tribute to a stripper the engineer of the virus had known in Florida. That story was a fairly light-hearted romp through the stripper community of Florida with strippers who went by the name Melissa calling us at all hours of the night for weeks ongoing.
As Kim’s then girlfriend (now wife) I knew one thing and that was if the next story was going to be strippers I was going along for the ride this time so we purchased a ticket for me to Butte and off we went.
The basis of the story was that sex workers rights activist (and former prostitute) Norma Jean Almodovar was helping to spearhead an effort to save and restore this nascent whorehouse museum, much to the displeasure of this down at the heels city which seemed just as glad to ignore or bury this particular chapter of their history. For better or worse, Norma Jean’s idea was to re-route some of the biker traffic heading to Sturgis for their summer rally for an evening outdoor concert to raise money for the museum. It was hard for me to keep my fundraising hat off when we arrived just in time for a meeting about how this would roll out. I always say about fundraising, especially around events, don’t try this at home, it is harder than it looks and you can easily lose more than you can make. Which, long story short, is pretty much what happened.
We toured the actual building which was fascinating. Based on the brothel buildings of Amsterdam, it was three floors (and a basement) around a skylight atrium. Each room had a sort of “display” window where the woman would advertise her wares and the cribs were somewhat larger and had more light with each floor. Newbies would start in the basement cribs (dark and claustrophobic, complete with tunnels to downtown so that one could transverse in bad weather, but perhaps also without being seen entering and leaving the establishment) and work their way up. The had been a robbery recently and some of the artifacts of the museum had disappeared, but in reality the actual structure was what was fascinating.
While there we met interesting long time residents for background on Butte, including a doctor a waitress told us about, out on the edge of town. He’d treated miners back in the day and was retired now. We visited a guy who was known as the Santa Claus of Walkerville (a nearby suburb) who gathered toys throughout the year for needy children. (I had my photo taken with him which sadly I cannot locate for you right now.) Despite the summer heat he happily put on one of his Santa suits for the photo. We also met some folks holding a tent revival meeting in opposition to the whorehouse museum and frankly they also seemed like really nice people too.
The edges of Butte end abruptly into mountains and wilderness, almost like a cartoon town in the desert. Butte had (has?) a mall strip highway of big box stores and restaurants, but the original downtown with its buildings pristinely intact also remained. Among the surviving original businesses were a few bars and a Chinese restaurant where we ate one night. Much like the brothel (a few blocks away) the restaurant was said to have tunnels under it to other parts of town. Inside the restaurant each table was its own private booth which would have had curtains over the open side, affording privacy which would have allowed other activity within. (The New York Times just published a very charming article on this restaurant which can be found here.)
Our trip ended with engaging with some of the bikers in a bar while trying to get our hands around this rally and directions for getting there. I have a license but don’t drive although I did on this trip. We had an SUV and all I can say is that it was a good thing that for most of the driving I had plenty of open space around me. However, I did park the car at the rally on the grass as directed and got it stuck – it was a kindly biker who got behind the wheel and got us out.
Frankly they were all giving Kim a sort of sideways look and I was trying to do the helpless girl thing. (Kim was wearing an old shirt that belonged to a long deceased relative which had drawings of dogs on it and just when I thought we were cooked one of the bikers exclaimed that he LOVED THAT SHIRT and that he had greyhound rescues of his own.)
To cut to the chase – almost no one showed up at the concert/rally and they lost their shirts as predicted. Kim could see the story slipping away and by the time we were back he was ready to pitch a story with a lot of heart that addressed Butte’s history and remaining spirit and unique qualities. Details (sporting a new editor, soon to be replaced by yet another), wanted more of an ironic hatchet job and when Kim demurred the story was killed. The notes assembled and found their way, along with the photos and roughs, to a folder in our basement where they were now wet, but luckily we had gotten there in time and by placing them all around our apartment (along with the surviving damp but not entirely wet clothing from numerous bins where I store the off-season clothing). The notes, roughs and photos dried out fairly quickly. Further into the locker excavation we found the much more finished roughs I am sharing here – luckily those had been tucked onto a shelf at the top.
What else came out of the locker? More to come on that in my final installment, with more Deitchian discoveries and other artifacts next week.