Swanning

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother is not a collector, I inherited the gene from my dad and from his side of the family. His mother loved to attend auctions here in the city and stuffed their house with carpets, furniture and trinkets. She loved costume jewelry – in many ways I am her successor. My father was an accumulator as well, garage sales, auctions. He was a man who liked stuff. While there were no toy or photograph collectors, I’m sure Pictorama readers realize that this is the category I fit into – and at least in this way I take most decidedly after the paternal side of my family. (I most recently wrote about Dad’s passion for silver in a post here.)

My mom on the other hand is not especially interested in things. She can be discerning about what she likes and prefers, but generally speaking my mother just lived among the stuff my father accumulated without being especially engaged with it or the acquisition of it. This is not to say she didn’t enjoy a trip to an antique shop or flea market – she would pick up this or that. However, she does not possess a deep affection for the items of the world, nor the acquisition of them.

Undated snapshot of my mom.

A scientist at heart my mother’s passion lies deeply embedded in the natural world. As a result I grew up with a cheerful allotment of pet cats, dogs and fish. (Two past posts addressing this roster of pets and my early life can be found here and here.) We had a vegetable garden which she planted and tended and we lived on a river where we enjoyed a passing parade of waterfowl and aquatic life. Her father was a devoted fisherman and repaired outboard motors and made fishing lures for extra money, so she knew the waters of the area well. Much of the idyll of my childhood I have shared with Pictorama readers was shaped by my mother’s views, knowledge and interests in the nature world of the seashore where we lived.

One Thanksgiving, several decades ago now, my mother noticed a flock of swans in the backyard and became intently interested in them. Before long she was feeding them as well as watching them, along with the geese and ducks which also made our river inlet home at the time. Eventually an injured one turned up and she found someone to help heal it. Slowly she became involved with a loose network of people who were knowledgeable and would help when an injured swan or goose would cross her path. I remember visiting my folks and finding that I was sharing the guest bathroom with an injured swan overnight. (He was a noisy neighbor that night!) Strangely (to my mind anyway) mute swans are an intensely political and controversial issue for people who live on or near the shore. Other than to acknowledge that it is, and that clearly my mom falls on the side of protecting this wildlife, it is not my intention to tackle that topic.

For today all this is to say that on that November afternoon my mother recognized and embraced her spirit animal and although she loves all birds (and in fact all animals) she is deeply and especially attached to swans. She has devoted much of her time and energy in subsequent years to caring for them and defending them with all the resources she could marshal. In recent years, no longer living on the water and now mostly confined to the house, I say she still wields a mighty phone and computer. Her now tiny yard remains a haven for song birds who attracted by and enjoy bird baths and feeders, as well as a garden designed to feed them and the insects. (I wrote a little about her gardening in a post here.)

While living on the waterfront those many years mom photographed the swans, along with geese, ducks, other birds and of course our cats. Those photos proliferated on the walls of the house and my father, the accumulator, brought her swan related items and in that way she became an inadvertent collector of swan stuff. However, when the time came to downsize into the house she lives in now she shed most of it without regret. I think she rather enjoys living a more pared down life.

Therefore, as her birthday approached this year, it was never my intention to purchase items of this sort for her. However, much like those first swans years ago, these presented themselves to me in recent weeks and I found myself purchasing first the pin and then the photo. The pin hails from the British jewelry dealer Mia (IG @therubyfoxes or therubyfoxes.com, my most recent past post of an acquisition from her can be found here) who told me that five flying swans is the symbol of the Nordic countries, swans of different types being the national birds of both Finland and Denmark. Although unmarked, esthetically it appears to be made in one of those countries. Mom was never much of a jewelry wearer and wears none now really, but I think she will like having this, perhaps on a piece of ribbon, pinned up near where she likes to sit most days.

Meanwhile, a week or so later when following a sale by my Halloween supplier, the Midwestern Miss Molly (IG @MissMollysAntiques who I gave a nod to just last week in a post here), I stumbled across this early photo of two swans and again I answered the call and purchased it for mom. There is something about the reflections in the water I think mom will especially like. Later today I will pick up a frame and tomorrow I head to Jersey to see mom, slightly in advance of her birthday later this month.

Sometimes when I run in the mornings I see geese or ducks here on the East River, flying by, and I email mom and tell her they were waving to her in tribute. It felt like these items also arrived on Instagram pointedly just in time for her birthday this year. Maybe although dad is gone, he is still finding a way to send a few swan items her way.

Driven

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This morning I dug into pile of photos next to my desk and came across this one which I have absolutely no memory of purchasing – none whatsoever. It does happen, although rarely and more frequently with unframed snapshots where I might purchase a lot of several. It must have come from an IG sale as I can’t imagine how I would have stumbled across it on eBay. The photo is framed with the back sealed so no idea if there is information on the back. Strangely, there is no way to hang it on the back, nor a way to prop it up.

Clearly the antique toy car appealed to me and these two kids seem to agree as they look mighty pleased with themselves. Really, what kid, boy or girl, wouldn’t feel like they were at the top of the world with such an item? This car is a bit battle scarred, but that does not diminish how wonderful it must have been to be driving it. These kids are clearly sister and brother; they could even be fraternal twins.

Without seeing much of the yard I suspect that they had plenty of room to take her around in as well. (I saw a kid with an impressive motorized car in a high rise driveway on 86th Street recently and thought that it must be frustrating to have such limited opportunity to drive such a great item. Also, it really is the ability to be independent and to get away from adults – right?)

The paint on this car is faded and streaked, but the steering wheel sits up proudly and there is some sort of a windshield as well. We can only see the back of them but there are headlights on the front, a grill along the side (as sporty cars would have had at the time), these nice wheels and we can see the pedal mechanism underneath. The boy is sitting on the back and looking carefully it appears that there was some sort of area without a seat which might have enabled hauling small loads or perhaps a second rider.

These kids are in what appears to be a backyard, wooden frame house and a bushy bit of garden are behind them. Further back a wooden fence and more bushy grasses behind some cinderblock edging or in planters, hard to tell, but the yard looks like a good one to ride such a car in.

Locomotion is a prized thing for a kid. I was the proud owner of a pink and white two-wheeler with a chipper basket, but was somewhat hampered by living near busy streets my folks didn’t want me on. Our neighbors have a little boy, Eliot, who currently sports a scooter with wheels that light up as it goes. He and his dad were taking it for a spin in the hall on their way to the laundry room the other day and Kim and I paused to share our real admiration of it. Scooters abound in New York City right now – those you push with your foot and a motorized variety that I think was largely nixed for safety, but you still see them. Kids and adults alike use them, sometimes together.

This appears to be pretty close to Eliot’s scooter.

The pandemic more or less coincided with the rise of the motorized bike here in New York City. These are largely employed by food delivery people and I read an article recently that there is a problem with them being stolen. Kim and I agree that they are pretty great and I think we’d both like a try at one, although since our bike years are far behind us and neither of us really drives perhaps better if it doesn’t happen.

As kids though, from tricycles, to two-wheelers, wagons, skateboards, scooters and all the rest we are fascinated with those things that allow us to go, fast or slow, to haul or coast. And if you were lucky enough to have a fine ride such as this you are mighty lucky and you knew it.

Hard to Find the Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tomorrow we will have our annual Deitch Studio Valentine reveal (one of the highlights of the Pictorama and Deitch Studio year – if you are new to Pictorama or just need to see a Kim Deitch Valentine right now, last year’s can be found here), but today we are back to a Felix photos. This 8″x10″ came to me via @missmollysantiques on Instagram (a fascinating source for things Halloween and exotica from our nation’s great Midwest), and although it was a rollicking good Halloween photo, I didn’t see the Felix at first.

This interior from the early decades of the 20th century is homey and nice. The window dressings form their own patterns in the background, and the piano on one side and mantel on the other frame the group nicely. There is no carpet on the floor, it is shining wood beneath the bent knees of one of the young Indians, but perhaps it has been rolled up and put aside for this shindig. It is hard to imagine that this well-appointed room didn’t have a carpet most days.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

These folks have embraced the costume spirit with a fair amount of enthusiasm. If I was the judge for Best Costume I would likely hover around the gypsy fortune teller (second row, second from the left, holding a tambourine, sassy sash at her hips), or perhaps the clown in the back corner behind the piano – but I am a sucker for a period clown costume and her pointed hat has a nice Halloween pumpkin and black cat. (You can find an earlier rather splendid similar Halloween clown in the snow photo post here. It heralds from the same Midwestern source. Those folks really knew how to celebrate Halloween.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

The men have largely, although not entirely uniformly, embraced cross dressing as their fancy dress and I count four of those here. Others seem to have adopted funny suit clothes without a self-evident definition – comical hats and ties largely. One fellow got into the spirit fully and is in a sort of jester costume, although he looks a tad unhappy, sad jester – he holds something in his hands I can’t make out. Maybe being next to the flashy gypsy à la flapper has him put out.

If you look closely at the back row you spot several men and one elderly woman who are not in costume, tucked in among the more colorful celebrants. Dad and Mom as I think of them, are wedged between a straw hatted and bespectacled (not to mention jaunty) fellow striking a pose on the end and a well-dressed younger woman who may or may not be in costume. Dad is clad in vest and tie, mom with her hair up, eyes downcast, but wearing some lovely long beads, dressed up if not in costume.

Two other younger men who don’t appear to be in fancy dress are to the back. One with a loosened tie behind Dad and the other in a plaid flannel shirt is on the other end. Flannel shirt guy is taller than everyone else and good looking. Perhaps he is in costume but my guess is no. Meanwhile, he looks a bit grim at the prospect of this photo.

On the floor we have our small fry representing a sort of jester, the aforementioned Indian (feathers in her headdress vaguely askew), and a third little girl whose costume, if she is wearing one, is indistinct. She may be sporting something on her head that I can’t quite make out. It’s easy to imagine them running around wildly before and after this shot. I can almost, but not quite, assign them as siblings or offspring of the older generations in the photo. (Does our Indian look a bit like Dad? Does the jester look a bit look a little like the heavy set man with the huge, flowing tie in the middle row?)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Meanwhile, if you haven’t found him yet, Felix takes the form of a posable toy, likely of the Schoenhut variety held in the hand of the woman to the far right, perched on the piano. Although she is in party dress, she does not appear to be in costume either and perhaps grabbing Felix was her attempt to be more festive. Perhaps after this photo she sat down at that piano and started to bang out some tunes, apples were bobbed and the party got underway.

The Girls on the Moon

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is a cold gray February morning here in NYC as I write. Snow (I think of it as more snow), which just commenced, is expected throughout today. Somehow it seems like a good opportunity to consider these pretty young women in spring dresses taken in July of 1912.

They are wonderful and somehow that shines through the fact that this photo was an unusually ham-handed product. Perhaps it is the sheer number that these photographers took at fairs or seaside resorts, but they are usually of at least adequate execution, if occasionally showing signs of exhausted chemicals (dunked in a nearby bucket a few too many times) or an image not washed of developer properly and fading over time. This photo would be the exception to the rule – the bottom of the image is out of focus and the top physically cropped crudely – although reading it, that seems to have happened later. Maybe it was cut down slightly to fit in a frame – there is no evidence that it was in a photo album. Perhaps the slightly slovenly execution is why this card was actually sent rather than just saved as a memento as is most often the case with these, at least those which are generally seen and collected today.

For all of that these two are charmers. One grasps the nose of the moon – poking him right in the eye! And the two hold hands. They are both enjoying themselves mightily and smile broad, sincere grins from their moon-side perch. One looks at the other and she looks out, at us and into the future.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

The notes are charming too though. Written at the bottom it says, This was taken in Muskogee. We had the finest of times there going to the parks & shows & most everywhere. On the back, also in pencil but lighter and very hard to read, it appears to say, Dear Ma, Say have you sent me any money? if you haven’t pls send some to Aunt Pearl’s for me. I’m leaving this afternoon for K.C. I sure had a grand time here especially…[arrow to the part about money] If you have sent it I will get it alright…will forward it for me. Jane. It is addressed to: Mr. Densel Brown, 2255 E Street, Granite City, Ill. (Yes, she has written to her mother but addressed the card to her father. Welcome to 1912 I guess.) In her hand it is dated 7/19/12.It was mailed from somewhere called Gibson and one wonders if these two are cousins.

A play on the typical Moon photo which I purchased years ago.

I have collected a few of these cards. One of my very first posts was devoted to an early acquisition. (It can be found here. A post about the other photo below can be found here.) They are a competitive area of collecting however so I only dabble a bit. They are a special joy when excellent examples are pulled together and framed or shown collectively – more is more – something I have seen well executed a few times. Much like my beloved posing with Felix photo postcards these always seem to be joyful. As if to say, who wouldn’t get a grin on their face when, in the midst of a fine day at a fair or seaside resort, dressed in your spring togs, you got to sit on the moon or mug with a giant Felix?

A happy group enjoying themselves for a pose on and around the moon.

As huge flakes of snow obliterate our view now (cartoon snow is how I think of these giant pieces, chunks really, floating and blowing around) accumulate outside my window, I am grateful to have spent an hour in July, 1912 in Muskogee, Oklahoma with Jane and her pal.

Framed: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today is the first of at least three framed photos that have come to me recently, two were gifts, but today’s was purchased. I hope to post about them all.

As someone who collects photos I of course give some thought to frames. Shown below is the utility black postcard frame that virtually all of my photos on display are assigned to. In this way they are fairly uniform and I maximize wall space.

The wall over Kim’s desk is the exception however and those photos are in an array of frames purchased, found or otherwise cobbled together, which creates a nice effect too. (I pledge a future post devoted to the wall, perhaps in sections. It is a major source of entertainment for the Zoom evenings I put myself in front of it. Even Wynton has claimed to spend time parsing it during these endless months.)

Partial view of a Felix and Cat Chair photo wall.

But my wall of Felix photos (which I previously posted about here in a pre-apartment renovation post) has them all housed in their matching black plastic frames which allow the photo to be the visual star. I have a pile of unused frames at the always at the ready and (needless to say) a pile of wall worthy photo postcards awaiting installation.

You would think that pandemic life would induce me to spruce up my surroundings, but beyond the necessary renovations back in the summer, I seem to devote myself largely to work and being drawn into the daily unfolding drama of the national news. My mental health would undoubtedly be better if I spent more time on framing photo postcards. (I have, however, just purchased a new desk chair as my back has continued to remind me that the one I use was never meant to be a 12 or more hour a day perch. The new one at least has arms so let’s see if Mr. Back responds to that.)

Still, sometimes it is the frame or all about the frame. Frankly, I find interesting frames a bit intimidating and I can think of at least two that are sitting in this apartment, languishing until I figure out how best to fill them. I mean, you want to do the frame justice with the right photo, but also the photo needs the right home too. And if it is a spot for several photos it is additionally perplexing. Perhaps there is some sort of life lesson lurking there. Clearly, I overthink.

Photo and handmade frame; Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Today’s framed photo comes via a new indulgence which is an antique store in Dallas, Texas called Curiosities. I have written about a purchase from them before (that post about a unique Felix match holder can be found here) and over time purchasing from them has almost become like a trip to their shop a few times a month. I found them on Instagram (@curiositiesantique or their website, GetCuriosities) and much to my entertainment they turn up a continuous array of somewhat irresistible bits and pieces – toy cats (a future post there indeed), but also just interesting stuff.

I can’t help but feel if I lived closer to the store that I would probably buy twice as much – but of course that would mean I had a house and could fill it, rather than our tiny and increasingly crowded apartment. A phone chat to seal the deal with Sandi or one of her colleagues is always a nice interlude in the day too.

Obviously though things do make it over the transom all the time and the most recent purchase, which is so hot out of the box that Kim will be seeing it now for the first time, was this photo in a handmade frame. Now, while I confess I was hoping to purchase this and replace the photo with one from my collection, it is not possible – this framed photo was constructed specially for this photo and it would be wrong if indeed it were possible, to replace the picture.

The tramp art style wood worked frame is punctuated by stuffed bits of old silk around the sides and corners – now so old and faded that they appear more solid than cushy as I believe was the original intention. We’ll also assume that the colors were more vibrant, if not actually vivid. Still, a certain grandeur remains. The photo is inset into a gold stripe trim self-frame of glass. From the outfits on the girl and boy shown, it dates from the dawn of the 20th century. A careful look reveals that they stand on an elaborately tiled floor and I can almost make out a table and a wall mural behind them, making me wonder if this wasn’t taken in a restaurant – although that seems odd.

Girl and boy are in matching suits of sailor inspired design. These appear to be wealthy offspring, their clothes and shiny shoes stylish and well appointed. The girl wears a tiny necklace and the outfits are trimmed with bright brass buttons. They do not look to be especially robust, either of them, but I wouldn’t go all the way to saying anything more than that. The boy looks squarely at the camera while the girl has a slightly dreamier expression, looking off to the side.

Somehow there’s a lot of history attached to the back of this frame.

The back of the frame is interesting because you can see the construction. A careful look shows it was made from some sort of light wood boxes or crates, bits of advertising cling to it. As side view shows how the layers, which are actually fairly thin, were carved and put together to create the dimensional effect. The maker of this was no slouch!

The side view shows how the carved layers were atop each other.

So I will go in search of a spot in the apartment for this where it will not be ravaged by the sun, but can still be seen (a perpetual challenge in this apartment, although we are grateful for the natural light from the northeast and the view of the East River), perhaps by some aging tintypes in the small hallway between bedroom and bathroom. We shall see. And maybe I can commit to getting a few more of my Felix-y photos framed up and on the wall, to be enjoyed each time I sit at Kim’s computer or go into the kitchen.

Cat Chair Cont.

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Returning today, as I ultimately always do to cat related photos, I share this great photo postcard I recently added to the Pictorama collection. I always consider these cards of folks perched on a giant cat especially good finds – perhaps even as beloved as my collection of photo postcards of folks posing with giant Felix the cat dolls, a find in this category to add to my small holdings of these is a reason for celebration here at Pictorama. They are an extremely jolly and jaunty variation and always find a place of pride on our crowded walls.

A careful look at the other versions I have hanging on the wall confirm that this is likely a different giant cat than the others – although the variations are very small, like the size of the eyes or nose. As for location, I have every reason to believe that is different too, although similar as these, like the Felix cards, always seem to be photos taken at the beach resorts, usually in Britain. (Although I have a number of examples taken in Katoomba, Australia, as well and at least one series showing such a Felix in Kuala Lumpur, below, where he appears to be directing traffic. Those posts can be found here and here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Today’s card was never sent, but J. Easton, Clifton Paths, Margate is printed at the top of the back, along with (Extra copies please quote number.)

Impressively Margate’s history as a seaside destination for health and recreation dates all the way back to the 1750’s. An early photo of the cliffs referred to in Clifton Paths, are very dramatic, high cliffs in dramatic relief to the beach below which I assume are still in situ today. During this early 20th century period the area and its Dreamland amusement pier and beach were likely reaching a zenith of popularity for the sort of seaside retreat the British became known for. Another photo taken at Margate in my collection is below and the post can be read here.

Margate holiday photo, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Meanwhile, this youngster seems remarkably unimpressed with his perch – ungrateful child! I would love to swap places with him for this pic. His expression and body language, hands on hips, say it all and the language of small boys remains legible decades later – come on and take your stupid picture already! One imagines that a small child would have to be lifted atop of this large and wonderful kitty.

This photo below was also taken in Margate and identified as being in Cliftonville which seems to be adjoining or the same resort. This could be the same kitty, just a bit older in this photo. (That post, published on my birthday in 2017, can be read here.) The precise location seems to be different and this one does not have Mr. Easton’s logo so my guess is they were most likely competitors.

Cat Chair Photo, collection Pams-Pictorama.com

These kitties (Are they the same manufacturer? They look like Steiff toys but I can find no tracks to confirm they actually were produced by them) each seems to have the same little tongue sticking out, which always looks like a nose ring to me at first glance – here it looks like white beads or tufts outline the tongue. Most kitty chairs have a bow or a collar similar to this one, and many have white outlines defining the toes. Oh how I would love to see one in person!

Unlike some of the Felix figures, which even when their size approached that of small human probably allowed for the tucking under the arm and moving about, which means they are sometimes tatty compared with the apparent pristine of this fellow which somehow looks like he mostly stayed put – just being tucked away in the evenings or on rainy days. It appears to be an overcast day and the legions of beach chairs lined up behind them are all empty. Apartment buildings line the area, which I am figuring overlooks the water, as far as the eye can see here. There may be some vendors with stalls, likely on a boardwalk there. A sun spot has marked the photo there so it is a bit hard to see. Mr. Easton, photographer, has a tiny brand mark in the lower left corner. I wish I could find out a bit about his business but my research skills seem to be inadequate to do so.

While several of the photos I have of small children posing with an imposing Felix often larger than themselves occasionally look a tad worried or concerned, this cranky fellow is the only kid in my collection who is not enjoying his time on the giant black cat. I share some women who know how to have a good time on a black cat below – this photo lives on my site, but somehow there has never been a post devoted to it which it certainly deserves. They know how to have a good time. Go girls, go!

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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.

Flea Market Finds

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: After seeing flea market finds from folks in other parts of the country on Instagram, I got to thinking about the Chelsea Flea Market. It had closed last December, but then I had heard a rumor that it was taken over by someone else so I went online to investigate. Sure enough, although originally scheduled to open in April the re-opening had been delayed due to Covid, but it would be opening in a few weeks, in September. I marked my calendar and last weekend, perhaps week two of its reincarnation, Kim and I wandered over.

Like many New Yorkers, my relationship to this market is as long as my residence here in Manhattan. In the years before I lived here I frequented one on Canal Street which I was very sorry to see disappear, and another small one on Broadway, both on the edges of Soho. (Imagine! Flea markets in Soho – needless to say both gobbled by the rising real estate and gentrification of that area. I wonder if, now that evidently no one wants to live here in a post-pandemic world, we will see flea markets crop up, once again, on lots that would have otherwise gone to over-priced luxury apartments? One can only hope that it will be a byproduct of our unusual time.)

However, it was the Chelsea Flea Market that held the record for ongoing weekend visits over decades. More things purchased at the garage there, which used to boast two floors of vendors, than I can possibly remember – although a few stand out in my mind, like my black cat ash try stand which I happen to be looking at right now. I didn’t really mean to buy it, but the seller made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – and now, many years later, I am so glad!

Old photo of Blackie and the black cat ashtray stand

The Chelsea Flea Market was a constant weekend companion and occupation through several relationships prior to meeting Kim, in fact a sort of an acid test for men I was dating – I mean, there was no long term hope for a relationship that didn’t embrace the flea market, right? With Kim the flea market became a weekend rotation every six weeks or so throughout the spring, summer and fall. The insatiable desire for property to build on nibbled away at the edges and it went from a high I remember of about six scattered locations, to the just the garage (which closed) and the now current (lone) spot on 25th Street, off Sixth Avenue.

In these weeks and months while Manhattan tries to find its footing again, figuring out what the city will look like now on the other side of closing down back in mid-March, we keep our expectations pretty low as things try to start up again. The current incarnation of the market is about two thirds of the lot devoted to sellers, in a vaguely socially distanced way, and the other third given over to a few food trucks and tables. Someone reminds you have your mask up as you enter the lot. (This lightly gated approach reminds me that one of the lots went through a phase which lead to a lot of peering in and seeing if it was worth paying the vigorish to enter or not.)

Sadly, the large indoor market that houses my favorite toy store, The Antique Toy Shop – New York, is closed. His website says he hopes to return at the end of December. I remain hopeful of its return.

At first I thought the sellers were all new merchandise (mask anyone?) of little interest to me, but a slow stroll around revealed tables boasting boxes of photos, vintage clothing, jewelry, and finally even some old books of interest. The table where we purchased this really sort of special photo, glued into its period self-frame of embossed cardboard, also boasted a bookcase of interesting young adult fiction from the early 20th century.

I quickly picked up the volumes below: The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge, Larkspur, and Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures. (Ongoing Pictorama readers are aware of my fondness for juvenalia of the early part of the last century. You can read some of those posts about everything from the adventures of The Automobile Girls, and Grace Harlowe to Honey Bunch can be found here, and here, not to mention Judy Bolton, Girl Detective, which can be found here.) I will be sure to report back if any of these volumes reveals a new vein of reading interest.

While waiting for the seller to finish with some other customers Kim and I found the photo. The embossed frame seems the perfect setting for this timeless photo of a family in front of this extraordinary thatch roofed building. It is a pretty huge building really, with large windows which appear to have shelves behind them. A chimney belies a fireplace within, but while I thought this was a home at first I am unsure as I look more closely. The enormous double doors don’t seem residential somehow – was it a store? There is a neat path leading up to the front door and around the side.

Detail of the cardboard framed photo.

The family looks prosperous, mom in a long black dress which could have been found in parts of this country (and Europe) from 1900 through the 1920’s. Both the man and the boy are in suits – the boy is sporting a shiny bicycle though, which appears to be a full adult size and probably a bit big for him. Something slightly illegible is inked on the back – something and John. Could be Linda and John. Kim and I cannot fully decipher it.

Sadly it is missing a corner and there is a split in the lower right side, but none of that takes away from the overall effect and beauty of it. When I was able to speak to the seller she apologized for the delay. The books were five dollars apiece and much to my surprise and delight, she threw the photo in with the group. I packed it carefully between the books in a bag I keep with me. (Remember when the end of plastic bags in New York was big news at the beginning of March?)

Feeling quite chuffed, Kim and I strolled back to Broadway in the autumnal sun and alighted atop of some highboy tables at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant where we consumed spicy shrimp sandwiches. The sun was out and the Flat Iron Building within view. Thank you New York! Our day was a good one.

Temporary Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Lately I have been considering some photos that require looking closely to find Felix. This one I recently purchased on eBay and if we look carefully a lucky little kid has been handed a nice Felix doll to hold. Felix is sporting a huge bow which for me is a bit of a giveaway that he is a prop rather than a beloved object, dragged into the photo. The card is in excellent shape, was never mailed and has nothing written on the back. It came from Great Britain.

While borrowed finery in clothing dates back to early portraits, photos of children have often depended on toys on hand to quiet a child and add something to the proceedings. I have speculated previously that more than once it must have been hard to separate a small child from a prop toy handed over for a photo. (I can assure you I would have put up a fight if they handed me that Felix and then wanted it back – I’ll just say I would!)

Although this youngster clutching Felix looks like s/he is enjoying him or herself I don’t see an argument brewing over its return. (I’m stuck on whether that one is a boy or a girl – I was strongly leaning boy until I looked at the shoes, Mary Janes, and now I am leaning girl. Therefore for the purpose of this post I will say girl.) None of these children look as though they are the type to revolt.

These three are clearly siblings with an unusually strong family resemblance.  Unlike many of the photos I collect, which strongly suggest seaside spur of the moment appeal, this one appears to have been a less fly by night studio than most. It is a photo postcard, but these children appear to be dressed for the occasion, the little girls’ hair curled to perfection and the boy’s also just so. Everything about the set up a tad more upscale and in sort of good taste.

However, the small girl is perched on a splendidly faux rock, as if at the shore, sailboat at her feet – clearly a toy that has been little played with. I don’t know why, but this poor imitation of a boulder appeals to me. The top has been nicely flattened for a seat. The background is a wuzzy, cloudy affair.

Perhaps it was being the daughter of a photographer, but like the cobbler’s children who went without shoes, my family rarely posed for a group photo and other than our requisite school photos and prom pics, never had professional photos taken. Maybe in reality most families don’t – I will let others weigh in on that. Ours was not a sit on Santa’s lap or line up at Sears for a photo family however.

Ultimately, this family did such a nice job with this photo that all these decades later it, with its small Felix doll, has earned a spot in the Pictorama collection.

 

Find Felix in the Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is always a very fine day at Pictorama when a Felix photo postcard wanders in the door. Of course one never knows when an opportunity to purchase one will occur, and never have I seen one for sale outside of eBay with the exception of the one (rather glorious) occasion when someone contacted me via this site to sell me a cache of them directly. (This rather interesting tale can be found here.) This is a photo postcard and it was never mailed, nothing is written on the back.

Arguably, I probably like the shots of larger Felix dolls and one or a couple of folks gathered around him. I have long had an affinity for people posing at carnivals or seaside with Felix. (I’m also partial to people posing with moon cut-outs – folks just brought a special energy to those photo moments in life – photos being a bit more rarified in the pre-phone camera days. An early post with a moon photo can be found here.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As I study today’s photo I have to wonder if it is an extended family gathering or one of another nature. Somehow all the women dressed in white have migrated to one side of the photo, the arches of an arcade coincidentally creating a greater visual division – somehow their white hats bob into the black spaces just right. As a group, the women are largely hat wearing, while of course their beach attire would qualify as cocktail wear in our more casual day. (And I refer to our day in general, not these bunker life days when we rarely get out of sweats and wear trousers with buttons it seems. A dress that requires ironing seems like something from another age indeed.)

Children clad in a variety of modes line up in front , a few brave swim togs, but most also tend toward dresses, hats and one little guy even has a tie. The bright prints of the girl’s dresses are a relief to all the white. The men are darkly suited up – a minimum of tie and vest. The gentleman wearing a suit in front is also sporting a very large rolling pin and of course the meaning of or reason for that is lost to us now. Two girls near him appear to have some sort of canes or croquet mallets or the like. A series of flag poles draw our eye up and back to some delightful looking buildings on a nearby bluff.

It is possible to miss Felix at first. He blends surprisingly well with the kids all around him, a bit short perhaps, but one of the gang. However, he poses dead center in the group so eventually he emerges into our consciousness. Once I saw him, it became a Felix photo and it has earned a place in the collection here at Pictorama.

Felix Beach photo