Friendly with Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For any Pictorama devotees who are less than enchanted with my collection of photos of people posing with outsized Felix the Cat dolls, the next several weeks may present something of a challenge. So sorry! While today’s post focuses on one that I have pulled off our wall and have owned for years, I have acquired two more that are winging their way toward me even as I type. Yes, pleasantly enough, I have a small wall devoted to these and frankly I have about as many I could hang and have not yet. I could cheerfully fill a room with them.

Frankly my appetite for these photo postcards remains utterly undiminished. Even I am a bit amazed that I remain as enchanted with acquiring each new one as I was by discovering my first. My reaction is the same every time – I love it and I’m amazed and gratified that it even still exists. That’s not to say some of these aren’t better than others – I especially love the one I am sharing today – but in the end each has its own charm for me. Each person, couple or group, frozen in time, the remembrance of lovely day gone by. Everyone with a different version of an over-sized Felix.

For one thing this is a well composed photo and not every wandering picture taker who bought a huge Felix (and still I ponder – where are those dolls?) knew how to put a photo together. This photographer certainly did, although some of it was luck. I love the composition in front of these columns – the striped dress on the one woman is somehow happily repeating that pattern. The bricks provide another pattern, as do the fabrics of their clothes and hats. I like the little slice of action behind the other woman and the long look behind them of other columns giving it great depth. It is my single regret that somehow it is the tiniest bit over-exposed and the one column disappears a bit at the top. We could use the tiniest bit of line there and over the white hat.

These women are dressed in lovely spring-summer costumes for their day out. White shoes and stockings! Pretty dresses and hats! It makes me want to go out and buy a spring dress. (Honesty compels me to confess it is not a hard inclination to create – this time of the year I positively yearn for spring dresses.) They are holding this enormous, slightly tipsy, lop-sided Felix up by the arms. He looks like he’s has a decided list to one side and his arms are very long indeed. Still, he has a great Felix face and large nicely pointy ears. Unlike some of these fellows, he’s in good shape and doesn’t look as if he has been dragged over hill and dale as much as some I have seen recorded. There is a mysterious form – shadow? – in the lower right corner and if you look carefully, bits of developer down at the bottom which has left some white spots. Although this is a very nice photo, those are a reminder that these were done in haste, somewhat sloppily, unlike a studio photo.

Anyway, I offer it to you today, on what is one of Manhattan’s first truly spring-like days. Cats dozing by an open window, winter on the run at long last. A visual reminder of another perfect spring day, somewhere in Great Britain past.

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Grandpa Love Mickey

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: If you are roughly my age, you too may have photos of grandparents from this generation. My father’s parents were older than my mother’s and the few photos we have of them, one or two from this period, are comparatively formal. My father’s parents were immigrants from Russia and I do not believe there is a single photo of them which isn’t formal and posed. This is ironic considering that their son, my father, was a professional news camera man – trained to catch action. I have also seen a short reel of film taken by my dad of them, probably after acquiring the first camera of his trade, and it was equally posed – as if the idea or purpose of moving on film eluded them. The photo shown here, which is not of my relatives, both reminds me of them and is very unlike them.

It is an utterly foreign idea to imagine my grandfather even knowing who Mickey and Minnie Mouse were, let alone owning and scooping up stuffed ones to proudly hold in a photo. To my knowledge, my grandparents never owned a television and the question of whether or not they ever went to the movies is an interesting one, but my guess would be rarely at most. They were hard working people who owned and ran a dry goods store near their home in Mt. Vernon, New York. They were not unsophisticated by any means, but completely uninterested in popular culture from all memory. This did not result in a rebellious embrace of it by my father either, who seems to have been neutral on the subject, although interested in cinema – with a preference for foreign films. Still, when I was little he was good for cartoons with me on a Saturday morning, partial to Roadrunner and would read the Sunday comics to me until I was old enough to read them on my own.

The Mickey the man holds sports a hat and I feel like I almost know which model but I am not sure – maybe there is a railroad conductor? I have looked and could not find such a one online, but I have a memory of it. It is not the cowboy model, the hat is wrong. I like that Minnie seems to be smiling up at him. The men here have a strong family resemblance, but I am less sure about the woman. Is she a relative or spouse? This photo launches a series of stories and questions in my mind. Like so many photos in my collection, how odd that it got saved only because of the toys that were included.

 

Chow Time!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The symmetry of this photo appealed to me, not to mention the tidy tabby and nice black cat whose white tummy we can just about see if we look carefully. These two may just want an ear scratch, but I suspect more realistically are involved in the ritual dance of food request.

We have decided to raise Cookie and Blackie more scientifically than our previous cat companions and they get a prescribed amount of wet food early in the morning as early as Blackie can get us up (yes, for some reason it is his job and not Cookie’s, she does observe the process however to make sure he gets it done) which is quite early. Kim and I are early risers (we’re talking around 5:00 AM) during the week. On weekends I tend to burrow deep into pillows and blankets and ignore Blackie stomping stoically over us, back and forth in a food protest march all his own, until Kim gets up. That is Blackie’s method and I will say it is his very own style. Some of his predecessors used the cold wet nose applied to face method, or the kind, but urgent paw tap. My cat Otto was even known to give me a little nip or hair pull if I really was unwilling to move. (When I was younger I really slept long, hard and soundly.)

Weekdays I am rarely home in time for the evening meal which takes place at 6:30 sharp. On weekends I do witness the gathering of the troops as early as 5:00 to remind Mr. Deitch that, although they may not wear watches, they are aware of the time. Poor Kim has to withstand an average of an hour or more under the glare of cat eyes and their tendency to draw ever-closer while he is trying to work! For those of you who think we are hard-hearted and starving the darlings please know that there is a dish of dry food out all the time in case someone grows terribly peckish. Cookie has her own ritual of needing to be assured that dish is full daily.

When I was growing up somehow this was all different enough that my mother actually used to call the cats to come and eat. When I think back on it – what was that all about? It wasn’t like we lived on a farm or something, just a house, but she would call chow time and they would all come running from different parts of the house. When I was a small child our cat Pumpkin got lost we placed an ad in the newspaper to try to find him. I remember asking if we should mention that he answered to that call. (This idea of putting an ad in a local paper seems so quaintly old fashioned that I suddenly feel ancient. A story for another time. However, be assured he was found having been brought to the local SPCA which we had alerted to his disappearance and was reunited with us after several days.) In all fairness, the cats would also come running when they heard the can opener – an electric one in those days, remember those? Before pop top cans. Returning now to the question, I wonder about it because like ours the cats at my parent’s house are the same milling, demanding group about food.

My mother, in charge of cat feeding in their house, makes no pretense at these silly ideas about feeding times and set amounts of food, and her cats have what I refer to as a constant rotating smorgasbord of cat food, both wet and dry. (I may also add that she has never subscribed to high end vet endorsed food, and with all of this she has had cats live into their early 20’s. So much for my high-end food acquired online and carefully controlled portions!) Notably and to my point, her cats also do not need calling these days either. Much like mine they mew and cajole when they are hungry, which makes me wonder – is this a small evolutionary change in cats? One of those tiny steps forward in cat brains that goes largely unnoticed? But a step toward – what? A race of assertive cats who stand up and ask for what they want? Perhaps not what we are looking for in our darlings, but where they are heading nevertheless? Or did cats in days of yore have more important things on their minds? Greater cat business and purpose, perhaps in the form of the occasional high-protein mousie snack caught on the hoof?

Family Portrait with Pets

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo struck my fancy the other day. It is the sort of photograph which I liked better and better the longer I looked at it. It is, if you will, the sort of bread and butter photograph Pam’s Pictorama is largely made up of – early 20th century photos of people posing with cats. This one, identified on the back as taken in May (with a ? in place of a day) 1936, with nothing else written on the back. It is a photo postcard, but it is printed on a lesser, lighter stock than they usually are and as a result feels and looks more like just a photo – curling a bit with age. It was never mailed and I don’t know how well it would have stood up to those rigors.

I assume this is a portrait of a family, or at least mostly so. There isn’t a strong resemblance amongst them, but enough to convince me when I look closely, especially around those participants in the center. Only a single man and boy show up in this preponderance of women and girls in mostly spring finery. And of course what sold me was that between the dozen people crammed in here, no less than five of the family pets were scooped up for inclusion. While the three cats and the puppy caught my eye initially, it was the little girl holding the rooster that really made it special. I have debated on the possibility of Mr. Rooster actually being stuffed, but I think he is just standing at attention – there’s something about her hand around him that make me think he is alive. The kitten next to him is taking it pretty well if that is the case, but perhaps they know each other well. In general the cats seem to require a certain two fisted clutch in order to be kept a hold of – the puppy is content with being held, as they often seem to be too. I like the idea that when someone said family photo all these critters were scooped up too.

On this spring morning these folks are presented as a neat and well dressed group, boasting Depression era fashion including sporty berets on three of the girls, the toddler among them. Warm enough day that most of them are in short sleeve dresses, although they range from that to coats. I am somewhat undecided about whether that is some old snow stuck on the fence behind rooster-holding girl, although I land of the side of probably when I blow the photo up. I think you could have that on an early day first warm day in May where spring is just beginning to sort itself out.

When I began Pam’s Pictorama it was for the sole purpose of organizing my photos, mostly those of people posing with Felix, so that they could eventually be published in a book and to entertain myself with this project while recovering from foot surgery. Pictorama took on a life of its own expanding almost immediately and, more than 400 posts later, it has covered a lot more territory than that. Still, when I purchase a photo like this, I mentally file it in a future chapter devoted to photos of people and their pets, and oh what a book it will be.

Echo Point, Katoomba

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I ask that you put aside your party planning and New Year’s resolution composing and spend a few minutes in the Felix past with me today. I am continuing to report on the holiday haul with this mini El Dorado of tintypes from Echo Point, Katoomba. I have written about tintypes from Katoomba previously (most recently, Vacation Felix and Another Aussie Felix), but I have never purchased more than one from a single sitting.

The story of how I came upon these photos is interesting. While wandering around down South with the Jazz at Lincoln Center band for earlier this month, I was set up in a hotel room in Florida working furiously on some things for the office via my laptop in a rare post-gym and breakfast couple of hours in my hotel room. I had my personal email in the background as I first conducted a job interview with a candidate in Chicago and then tried to sort out some thorny issues around our April gala invitation. Between these I saw an email from this Pam’s Pictorama site, a fairly unusual occurance. When I finally remembered it was there and had a look at it a few hours later, I realized that it was interesting indeed.

Someone named Calvin was writing because he had Felix photos and he wanted to know if I was interested in buying them. (Of course I was!) Initially I thought he had a collection like the ones I posted yesterday (On a Sunday Morning in Swainsthorpe in case you haven’t been following along) and it took an exchange or so to realize that he had tintypes from Echo Point, Katoomba a resort in New South Wales, Australia. Regardless of my geographic location or my lack of sleep, I was certainly interested. He asked me to name a price, and then of course I needed to see them first – my experience with these being all over the place in quality, mostly dark from light exposure, sometimes to the point of illegibility. Over the course of the next twelve hours or so he sent them – as I was waking up the next morning I think – they were very clean and nice looking indeed. There were several of the same little girl and then others with an arrangement and re-arrangement of others. Presumably all of the same family. No identification or dates on any of them.

Calvin had purchased the lot of them from a postcard dealer, at a flea market I think he said. He went online to research them and stumbled onto Pam’s Pictorama and thought to see if I wanted to purchase them. Since it is my feeling that I really need to own ALL the Felix tintypes (and photo postcards, just to be clear) of course I wanted to purchase them. I named a price that multiplied the average price I have paid for such photos in the past. Calvin accepted and these were speeding their way to me and we arrived in New York at almost the same time. It is the first time Pictorama has attracted its own post material. My delight knows no bounds!

Judging by the cloche hats being sported by the female subjects these could loosely date from about 1922 to ten years later. It is hard to say if Australian fashion tracked US fashion exactly in this regard, it my have trailed us by some years. There is no identification, nor dates on the photos as seems to be typical with these souvenir tintypes. Meanwhile, oh to be such a lucky little girl and have so many nice tintypes made of yourself with Felix! I am so jealous! Although I know from making tintypes myself that they are by their very nature one-of-a-kind images, nonetheless it is difficult to find the differences in these three images, they are there if you look carefully however; the images must be just moments apart. It did occur to me to purchase only one of the little girl (he could have easily sold the others on eBay) or that I can ultimately sell two. Still, Pictorama readers know of my obsession with keeping family photos together and certainly for now they will stay as a group.

My favorite photo, the one featured at top, is of the large group. There is an early car behind them and some sort of an awing that reads Echo Point, Katoomba behind that. (If you are trying to read it, remember it is backward as this is a tintype and a mirror image.) The woman in the middle gets to hold this nice big Felix in place! In the subsequent photo of just her and the man with the hat, he holds Felix sort of haphazardly around the neck and doesn’t show him to full advantage. We get a glimpse of the tropical foliage behind them, as we do with the photos of the little girl, who for some reason isn’t included in the group photo. Felix is just her size and they stand together like old buddies. She is more warmly dressed than the others with a nice fur trimmed coat and sports a cloche as well. These clearly sat together some place, out of the light, well preserved.

Finally, I would like to note that we get a good look at the Felix doll here and he is a bit worn. Most interesting to me is his somewhat extra large (and I assume weighted for balance) feet making him slightly out of proportion. It has always been my assumption that all, or at least most, of the giant Felix dolls made for posing had one origin, but now I doubt that as I look at some of the variations on the wall of them across from me where I sit right now and type, those predominantly from Great Britain. What is even more interesting is that out of the five or so from Echo Point, Katoomba (outside of this group) only one seems to be the same doll. I guess there was a lot of wear and tear and many Felix replacements, or even multiple dolls being used at the same time. Here at Pictorama we continue to fervently hope that someday we will indeed find a giant Felix we can purchase for our very own!

 

On a Sunday Morning in Swainsthorpe

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Pictorama readers better hold onto their hats because, this holiday season mysteriously revealed the opportunity for some really extraordinary acquisitions! As a Christmas gift Kim’s help fund these and stretched my resources considerably. I am planning to post about them more or less in the order they came to me.

Both groups (the other to be posted tomorrow) were extraordinary opportunities to buy a series of photos of a single family and keep them together. The first photo in this group was brought to my attention by a Facebook friend, Bren Luke. While I was still trying to figure out the origin of the photo I stumbled across the lot of the six of them for sale on eBay. They were being sold separately, by a British seller, which meant high bids had to go on all in order to secure the whole lot. Prices ended up all over the place, but I paid up and purchased all. I am glad they will stay together. They are much more interesting that way.

I was shocked by the size of them when they arrived. They are tiny – only about 2”x3” and I am unsure what sort of film and camera would have been used. (Kim is guessing 120 film via a brownie type camera?) They are undated and cut from where they had resided in a photo album. Written in the same hand as the one titled here, there are dates of  ’24 and ’25 from other photos on the backs, so we might assume these fall loosely into the same period. Sadly this little boy with a horn is not named, only cousins Kathleen & John get identified. Our other tidbit of information is Swainsthorpe on a Sunday morning. The internet reveals Swainsthorpe to be a tiny hamlet in Norfolk, England, population 360 as of the 2011 census. A close look at clothing shows that the whole lot was likely taken on the same day.

My favorite photo is the one featured at the top – the little boy tooting on his horn next to Felix. This was the one sent via Facebook and worth the price of admission on its own. Felix seems to be listening to that horn, smiling up at the kid – perhaps propped up by the wheelbarrow handle.

As the little boy doesn’t actually interact with Felix I wonder a bit if it is indeed his affection for it that has placed it in the photos or some other more general family fondness for Felix? Maybe the person behind the camera. It is a nice big Felix (one that I would be pleased to have I might add) and he comes up to the little fellow’s waist. I especially like the way he is looking at the little boy playing the horn, the tiny wheelbarrow (child-sized) makes a good counterpoint, the beautiful old stone house in the background. A miniature lawn mower appears in a subsequent photo and, although those are somewhat lesser photos, the light is beautiful in them.

My second favorite photo is the one with the little girl with the long hair holding Felix while the boy (her brother perhaps?) toots on that horn. There is a dreamy quality to this one and I even like the overexposed edges for the effect it creates. Is that a tiny keyboard between the girl and boy? It is hard to know exactly, but the toy lawn mower is great too and these toys create a sense that this is most likely a somewhat privileged family. There are a few other photo variations with these toys, and then the two with cousins. Kathleen looks willing enough, but John appears mostly like he is being coerced into staying still long enough to pose with his cousins, let alone put his arm around him in the one photo. Felix is a bit cut off in one, but he makes a splendid appearance as the fifth member of the family, grinning toothily as always, in the other group photo.

 

Some Snow!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Brrrr! This is the kind of snow you somehow imagine when you are a kid, but never really experience – at least most of us won’t anyway, global warming notwithstanding. I think every kid who has built a snow fort has dreamed of something as grand and massive as this. Bigger even than the igloo I always imagined building, but evidently quite secure since our four formidable ladies perch safely atop.

It is indeed unfortunate that there is no indication of where or exactly when this was taken and I can’t help but wonder. It is a photo postcard and there is nothing on the back. The clothes lead us to realize this was probably no later than the teens, a full century ago, the women above in full length dresses, thick warm black stockings on all. There are coats of the heaviest wools with trims and bits of fur. I am not positive, but this image may be populated entirely by women. There’s one figure, on the bottom, second from the right, which may be a young boy, but I cannot see well enough to declare.

I assume that the tunnel through was perhaps of necessity – a path through this extraordinary snow drift – but maybe it was also for fun. I do wonder how someone even managed to make that tunnel though – and where did the excess snow, no small amount, go? Is it just off camera?

As I write this we are commencing the earliest days of winter after a notably mild fall here in the Northeast. (And I for one am heading for Florida for work as I write this – I will be searching the closet for something to wear in 80 degree weather later this week.) The other morning, up very early, I was surprised to see about 20 minutes of hard, fluffy snow – the first of the season, to my knowledge anyway. It didn’t stick. Our extraordinary and notable weather events have been more of the hurricane nature this fall. However, one never knows with winter and weather. Perhaps this will be the year of a big one and we too will make strange burrows and pathways under fifteen and twenty foot drifts here in Central Park.