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.

Mooning Again

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

A Deitchian decorated one-of-a-kind box

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

Images from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

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

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

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

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

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

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

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

Pams-Pictorama.com