Working It Out

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Deitch Studio followers may already know that Kim is well-documented for his commitment to a daily work out routine. On the other hand, I think I have only touched lightly at best on my own devotion to a work out regime which I am reflecting on a bit today.

Let me start by stating that my interest in anything athletic was desultory at best growing up. If I swam, it was never laps; I might hit a tennis ball around with someone, but rarely really played a game; I would walk to get somewhere, but never was a runner. Like many little girls in the suburbs, I took ballet lessons when little, but while interested was not promising in this area and my parents deftly moved me on from it.

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Loren’s rugby trophies from Princeton.

 

Was it because I grew up in the shadow of my older sister who was captain of every team, winning a myriad of varsity letters? Loren did it all – swim team, tennis, and track in particular, but the only thing that precluded her from joining a team was another that took place at the same time. She was a restless bundle of energy and needed to blow off steam daily and it was a rare day when she didn’t have workouts of one kind or another morning and evening. (I wrote about her rugby adventures here.)

In my early twenties I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and I began a program of yoga, developed specifically for me, that was a daily constant in my life for many years. It did a fairly good job at keeping my joints functioning. (My workout was designed by a brilliant man named Allen Bateman who appears to have disappeared entirely off the face of the earth, Google cannot find him.) I turned Kim onto it and he incorporated some of it into his workout, some things that he continues with today. There came a time however when some of the practice was getting a little risky with the advance of the arthritis and gradually I fell away from it. A few years later a sore shoulder which blew up into a frozen shoulder lead me ultimately to Pilates. I loved Pilates and it always makes me feel good about myself and my body.

However, at some point I wanted more exercise than I could afford via Pilates and the instructor of that studio sent me to Harris Cowan, personal trainer (@livestrongernyc), who I have seen pretty much every single week of my life (a few work trips notwithstanding) for the past 9 years. I have followed him to a myriad of private gym spaces – some nice, some just not – over the years. In many ways, I would have considered myself the least likely person to enlist the help of a personal trainer, but the arthritis meant certain concerns if not actual limitations, and as I had never walked into a gym in my life I wouldn’t have known what the heck to do. I joined what passed for an inexpensive gym in Manhattan and set a commitment to myself of a minimum of three days a week in addition to seeing Harris on a fourth.

Harris probably deserves his own future post as a regular and important feature in my life, but for now I will just say that he has always been superb at pushing me just beyond comfort. I am rarely actually sore the next day, yet progress is achieved. He is sensitive to the issues my body has, but generally has a can do no nonsense approach. When setbacks (such as foot surgery) occur he has helped me reset and again we build and move forward. He slowly restored first one shoulder, and then eventually the other, to full usability.

No one could be more surprised than me that it turns out I love lifting weights. Left to my own devices it is all I would ever do in a gym, eschewing cardio (back in the pre-quarantine days when I actually did some), and tedious but necessary things like squats. Actually, I adore the gym. I relax immediately upon walking into a gym. I find that if you are going to hold weights over your head you had better focus your mind on that and nothing else which means it is a method to clear my mind of the constant demanding chatter of work and life.

When I traveled for work it was always the most centering thing I can do. No matter where I am in the country or the world, if I can drag myself out of bed early and to the gym I am the better for it. The first thing I check about every hotel in advance and when I check in is the gym.

I happily stuff earphones with a bit of contemporary fiction via Audible playing in my ears and I am in a blissfully focused, quiet place for 60 to 90 minutes. Exercise does as much (if not more) for my mental state as for my physical one. (Strangely, passages of those novels replayed, bring me right back to where I heard them first, either my own gym here on the east side of Manhattan, or a hotel in San Francisco where I traveled down the block to use a gym for a workout, back when I was still at the Met.) I have a mental image of hotel gyms across the world (they are lousy in most of Europe) and the country – some that were quite nice and others a bit less so. Some crowded, many (most) fairly empty.

My first gym was a small local chain of a few gyms. I went from feeling like an alien there to slowly becoming a fixture there, among a small devoted clutch of folks who were there upwards of four days every week. In the first years of working out I often found myself there six days a week. Because I often only found time to work out before going to the office, I kept a locker at the gym and would shower and get ready for work there. I considered a locker essential as not only did it mean that I could carry less on those mornings, but it also meant I could leave clothes and sneakers there, enabling me to stop by for a workout I had not planned. When the gym eventually did away with lockers as part of a renovation, I somewhat regretfully moved a few blocks up to the more upscale Equinox.

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In Manhattan Equinox is somewhat in the upper echelon of gym chains. While I had enjoyed the decidedly low rent aspect of my first gym, I ultimately felt that for someone who spent as much time at the gym as I did I probably could pay more and I sunk happily into the relative luxury of it, although I admittedly missed some of the regulars at my old establishment.

Not that I ever much spoke to them. In my mind I had names for them such as Man Who Reads the Paper on the Bike, but Never Pedals or Woman With Red Hair Who Runs. I never felt the need to really talk to people, although after a few years some of us might nod at each other. One day I ran into one of these folks on the crosstown bus and we actually had a conversation. We commented on how strange it was to see each other fully clothed, ours was a locker room acquaintance and I’m sure the other passengers thought we were very odd. One of them (Thin Man Who Lifts While Biking) turned up at Equinox and we had a happy nod hello to acknowledge the reacquaintance.

Starting three years ago my job at Jazz at Lincoln Center took a ferocious bite out of my time and it has been harder to make it to the gym on weekdays in the past few years. My six and seven day habit became more of a three and four day one with work being a starting very early and ending very late sort of thing. I was still very relieved to get there and let everything else fall away.

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My view of Cookie from the floor while working out the other day.

 

So, of course, living our quarantine lives has meant no gym and I miss it very much. (So much that I dreamed about working out on machines last night – probably the inspiration for this post.) Even the gym in our building (which I also belong to in order to grab more workouts on the fly, yes, I belong to two gyms) is closed by order of state law, unable to open until some future post-phase 4 re-opening. (I occasionally fantasize about breaking into the one in the basement and making off with a few weights and the Bosu ball.) Gyms in New York are in a suspended state in much the same state as our concert hall, awaiting such a time as it is safe for us to return.

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Cookie looking a bit critical during a recent workout, perched on Kim’s work chair.

 

On the other hand, exercise continues at Deitch Studio as a daily ritual. Like so many people these days my new work wardrobe consists primarily of workout clothes – mine starting to get a bit ragged from the constant rotation. Kim and I vie early each morning for time on our 10’x 4′ (or so) space on yoga mats, our designated work out area in front of the flat files and blocking the entrance to the bedroom.

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Yep, gym equipment piled up next to DVD stacks and some of Kim’s comics reading.

 

I have slowly accumulated a variety of weights (luckily I had some from a former period of at home rehab which was a good thing because there was a shortage of them and price gauging online if you could get them at all), a ball, some bands, a foam roller. Cookie in particular is interested in this daily ritual (she is wildly fond of a paint pole we use for shoulder exercises and also comes running if I am using the green band). Blackie, ham that he is, only shows up to say hello to Harris during my Facetime workout however. (Blackie has discovered his inner actor and extrovert tendencies as a video call cat star during these work at home days.)

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Yummy corn muffins in progress last weekend.

 

Harris appears on my iPad weekly, where he watches some random portion of me visible to him, and I work out to his instruction. Not ideal, but it works. And despite missing the gym and a broad variety of equipment there, the good news is that I am back up to five or more workouts a week, biceps gaining ground and abs attempting to keep up with my renewed interest in cooking. (See prior posts herehere and here.) As mentioned above, cardio is a bit of disaster despite the occasional trip up the 16 flights of stairs here; I find myself huffing and puffing when I attempt to walk more than a mile. I am slowly adding in daily walks to offset this until such time that more walking and even elliptical machines are a part of my life again.

However, I often joke that I will emerge from the bunker days with a prison pallor, oddly buff, but a bit puffy and overweight – perhaps sporting a Deitch designed cat tats on each bicep. Perhaps I will work some of that good cooking weight off biking to work in the coming new post-Covid world. I will let you know.

 

Egged On

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a bit of an unusual post – this egg carton presented itself in my inbox early Saturday morning and captured my imagination. The folks at Ruby Lane make sure I get a daily email with a cat purchase option. These range from cat theme pins even your grandmother would be embarrassed to wear to things I want, but are already sold (um, what is that about?) and yesterday, this egg carton. Now, devoted though I am, even I couldn’t really see spending $25 on it, but it stayed with me and perhaps one of you Pictorama readers will feel differently and purchase it.

First, I was just tickled that an egg company actually had the inclination to plop Felix on their carton, contributing to the idea that Felix could and did sell anything and everything. Then I realized that, hard to read, down in the right corner below one dozen it reads Felix T. Wright, Silverton, Oregon 97381. So he played with his name and added this jolly off-model (free-hand we might say?) Felix. A nice way to get around any copyright issues should they have arisen.

I have to say though that it was the term cackle fresh under the eggs which made me chuckle and made this a little irresistible. The lines emanating from the eggs lend a pleasantly cartoon-y feeling to this happy little Faux Felix who is presenting them for our consideration. (Kim suggested that perhaps instead small black cats would come dancing out of the hatched eggs – an image I love.)

Additionally, even as a saver and a keeper, the idea that somehow this egg carton survives entertains and surprises me greatly. Of course there is no way of telling how old (or not) it is, but an internet search does not turn up a surviving company by this name. And, really, who keeps an egg carton? Even a really fun one?

As someone who stopped eating meat decades ago, the question of eggs is always in play. While I currently eat eggs there were times in my life when I did not and I remember having a discussion on an airplane where my vegetarian breakfast was eggs and I pointed out that eggs are not a vegetable. (There are so many things about this memory that seem unimaginable as I sit here – eating breakfast on an airplane meaning they served food – and when will I be on a plane eating breakfast again?)

This leads up to the oddity of dairy – animal product, yet eggs somehow pushing a line in a way let’s say cheese does not. Kim, a generally utterly intrepid and un-fussy eater, does not eat eggs and therefore I rarely have them in the house.

This self-imposed egg moratorium has lead to some creative alternatives for my recent baking experiments (posts about my poor man’s cake, a one-bowl chocolate cake and most recent rather splendid cheesy olive bread can be found herehere and here, complete with recipes) which have largely grown out of quarantine cooking ennui. All of these have egg alternatives and at least two could be made vegan. I have, for the first time in my life, realized the value of buttermilk and yogurt as binders. (Thank you Google!) I will consider a vegan version of matzoh ball soup in the fall with miso broth. Fascinating.

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One-bowl chocolate mayonnaise cake.

 

Meanwhile, I was taught a thing or two about cooking eggs. As a culinary school graduate I can remember omelet lessons where the class went through a truly extraordinary number of eggs as we were trained on proper execution. It was a French restaurant school and they took their omelet technique very seriously and assured us that even master chefs were tested for their omelet making skills when interviewing for positions. You can imagine at first how many misses there were in omelet flipping. Yikes!

After graduation I narrowing missed taking a position in a hotel on Fifth Avenue as an omelet line chef, standing around making omelets to order for guests. I occasionally wonder how taking that position might have changed the course of my life Instead I ended up at another hotel, the now extinct Drake Swiss Hotel, as the garde manger for a young Jean-George Vongerichten and his first restaurant there, The Lafeyette. For all of that, I am sure whatever omelet skill I had (I was middle of the pack at best) has long deteriorated and I also prefer mine more thoroughly cooked than the French seem to preach.

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Overgrown dumplings, made with pancake mix, in a yummy root veggie stew early in my quarantine cooking adventures.

 

I am thinking more about my nascent cooking career these days as I dust off some of my skills and tools in the interest of entertaining myself and Kim a bit with pantry provender and a new house cuisine à la Pam. I made a (very) nice angel hair pasta the other day with a lemon juice sauce. In the process I scrounged up a zester I purchased during my cooking school days and hadn’t used in decades. Cooking again, with zest no less, a turn of quarantine events I had not anticipated.

We Work Each Day: Clivette Cont.

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stumbled on the tale of the huckster magician artist Clivette last week when researching my post of the dancing white kitty card of his creation. (It is called Always Cheerful and can be found here.) Meanwhile, I found this card while searching Google Images – and to my delight it was for sale on eBay. I scored it quickly and thought it would make a nice birthday gift for Kim if it came in time. To my delight it arrived on Wednesday evening, his birthday eve. So today it serves as the jumping off point for a part-two post, although I confide that I have already told everything I could find on Mr. Clivette and his fascinating life last week.

However, today’s card is an excellent foil to last week’s dancing duo – these two snoozing pusses look like they just want us to go away and leave them be! The poem that accompanies them is:

We work each day
With a cheerful heart
For we are always together
And never apart.

Their green kitty bows are somewhat at half-mast. They look annoyed that the viewing might potentially wake them – sleep is a serious thing for these cats. Unlike last week’s kitties, there is a vague sense that one is male and the other female. They are well settled into a long nap. The card was never mailed, but there is a somewhat unintelligible and garbled note, written in penciled script on the back. It is addressed to Mrs. Lillian Harter. From what I can puzzle through it says, I will write a letter in a few days/nan glad to get the recite (stet?) for E Bertha Ronsh (?) the catsup, thanks for the…cards.

This card seemed like an especially appropriate bunker birthday gift for my mate, with whom I have spent the past three months (and counting) existing in our 600 square feet of heaven and working hard. Happy Birthday Kim!

Nothing much about our version of life during the pandemic is especially noteworthy. Comics continue to be made by Kim at one long table. I have reclaimed a drawing table directly behind him and from there (and occasionally when my back needs a break, from the couch which I mentally think of as my conference room), I continue to raise money for Jazz at Lincoln Center. With the concert hall dark, no concerts, no tours and no Dizzy’s club, these contributed funds are more important than ever before, and so days have rapidly melted into nights, and then weeks, now months.

It has been a pleasant existence in many ways, I have to admit. I commute ten feet from bed to desk. I have taken the reins of the kitchen in hand and am cooking much more often, which means we will eventually emerge heavier, but hopefully healthy.

We continue to work out and I am backing to a routine of weight lifting, which my previous schedule had interrupted, so I will be fat but buff. And I tag along for the trip up our 16 flights of stairs a few days a week for a bit of cardio – whenever I go outside – but Kim keeps to his much more regular routine up them six out of seven days a week. There have been weird shortages of some food and items (for example ice cream, largely unavailable for awhile seems to have been somewhat restored, flour remains at a premium), but no real hardship. We have always liked being together and here we are. We are lucky.

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An early experiment with root vegetable stew – the dumplings got a bit aggressive!

 

I do not mean to imply that the horror of the situation escapes us. Like many, we exist on a steady diet of CNN and the news is horrendous. For many weeks the sound of ambulances on York and First avenues were constant and haunting, especially at night. Like everyone, we have lost friends to the virus, directly and indirectly and others have been sick with it.

We remain very grateful to the folks who risk themselves to continue to fill the shelves of our grocery stores and deliver our mail and make appreciative forays to the few restaurants to pick up food from those who have hung in with take-out business. A low point was when our favorite pizza haunt closed down for several weeks after a valiant effort to remain open, a symbolic low. Happily we hailed their recent return and celebrated with a mushroom pie. A trip every week or two to Bagel Bob’s around the corner cheers me greatly, and the Gristedes across York has done their best for us. It seems strange to contemplate a return to leaving the house daily and re-entering the world. Meanwhile, our Yorkville corner of Manhattan remains strangely under-populated, sort of like a never-ending holiday weekend.

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Arturo’s Pizza, this taken just pre-plague.

 

Kim and I had hoped to spend more time together this year, with the months earlier having been very travel intensive for me at work, and now we certainly have. I miss seeing my mom in NJ (I fear infecting her and remain unsure how we will resolve that), and of course there are things and people I miss in the outside world, but am mostly able to patiently look forward to seeing them in person when the opportunity arises again. For now we are here and doing our thing. Kim’s world has changed very little aside from my omnipresence and endless nattering on the phone Monday through Friday.

Winter clothes still hang in the closet, frozen in time to mid-March Miss Havisham-esque, despite the weather having turned very warm. (An army of moths has invaded which I am unsure how to oust. We can’t deal with mothballs so please send any less toxic suggestions. Blackie snacks on the occasional one but is of little real help.) I am clad in entirely in a rotation of work-out clothes, an ancient black cotton hoodie the only constant. Make-up is an alien concept (why on earth did I do that every day I wonder now) that I may never really go back to. Like everyone, my hair has grown shaggy and I twist it up in a hair tie. (Luckily I had accepted my gray hair as it came in when it arrived as I hit 30 years old, and so I am not among those growing out gray roots.)

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An unusual moment of togetherness, Blackie and Cookie on the bed, looking nothing like those contented white kitties.

 

The cats, Cookie and Blackie, are the big winners. An extra set of hands constantly at disposal and inclined for petting they take full advantage. Blackie has made numerous appearances on Zoom, but as he is all black and so are most of my allotment of t-shirts and tops, it is only those with sharp eyes who have caught a pair of pointy ears, a tail waving, or perhaps a serious green cat eye peering up. He demands attention, in particular, between 3:00-4:00 daily, but he likes those Zoom calls on-camera and will magically appear for them. He precedes his leap onto my lap with a little meow and stretch up to tap me with a claw paw, ever politely, before making the jump up. Instagram followers know that he is also partial to taking possession of my desk chair when I am not in it – which isn’t often these days.

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So, as we celebrate Kim’s Natal Day for 2020 I provide an idea of what daily life looks like here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama during what I have termed as our bunker days. I fervently hope you are all as comfortably situated in your own.

Art School

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  Most weekend mornings I sit down to post on Pictorama with at least a pretty good idea where I am going. However, life in the bunker has impacted my accumulating, of objects but also ideas, not being out in the world much.

Deitch Studio continues to do a pretty brisk bit of business during the pandemic (the need for comics and funds to be raised not diminishing with the quarantine), but with working nonstop and never leaving our intimate one room abode, opportunities for the acquisition of well, stuff, is somewhat limited and my intellectual life seems to boil down to reading Judy Bolton mystery novels. (I’ve written about my affection for this contemporaneous competitor of Nancy Drew here and here. However, I recognize the limitation!) A pay reduction at work has put us on what I like to call a money diet – and I can report that I appear to be better at reducing spending than calories. I am, as a result, more parsimonious and selective in my purchases. (I am sure eBay is feeling the result of my economizing.)

All this to say, I slept a bit late today and ambled over to the computer with no idea what I was hoping to serve up on this Sunday edition of Pictorama. I reached into one of the boxes on my desk where photos are stored, thinking I had a little clutch of photos I should look through. Instead I reached further into the box (right under the Little Orphan Annie sheet music I wrote about here), and pulled out this photo. I believe it came from a fascinating cache of photos sent to us by Kim’s friend Tom Conroy while ago, many of them are housed in these boxes.

It is not my first foray into the riches offered by these boxes. I have written about photos from Tom’s collection previously including one of Lilian Harvey boasting a Felix doll (here); Felix as an early TV test (here); and a Betty Boop and Felix find which can be found here. Thank you again Tom!

Today’s photo is identified only in a pencil scrawl as Hollywood Art School on the back, and has lead to a discussion between Kim and I as to whether or not this might be Los Angeles’s Chouinard Art School, where Disney trained his first animators in the late 1920’s. These students largely attended on scholarship as an act of kindness on the part of the school’s founder, Nelbert Chouinard. These would be Disney’s initial clutch of animators, later known as the Nine Old Men and they were instructed in the evenings by Donald Graham.

Graham was a Chouinard graduate turned teacher who was affiliated with the school from the late 1920’s until the early 1970’s. As a student he earned his way through school as a janitor there, sleeping in a bathtub at the school instead of paying rent. (He later “graduated” to teaching perspective at the school instead.)

They remained close over the decades and this debt was later repaid in 1961 when Disney rescues the now foundering enterprise and consolidates it into Cal Arts, the school he and his brother founded. (This was evidently a story not without controversy, but for today I leave it at this edited version.)

For any of us who have taken an art class this is, in many ways, a familiar scene. It appears to be a class in portraiture and the students are working from photographs, not a model. An art school like this, in the US during first part of the 20th century, would have been a trade school perhaps more focused on marketable skills for its students. The students are, to a one, men. They are also notable for their uniforms of collared shirts, ties and vests – instructors, who are working the room are clad in full suit and tie. (They appear to be ticking things off a list as they walk around the students, examining their work.) Sun streams in these windows, and one student wears an eye shade to protect from the glare on his work.

Students are seated at individual drawing tables, weighted with cast iron legs. Between them, placed strategically, are tables to hold supplies. One student in the middle seems to be a bit far from one and appears to have a few things in his lap instead. A table closest to us has photos piled on it, probably from prior assignments. It’s hard to see but there is another pile of photos on a table at the back wall, behind one of the instructors. The wooden chairs are a random mix and there is a table against one wall with some examples for the students. (A careful look draws my eye to one of a man with his mouth open that seems pretty impressive.)

In the lower right corner there is an insignia that says Browning N.Y.C. and after a quick search I had a moment of thinking that this might instead be a photo of the exclusive Browning School located here in Manhattan’s exclusive East 60’s. Founded in 1888 it certainly was around for this period, but as it tops out at twelfth grade I do not think it is possible – some of these students are balding. I cannot find any information that makes me believe they had an early trade school division.

The photo evokes the smell and look of such a classroom, and despite its exclusively male population and the rather formal attire, it could easily be exchanged for a class I might have taken at the Art Student’s League. I am reminded that Kim recently did an online talk for comics students at The New School. While they are not enjoying the camaraderie of their peers these days, nor the eagle eye of an instructor directly over them, they got an unusual view into Deitch Studio – complete with Kim yanking the day’s sketches off his desk. We hope that there are some compensations for being a student during these quarantine days.

 

 

 

Postal Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post comes with thanks via Christina Valenza, a west coast Facebook friend of Deitch Studio. I am sorry to say it had disappeared into a nook with a cache of photos and was just rediscovered as I was pushing cats and photos aside to make a desk for myself to use during the course of our current captivity. It found its way to Deitch Studio from Oakland, California last year and while I usually don’t find contemporary cards of interest I do love the documentation of this artwork.

As you can see, someone has painted a cheeky tongue out Felix on the side of one of those boxes that the post office uses to hold the mail on the street. I don’t claim to really understand that process – actually I should ask Kim as he did a brief stint with the post office in the East Village in his youth. This one is a rusty brown – they are generally army green in New York City. What I really like about it is that he is an old style toothy Felix and reminds me of the early dolls of the 1920’s.

The photo is identified as having been taken by Albert L. Morse in 1971. Christina Valenza has a book of his photos available here. It appears that Mr. Morse was an attorney in the Bay Area, as well as being a self-taught photographer. A young Albert was given a camera by his father and started taking photos at the age of 12 and as an adult he took it upon himself to document that early ’70’s comics scene. Below is a page of photos which includes a sort of mug shot-ish one of Kim and a less than flattering one of Simon on the end of the top row.

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Albert Morse acted in a legal capacity on behalf of numerous cartoonists in the greater Bay Area in the 1970’s. According to Kim, if you asked a favor of Morse he would ask you to do a page for his anthology Morse’s Funnies, shown below with a Crumb cover. Kim tells me that there is an interesting Simon Deitch page within, but that he never did a page for him because (imagine Kim here, deadpan) he never asked him for a favor.

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Without getting too specific or colorful, suffice it to say that Kim was not a fan of Mr. Morse (who it appears died in 2006) as he feels that Morse took advantage of some of his comics colleagues. Enough said, just in case some of the litigious relatives of Morse roam the internet today.

So with thanks to Christine and apologies for the long wait for a Pictorama nod. Wowza! I thought I was going to spend the morning on Felix, but instead was taken down an entirely different tributary of Kim’s life, long before me.

My Felix Heaven

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers and other Deitch Studio fellow travelers know that there is a wonderful tradition of Kim making me my very own special valentine each year. It is the most beloved manifestation of my uber Deitch fan status and today I share it with you all.

One recent year Kim drew the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as a cat band for me (that one can be found here) and in 2017 Kim’s work on Reincarnation Stories had our minds focused on our 86th Street apartment building morphing into a rollicking toy museum for me, which in turn inspired the valentine that year. (Reincarnation Stories, that extraordinary missive, can be purchased here should you somehow be without a copy and that valentine post is here.)

Recently, I was strolling through ebay, looking over the array of Felix items and wondering specifically about a certain kind of china Felix I do not collect. Much of it seems to be promotional item give aways made by British Pathé Films. There are small ashtrays, match holders, miniature jugs, and things best described as gewgaws. They must have been universally saved as they are very available, almost a hundred years later.

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Pictorama readers also know that given the confines of our studio apartment (which I like to pretend expands magically to house an infinite number of toys, but in reality not really) and our two felines who race through (and up and down) it daily, I am somewhat discrete in my collecting and try to keep fragile items to a minimum. Therefore, there is a world of early Felix I have not really touched. In addition, there are tea sets and other space hogging items I must refrain from acquiring or threaten to tip the gentle ecosystem of our abode. (I have opined on my vision of a Felix filled home in my post Living the Felix Life which can be found here.)

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However, on this day as I was looking I was fantasizing about a seaside British cottage, filled to the brim, positively sparkling, with all these Felix items. As if somehow this woman collected them all in the late 1920’s and kept them all to perfection. Kim asked about my thoughts for the valentine right at that moment and over my morning coffee I conveyed that vision (very ineptly, I have to admit), to Kim who then somehow managed to translate it PERFECTLY in this valentine. Yay, Kim!

He asked me to do some image research so he could better see what I was talking about. And the real find during that research was this image from Getty below. Wow, wow, wow! This is one of the best Felix photographs I have ever seen. I must find a way to get a real copy from Getty somehow so I can hang it on my wall. (Look at the Felix dolls stuffed in their belts!) The big winking Felix in the middle finds a place of honor on my valentine and I get to wear the cool Felix girl outfit!

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Getty Image photo

 

Although in one sense I art direct the valentine, our largely unspoken division of labor means I generally do not make a lot of specific requests about execution concerning things like color. This year I think I surprised Kim with the request that my dress be orange. I think it mystified him a bit, but he has given me my orange dress and I do love it. Perfect.

Of course, Kim’s version of Felix memorabilia is far more ribald and raucous than any reality. Felix is tooting on a nippy hookah while I serve him tea; dancing animated Felixes make up the tablecloth edge (wouldn’t I love to own that); and Cookie and Blackie (who, as I write is trying to push me off the computer chair) make an appearance. Blackie is behind the hookah and Cookie is behind a Felix urn where she eyes her tail suspiciously. (Cookie, even as a very adult kitty, still chases her tail constantly. I think she’s convinced me that a demon really does reside there that periodically needs subduing.)

Of course, out the window is a jolly scene which is the East River version of my fantasy. There’s a Mickey Mouse running off the page and there will be more about him to come in future posts. (Think birthday gift.) A crazy Felix clock, the traditional one crossed with an especially good Norakuro one we were admiring online. Tea Time! Tea Time!

And there you have it, the 2020 Deitch Studio Valentine and it is a beaut! Thank you so much Kim! I am the luckiest wife in the world.

Meanwhile, I think maybe next year we need to make our way into the Felix tea room those women were beckoning us into…

Just Whistle

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This ancient children’s whistle adds to my somewhat meagre, but slowly growing, holdings of toys related to Norakuro an early Japanese Felix-y cat-dog like character. (I have written about these toys previous and a few of those posts can be found here and here.) This whistle appeared, as things occasionally do, listed as Felix on ebay. Everything vintage associated with this character is extremely expensive – I just spied a DVD of the cartoons for $150 – which perhaps in part is exchange rate, but I also chalk up to a fairly limited and rarified collecting area. My quest for an early plush toy of this character (if such thing exists) continues – maybe I will make 2020 the year of Pictorama Norakura collecting. (Bank account beware!)

This humble whistle is in a style that seems to be from the 1930’s, but it continued with variation for a decade or two and who knows how long they were produced and exported from Japan. (This is marked Made in Japan in English and Japanese, so I assume it was made for export.) I think it is fair to say that the Japanese were significant contributors to the tin whistles in the US marketplace of this era.

In researching this a bit, I saw a few early examples of these tin whistles as premiums for kids for things like shoes. This snappy one below is for Poll Parrot shoes. (I never heard of this brand, but Kim has just told me he wore them as a kid and that they were a sponsor of Howdy Dowdy. Buster Brown was the property of Smilin’ Ed…) I must say I do like this image of a shoe clad parrot! I may have to find myself one of these, but most are much more beat up than this fine example shown here.

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In general the condition of these whistles seem to be pretty rough and it is easy to image that they spent much time in the grubby pockets of small children. Their survival at all is somewhat impressive when considered.

I do not have children, but I guess that giving your child a whistle is like giving your cat a toy with a bell, or that makes any noise. You should think twice about doing it if you don’t want to hear that sound a lot. (And in the case of kitties, probably in the middle of the night.) There is something about the very existence of a whistle that makes you want to blow it. This whistle wasn’t out of the package five minutes when Kim blew on it. It makes an awful sound and the cats freaked out. He said he’d never do it again, but did (repeatedly) a few minutes later. The cats did not run, but they remained deeply suspicious – ears perked and staring wide-eyed. Evidently adults are not immune to the appeal of tin whistles, but cats are.

I do not remember any significant tin whistles in my childhood. Sadly the world had moved onto plastic more or less entirely. I include a photo of the only whistle I remember from my own childhood, an Oscar Mayer Wiener one. I do not remember how I came into possession of it – I vaguely remember that it came to me in some sort of trade with a friend. Nor am I positive this was the precise design (several were in play in the early 70’s according to my friends on Google) of the one I owned. It was somewhat beloved though, however modest it now seems in comparison to these splendid tin affairs of childhood longer gone by.

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Midnight Concert

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I admit to being on a bit of a Wain binge lately, having just purchased that excellent New Year’s Card I wrote about a few weeks ago. (That card and post can be found here.) In more or less the same wave I purchased this one which has a lot going on, the longer you look at it the more unfolds. Long gone are the days when I was reluctant to indulge in Louis Wain and his pricey postcards!

This one was never sent and has no writing on it, strangely there is a printed notation on the back which states, F. Hartmann’s “Manx Cats Series” N 3069. 2.” and indeed, the kitties in question are all Manx, tails notably absent upon study. Evidently Mr. Wain did an entire series devoted to the Manx, another example below. Apologies for the somewhat dubious quality of this photo snatch of Stormy Passage on the S.S. “Viking”.

 

Perhaps our Louis Wain research will eventually turn up the answer to why and how exactly he signed on for this Manx project, but for now suffice it to say, it was among his entertaining accomplishments in the realm of kitty illustration.

The music held by the cats all relates to the Isle of Man, the origin of the Manx cat. (I have written a little bit about these tail-less felines. That Wain wanna-be postcard post can be found here.) A quick pass at the internet tells me that the Manx is the oldest breed of cat and sometimes they have stubby tails as opposed to none. Manx cats are generally round all over – big eyes and round head and ears. Sort of ideal Wain models in my opinion.

Kim, who is working at his desk as I write this morning, tells me he used to be visited by a Manx when he lived in Berkley, a girl cat he described as “a real fuss budget, but not as much as Cookie.” In response to this Cookie has left the rocking chair she was napping on and joined Kim on a cushion next to his work chair, a generally prized cat spot in this apartment. Clearly she enjoys her fuss budget status in our house.

A careful study of the music sported by the cats on this card shows titles such as Manx WeddingEllan Vannin, Ramsey Town and by far my favorite, The Herring is the King of the Sea. I can easily imagine these bawdy Toms singing:

The herring is the king of the sea
The herring is the fish for me
The herring is the king of the sea
Sing fol the do or die

Oh what’ll we do with the herring’s eyes?
We’ll make them all into puddings and pies
We’ll make them all into puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!
Herring’s eyes, puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!

The herring is the king of the sea …

Oh what’ll we do with the herring’s heads?
We’ll make them all into loaves of bread
We’ll make them all into loaves of bread
And all sorts of things!
Herring’s heads, loaves of bread
Herring’s eyes, puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!

 

Meanwhile Ellan Vannin, sheet music held by the only kitty who is a bit feminine in appearance, is a sort of unofficial anthem of the Isle of Man. The Bee Gees, whose place of origin is the Isle of Man pre-Australia, recorded their own version of Ellan Vannin, with updated lyrics. It was part of a 1997 world tour and released as a single in 1998 with the proceeds going to a charitable organization. (You can listen to it here.) No one can accuse Louis Wain of not doing his research or shirking detail.

This kitty concert racket on this card plays out atop rooftops, in view of some silhouetted men, pipes a’puffin, framed in a nearby window. The cats are in their glory as they sing from a variety of lyrics simultaneously which gives a sense of the cacophony created. Even the moon looks on in annoyed disapproval, but the kitties don’t care. My favorite is the fellow perched on the chimney with smoke billowing out from under him – he’s the one with the Herring King sheet music. One of my favorite Pictorama posts for a late night kitty sing along, perhaps a cat genre unto itself, is the photo I found and featured in Kitty Sextette Singers which can be found here.)

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If you have ever experience a nocturnal chanteur or chanteuse in feline form you know that it gets your attention and can indeed keep you up. While I believe the lore of the midnight cat song is a love song, there is another variation which I attributed to male cats which is the tendency to roam the house (or in our case, Blackie, very small apartment) howling and muttering to themselves.

I refer to this as Existential Kitty Angst or End of the World Meows. My parents had a cat that drove me nuts with it – long sessions of it nightly. They had learned to sleep through it but he kept me awake whenever I overnighted. Blackie indulges in it occasionally, but I find it usually ends in his taking a swipe at Cookie and then whole thing ends up in a fight, sometimes even a spirited chase through the apartment. This seems to sweep his anxieties out of the way, although sometimes instead we can end it in a non-violent way, encouraging him to find his spot at the foot of the bed. However, on those occasions when I find myself awake and fretting at 3 AM, Kim, Cookie and Blackie sound asleep, I too am tempted to caterwaul and howl!

New Year’s Wain-ing

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: This little gem turned up in my mailbox on New Year’s Eve – I guess in a sense I had mailed myself this New Year’s card by purchasing it earlier in the week. Somehow I ran across a bargain on a Louis Wain New Year’s card on ebay and snatched it up. Therefore, lucky Pictorama readers, you get a second New Year’s card post this year and it’s a pip.

Mailed on December 30, 1903 it is address to Master Thomas Couch Front Street Brampton and is simply from Mrs. Moore. The title of the card is When the Cat’s Away and these magnificent naughty kits are having a high old time, just as I have always suspected our cats do as soon as Kim and I are out of sight.

These kitties are in a schoolroom and I especially like the map of Catland on the wall. Careful study reveals that according to Wain Catland is made up of the following regions: Cats Dairy, Cats Meat Land, Mouse Home, Cow Corner, Rat Land, Beetle Lane and Persian Land. Wain and I see the map of Catland somewhat differently perhaps. (I am in fact the Queen of Catland as depicted by Kim on several occasions and therefore feel I have some authority on subject. One image depicting me in my Queen regalia can be in the form of a Valentine can be found here. Additionally I come pretty close in some of my finery as depicted in Kim’s Reincarnation Stories.)

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A book of Cat Tales is tossed on the floor and these kits are madly going at it. We’ll figure the one wearing the dunce cap is the ring leader, spilling the ink and assignment of the brown tabby next to him. Gray kitty is having a poke at his neighbor, who appears to have something nefarious going on in his desk – wonder what is in there? Meanwhile the maniacal look of the cat playing leap frog is pure Wain.

May I just state the obvious and say that Mrs. Moore had very good taste in cards? I would have liked to have known her. And we are so grateful to Master Couch for having the good sense to take good care of this card? Pictorama readers may remember that I came to Louis Wain late in the game for a cat enthusiast of the early 20th century. (Posts commencing the ceding of my Wain moratorium on a trip to London a few years ago can be found here and here.) My defensive posture was purely an economic one as the competition for his imagery, even the merest postcards, is extremely stiff and therefore costly. Nevertheless, I have abandoned that position and have traveled happily way down the Wain rabbit hole.

As some of you know, I am kicking off this New Year nursing my back which I seem to have pulled out of whack in the final frenzy of 2019. I tend to resent the reminder that I am human and have furiously thrown every imaginable treatment at it – although being flat on my back has resulted in numerous ebay purchases like this one. As Kim pointed out to me last night, time is probably what it really needs so I settle in for the long haul and contemplate the New Year – and dream a bit of what is yet to be discovered in 2020.

 

The New Year

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I admit when the New York Times posed the question of if we were indeed not just starting a New Year, but perhaps a whole new decade I was a tad overwhelmed. Suddenly the teens have slipped away and we are launching ourselves into the ’20’s. How on earth did that happen? It was a busy decade – in fact it was a busy year – and it is almost hard to look at the stretch from where we started to where we ended and consider it all of a piece.

I start by sharing a New Year’s card today which I have purchased, but will not reach my mailbox until later in January. (Technically this bends if not actually breaks a Pictorama rule about having items in hand when I write about them, but we know about rules and how they are made to be broken. I claim that privilege today.) I love this somewhat ambiguous image of one cat welcoming the other two, senior and youngster into the New Year, gesturing to the road, a mysterious half-smile on his face. The scene is a snowy one, but the path is clear. The elder cat seems to be saying, “Oh yes, let’s head on into this year!” (Not sure why this is Bonne Annéel rather than Bonne Année. Please feel free to enlighten me if you know or get the reference.)

The French can be depended on for New Year’s cards and I believe the art on this postcard is by Maurice Boulanger – a French artist for whom there doesn’t seem to be much biographical information.  Boulanger’s cards were being produced as early as 1903 – or at least there are some postmarked that early according to one website I found which attempts to catalogue the several hundred cards that were produced. (The postmark on this one is obscured, shown below, addressed in this beautiful neat hand.) Working during the same time as Louis Wain and clearly influenced by him – his cats seem to belong to, if not the same universe, certainly a neighboring one of slightly more sane felines. This card is not signed by Boulanger, but certainly seems to emerge from his stable of kitties.

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Highlights of this decade for me include this blog which came into existence around the halfway mark of the decade, August of 2014. In the wee hours today Pictorama hit 125 subscribed readers – thank you readers! (And a special hello to new subscriber, Ver It’s Peculiar.) I never seem to have the right moment to thank you all for signing up; please know that I am always encouraged by it. A new reader is the very most cheerful thing to discover attached to a ping! on my iPad. For those of you who have meandered around the archive you know that there are more than 600 posts, virtually every Saturday and Sunday. Many of you show up directly from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well and your interest is no less appreciated!

One of the most significant changes during this decade is that back in 2010 I was still working at the Metropolitan Museum, leaving the Museum wasn’t even a gleam in my eye. 2017 saw that surprising change after thirty years, when I moved to Jazz at Lincoln Center to continue fundraising but overseeing it. I write about Jazz more than I did the Met. Working at the Met after so many years was like breathing – it was hard to take a step back until after I left. They were family to me however and always will be. (My post about leaving the Met can be found here and some of my posts about my work with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra can be found here and here.) They too have become family – I find that Kim and I have been slowly absorbed into that, albeit very different, clan.

Most notably, I lost Dad in the latter part of this decade, having lost my sister Loren in the previous one. The loss of loved ones creates its own relative time – all time gets divided into before and after. (I wrote about my last days with Dad here and a bit about my sister here.) Those are the markers that live large in our mind’s eye.

Meanwhile, a look back on posts of 2019 reminds me that this year kicked off with recreating my grandmother’s Poor Man’s Cake (I’m sort of itching to make it again – perhaps it is to be a New Year’s tradition for me – yum, that post is here), covered authors Edna Ferber to my continuing obsession with the ever prolific Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Too many posts for me to list for those!) Work took me to the west coast (post here), Johannesburg (here) and most recently, Wisconsin (here). We started renovation on the apartment (too many of those posts to list as well), and best of all Kim’s book Reincarnation Stories was published in October. (Today it is on the Best Comics of 2019 list published in the New York Times Book Review. At the time I write this it can be found here.) I wrote my own two-part, very biased wifely review of Kim’s book which can be found here and here. Some posts this year were good and were well received, some less so. Thank you to those of you who continue to read regardless.

Looking forward is more important than looking back and in that vein Kim is hard at work on his next book, How to Make Comics, even as he continues to do appearances for Reincarnation Stories. I am not really a hardcore resolution maker, but it is my hope and plan to continue, and complete, the work in the apartment, fulfilling a dream of creating a wall of built-in bookcases for increased storage.

I would like to travel a little less for work, but I am not entirely sure that is an attainable goal as I already know I will be in London and Paris with the orchestra in the spring, and maybe Florida and maybe a trip back to Madison, Wisconsin also loom this winter. I would also like to take more time for myself – spend more time with Kim and my mom, get back to a more orderly exercise routine. (I have never written about how beloved my exercise routine is to me, but it definitely keeps me sane as well as fit.) This job seems to require endless time so that will be among the challenges of 2020.

So, for now, a toast of the writerly glass to you all, and my Bonne Année wishes to all for 2020. See you on the other side!