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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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Display

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Very few people know this about me, but I am an absolutely sucker for cabinets and boxes. They are like catnip to me. I have always had a weakness for them. As a child it manifest itself mostly in the collection of boxes (wood preferred, in fact treasured), but I remember the acquisition of a grandfather clock case turned cabinet from my grandparents house considered a prize possession.

It stands in my apartment today, next to the front door, hosting an assortment of items including but not limited to: video tapes, dime novels, early film magazines, comics and Kim’s Eisner award. Perched (piled really) atop it are an Art Deco coffee service and two not-quite-functioning Felix clocks. (The photos included here are an unintentional view into the gentle chaos of Deitch Studio.)

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However, my feeling about smaller cabinets is a bit like some people saying there are no calories in what you eat standing up. In my mind, it is always fine to buy cabinets and boxes because they are storage – therefore the issue of space does not come into it for me. (Incidentally, I always find them to be affordable as well. Such practical items, after all…)

I have several cabinets I could write about – an absolutely lovely mirrored one on a shelf at the foot of our bed. I found it for just a few dollars at a street fair right after spotting the same one in a store that was beyond my means; then there is an Art Deco three drawer mirrored one. I cannot allow myself to look at them on ebay as a rule or we would quickly be backed out of the apartment. Those darling little white medical antique cases, cunning wooden cabinets with myriad drawers that come from stores – I would have them all in multiple. If we had a house it would be another matter, but in our one room it is an addiction I need to keep under control.

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I have an equal passion for wooden boxes and small piles of them can be found around the apartment. This wonderful recent addition was made by Kim’s brother Seth and sent to me. A nicely Felix-y one shown below.

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Wonderful cabinet finds are still, blissfully, bound to slip in occasionally as did this lovely one Kim bought me as an anniversary gift earlier this fall. We were making what may have been our final visit to Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village when I spotted it and we scooped it up. (I will miss that store so much when it closes in the next month or so. I wrote about that visit in a post that can be found here.) It has yet to find its permanent place of honor in our apartment – in part because temporarily perched on my drawing table the light hitting the wavy old glass and reflecting on the old mirror in back is so nice. I have yet to find an equally well lit corner for it.

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The mirrored back of this cabinet has a nifty little door that opens to place the treasured items appropriately on display. Obviously part of the appeal of display cabinets for me is a place to hold my treasured booty – odds and ends acquired and in need of a home where they are safe from prying paws and dust, but on display. I am still in the fantasizing stage about what will find a home in this one. Perhaps some things yet to be acquired even? I promise an update post when it has found its permanent home and is filled with Pictorama finds and goodies.

 

 

The Great Deitch Studio Card Reveal

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Ta Da! It’s that time of the year! With Thanksgiving running late it was a tight turnaround this year and apologies to anyone who hasn’t gotten theirs in the mail yet before I do the online reveal. (And that includes just about everyone at my office.) As some of you might know, the day after Thanksgiving is the day when I sit down and do the first go at the card. This year it pretty much fell together with that initial session and here we are.

Pictorama readers aren’t going to be surprised that the recently renovated kitchen played a role in the Deitch Studio pictorial summing up of the year. (Although I could have shown our window installation as an alternative. Cats installing new windows? Um, gives me vertigo to think about. Those recent renovation posts can be found herehere and here – just for starters.)

I have set Cookie and Blackie to stirring up a storm here. The kitties are very fond of the new kitchen (counters have been duly jumped upon, the floor rolled over and over on, and the cabinets duly sniffed and inspected) although disappointingly the new fridge is too high and narrow for Cookie climbing – she liked towering over everyone on the old one. Of course, in reality we rarely let the cats cook and discourage their use of the stove in general. (I don’t mind them using the microwave, but worry they will be careless and use aluminum in it. And Blackie was showing an unfortunate interest in jumping up on the stove early on which we needed to compel him not to do.)

Kim let me have my head on this one and the result is more Pam than usual in execution I think. Although he always neatens things up (especially lettering – I don’t do that properly at all) and the shading always makes things pleasantly Deitchien. (A phrase I may have coined earlier this year in my happily and totally biased spousal post reviewing Kim’s Reincarnation Stories which can be found here and here. Kim’s book is of course the other big news of the year – the cats could have been reading about themselves in it. Or complaining that they didn’t play a bigger role.) The cats’ expressions are a bit more Kim-ish than Pam too. He has given them a slightly maniacal mad scientist look – probably closer to their true expressions.

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From the opening of Reincarnation Stories.

 

As I believe everyone bemoaned this season, with Thanksgiving falling a bit late in the calendar the holiday season is a bit compressed. Kim inked quickly and the printer turned it around fast (a nod to Bill from Yorkville Copy, which no longer exists as a storefront – he comes from Westchester to pick up our original and copy, score and return annually), but that only left a week to get them in the mail. I hedged our bets by making it a New Year’s card.

As I write this part of my brain is taken up with the things that still need doing, the apartment is in a state of chaos, and I long to have a proper workout at the gym after an endless week of work related events. I know you, dear readers, are probably thinking much the same so thank you for spending a little time with Pam’s Pictorama today. A Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and of course every best wish for the New Year from all here, feline and otherwise, at Deitch Studio.

Annie and Sandy Reunited

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Joyously I finally return to the world of toys as the chaos of our abode recedes at long last. Pictorama readers may remember that as part of a delightful birthday toy haul back in February of 2018 I purchased a hotsy totsy little Sandy doll. (Shown below and that post can be found here.) I concluded that post opining that there was a very nice Little Orphan Annie doll as well and I vowed to look into that. I had a weather eye out and at last this one found a home here at Pictorama earlier this week. It had been quite awhile since we made a toy acquisition and it was delightful when this box, slightly larger than expected showed up yesterday.

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Interestingly the history of oilcloth toys is not so easily found online, nor is the origin of these particular toys. For the information I did find I can thank Jeet Heer, Canadian author and comics scholar. His introduction to the Gasoline Alley volume covering the years 1925 and ’26 had the only information that satisfied my yen to know more this morning.

My collection of Little Orphan Annie toys is a very limited one. When I purchased the toy below I had no idea it was Annie and Sandy – although I was crazy about it! I found that out later when I saw one that was in better condition and had the box identifying it. I wrote about it last year in a post that you can read here.

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The discussion around dating this Annie doll dominated Deitch Studio in a heated debate over breakfast this morning. Kim taking the position that this Annie design had to be later than the other one shown below in two similar variations. It was he who dug out the Gasoline Alley volume, after a quick tour of Little Orphan Annie volumes up to about 1935, and found the scant information I share with you.

 

Meanwhile, my thought had been that the nicer doll with the dress (mine) was earlier and that they discovered they could do it more cheaply without. Instead it seems it is a case of starting with a more primitive toy and getting grander. I am not a fan of the design on the left, but there is something charming about the one with the hat.

It would seem that this series of comic character toys are the brainchild of Eileen Benoliel, creator of a company called Live Long Toys. There wasn’t a lot of information readily available about the company or Ms. Benoliel (or Mrs. William A. Benoliel as she is also identified) except that the Chicago company was founded in 1923 and folds in the 1940’s. I am making the assumption she made these Little Orphan Annie toys as well although I guess the concept could have been stolen from her and marketed by someone else. These toys are unmarked, with the exception of Annie’s sash which reads Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray and under Patent Applied For.

There is not a lot of information about this company. I did find a reference to the company, via Google, in a book called Made to Play House: the Commercialization of American Girlhood 1830-1930. In essence this passage makes reference to how when companies started by women became successful that it was typical for their husbands to take control of them, rather than the women keeping control and growing it themselves. It is noted that Mr. Benoliel left his job in insurance, working for companies like Marshall Field and Sears, Roebuck, to manage the burgeoning company.

According to a snippet Jeet Heer includes in the introduction to this volume Ms. Benoliel began the craze with a Skeezix doll and then the other Gasoline Alley figures. The reprinted article from the 1924 Playthings magazine is shown from the book below as is the two-page spread from the book.

 

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Jeet also notes that the Skeezix doll (which I gathered aged over time but to what extent I cannot say) eventually had removable clothing, which means Mr. Deitch wins and clearly the dolls with the removable clothes were a later variation. The Sandy doll seems to have remained consistent with the original design going forward, although later ones seem have used the same template but is a tad more three-dimensional later.

I assume that these oilcloth toys came out of earlier, more homely, variations and that from them eventually come the premiums that you were required to sew yourself. I recently examined those via an acquisition of a Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat. (You can read that post here.) Oilcloth is sturdy and Annie is solidly made. There is evidence that she was much played with and beloved. As much as I like my toys in good condition, it is good to know they have been well used and loved too.

 

 

 

Saving Something for the Swim Back

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Devoted readers of Pam’s Pictorama know that, outside of a few occasions when excessive travel overwhelmed me, I pretty much sit down at this computer every Saturday and Sunday and write. Sometimes you all are subjected to a diatribe about what is on my mind and today is one of those days. As I am surrounded by change today, the nature of change is very much on my mind as is my own role as the agent of it.

For readers who have been following it, the kitchen renovation is finally pretty much concluded. (Various aspects of that tale can be found here , herehere and, alas also here.) We are waiting for a microwave to show up, but otherwise it has finally come to rest and just in the nick of time before we lost what remains of our collective minds. All that is left is the unpacking which has commenced and am determined I will finish this weekend. Kim and cats had it hardest being here each day with the daily construction. While all the guys were nice enough it is a small space and it was a lot to have in your face every day. Cookie in particular had to have long conversations with me about it each evening in the beginning of it all.

The kitchen looks great and most importantly seems to be easier and nicer to work in which is after all the point of a kitchen. The cats have taken full possession of it – I find them rolling and stretching on the new floor – each taking turns being king or queen of the new space.

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Cookie captured mid-roll and stretch on the new kitchen floor. There is tangible relief for all that the cat dishes have returned to their former location in the kitchen.

 

I have a long held theory about cat memory which is that it is about two weeks long. At the end of two weeks it has more or less reset to the present being all they remember. Back when we had a cleaning woman who came every other week I figured she was an all new event for them each time – they didn’t really remember that this would keep happening. (However, my cat Otto really liked one woman who spoke to her in Polish leaving me to wonder if Otto had been Polish in another life or if all cats responded well to the language.)

According to this theory, there was a moment in the middle of the month-long renovation when the cats had pretty much forgotten that there was a time when the apartment wasn’t boxed up with kitchen stuff and workmen didn’t spend part of each and every day banging away and making a smelly mess of the place. By this notion, sometime after Thanksgiving, but well before Christmas they will forget that this is the new kitchen and it will just be the kitchen. This is how cats get along in the world, it is their own process for survival which has evolved over centuries of feline lives.

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Blackie taking his turn atop two cartons of Reincarnation Stories which turned up in the middle of the packed up chaos.

 

Of course for us humans it is ultimately the same, although our memories (for the most part) are longer, our awareness of the process probably deeper. (After all, who knows what cats really think?) I may have previously opined on having a cat-like dislike of change because it is my true nature. I come to it slowly and with trepidation, and there is some real reluctance if I have to be the actual agent of it, as I was in this case. Nonetheless, it is also part of my personality that if I make up my mind to do something I pretty much grab it by the ears and do what needs doing until it is done.

I don’t know if it is age or just my experience, but as I get older this tenacity has become more pronounced and it has come to my attention that there is a sort of take-no-prisoners aspect to my approach in these situations. It takes me a long time to rouse myself to action and my decision making process is prolonged. Once committed however, I am all in.

If I drift into contemplating my past lives I wonder if in one I wasn’t a rank and file, but especially tenacious, foot soldier in let’s say Genghis Khan’s troops. (For those of you who have missed my recent wifely review of Kim’s new book Reincarnation Stories the two-part review can be found here and here, while my own reincarnation tale can be found here.) Once I accept the bit in my mouth, reluctantly or otherwise, I am driven on all cylinders and there is no way around, only straight through. And I deeply suspect that the Genghis Khan reference may have resonance for some of this who work with or encounter me in this mode.

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In my office I put a quote up recently, save something for the swim back. It seems like good advice to consider, but hard for me to follow. Once let out of the starting gate I am pretty much at a dead run from beginning to end. As I sit, rather exhausted from my exertions both at home and at work for the moment, a sort of carnage both personal and professional piled up around me, I am contemplating the sustainability of this approach. Yet, like the cats, we are who and what we are and to some extent we have to accept that.