We Are Getting Quite Attached

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a bit of a break in the midst of many photo postcard posts, today I swerve a bit. As Pictorama readers know, a few months ago, on a trip to London, I opened the Louis Wain floodgates with the purchases of the book Merry Times and a newspaper holiday supplement page illustration. These purchases and accompanying adventures can be found in these  links, Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 1 and Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 2. At that point I predicted future Wain collecting and posts and the aforementioned recent trip to the NY postcard show proved my prediction accurate. Above is one of those purchases and the one of three Louis Wain postcards to enter my collection on that day.

First to say, as someone who has formed all of my collections just by following my nose and what I like, I find the high-end world of Louis Wain collectibles a bit intimidating. His card production evidently breaks into different publishers and periods, priced accordingly. I looked blankly at the dealer and confessed that I have no idea what these are, let alone the relative value therein – although obviously I do get the general arc of his production, descending and splintering eventually into insanity.

However, I have looked at enough of his work to know that I have preferences and, without being knowledgable about the specifics, in some ways this card sums up the period I believe I like best. In this card he is exhibiting full whacky sense of humor without having started to come apart at the seams. These roguish kitties, so proper in their demeanor, replete with pipe, cigar, umbrella, walking stick and perhaps the daily newspaper, find themselves unthinkingly, stuck on the wet paint of the recently painted boat bottom they lean on.  (It does bring to mind a very early memory I have, me a toddler and my mother painting the floor of the back porch a dark red. Our then cat Snoopy blithely walked across it and subsequently across the kitchen floor with those bright red wet paws! Snoopy was a placid and wonderful cat however – white with black cow spots and he easily survived my mother’s wrath. He was my very first cat and set the bar high for those that followed.)

There is something slightly maniacal and knowing in their cat faces, cheerful, yet peeved and knowing which is pure Wain. Where on earth did he get his ideas? Certainly the failings and idiosyncrasies of the participants has more to do with humans than felines, but somehow the slightly disturbed and thoroughly anthropomorphic cats convey it best.

I managed to navigate these first purchases, all from a single dealer, and the other acquisitions will have their turn in the spotlight in coming weeks. And meanwhile, I suspect many more Wain additions will follow in the future. After all, a cat card collector can hardly help herself.

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Waxing and Wain-ing; the Conclusion of Our Story

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who have been following this tale, today I wrap up the Louis Wain story with this entry (for now anyway – I feel more collecting coming on in this area now that I have started, but more of that to follow) with an interesting tributary of his work, the ceramics. I am going to break a Pictorama ground rule today, and please know that none of the glorious items I am abundantly illustrating today’s post with is in my collection – they are pulled entirely from the internet, many from previous auction posts. A girl can dream however!

For some background, although I had not collected Louis Wain as such I had, of course, long been a fan of his whacky cat imagery, mostly via postcard reprints of his work at its height, made widely available in a reproduced postcard line I remember as being available in the 1980’s. While I did not collect them as such, I did purchase them for use (yes, I actually used to routinely send postcards in those days) and at one time certainly had a number of them lying around.

So when I met Kim and cat item collecting became a topic of conversation between us, I certainly knew who he was talking about when he intrigued and beguiled me with Louis Wain’s bio of descending into insanity, cat illustrations becoming wilder and more abstract over time. But then, being Kim, he topped it off with another amazing story. As Wain’s cats became less realistic, at one point they even became Cubist, executed in the form of sculptures or vases. And, furthermore, that many if not virtually all were lost in shipwreck! There was something about them being Czech. (He may have said that they were on the Lusitania when it was lost, but don’t hold me to that.)

Now folks, this was in the days before the internet and Google in the palm of our hands in the form of what we now think of as a phone. It was a marvelous story. My imagination raced crazily with mental images of what these might have looked like. Oh my! The tragedy of a splendid cat bounty that was never to be known! I fantasized that some day the wreck would be raised and somehow many of the objects recovered whole, auctioned and made public. (Made mine…) The story has lived vividly in my head for decades.

So finally, the other day as I began gathering information for the first two parts of this post, at long last I Googled both the story and the ceramics. I was not disappointed. To my great fascination, a fair number of these ceramics exist, and while very expensive, are collected today. In addition to cats, there are (sans explanation) dogs and pigs – and these do not disappoint. While I may have imagined these sculptures one degree more abstract, and for some reason not so brightly colored, I was pretty close with my mental image of them. They are however, if anything, better than I imagined.

 

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And, it turns out that the story of the shipwreck and loss of a significant shipment of them from England is also true – although not on the Lusitania and they were produced both in Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, in the teens. Fakes have evidently plagued the market at various times – meanwhile, I am sure I wouldn’t mind owning one of those either. One article I read said that had the shipment reached the United States (which, unlike Britain, had a discerning consumers who, even at the time, had a voracious appetite for these particular offbeat items) it might have staved off, or at least delayed, the impoverishment Wain suffered at the end of his life, ending sadly in asylums, but still producing cat drawings. It is all a very Deitchian tale, with only slight embellishment, and now you know one of the many reasons why being married to Kim Deitch is so much fun.

Meanwhile, those of you who know me are wondering by this time, how could price alone have swayed me from adding Louis Wain to my routine collecting? After all, I am the woman who has brought you my indulgences ranging from rare Aesop Fable dolls (Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) to Mickey Mouse toys the size of a toddler (Big Mickey) that I have crammed into our tiny apartment and paid admittedly obscene amounts of money for over time. At this point, I sheepishly admit that has been a foolish kernel of jealousy that has been at the root of it these many years.

I remind long-time Pictorama readers of an early post, Mine, all mine…at long last, where I gloried in obtaining a long sought after photo of the Aesop Fable dolls I adore. A copy of that photo had passed through Kim’s hands to a woman he lived with for a number of years and it gnawed gently at the back of my brain for years until I acquired my own copy. The same former girlfriend of Kim’s also collected Louis Wain items, primarily postcards. He mentioned this casually, early into our relationship, probably as a part of the broader Louis Wain tale. Kim had in fact purchased one or two of the original postcards for her as gifts over time. While admittedly, this seems a bit embarrassing and ridiculous as my adored Mr. Deitch and I are well into our second decade together, somehow I did not wish to have him associate her with my collecting. Then I guess I just never got around to lifting the prohibition and purchasing Louis Wain until this recent trip to London. Petty jealousy is like that and now I realize how silly that is – and will let the Louis Wain buying begin at long last.

1914 Ceramic Cat with Cigar and Monocle designed by Louis Wain (Made in Austria) 20.7 cm high x 18 cm long 1.jpgLS1461663_HR-1.jpg

Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 2

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Back cover of Merry Times, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama: I pick up today with my tale of Louis Wain acquisition which was what the universe presented to me while I was on my recent business trip to London. For those of you who read London Fog, Chapter 1 and London Fog: Chapter 2 you know that I was slogging my way through London, trying to maximize my limited free time there, frequenting some old collecting haunts. Maddeningly much was closed due to the inclement weather and I was feeling quite out of luck. However, bookseller Natalie Kay Thatcher ultimately made the trip in and did open late that morning. Marchpane, the bookstore in question, is devoted to antiquarian children’s books. There was a time when I pursued that interest more vigorously, but always just following my nose to what I like (cats generally) and I have never learned much about the ways of old books – what makes them desirable or valuable. A recent gift (highlighted in Good Cats and Bad Cats) lead me back to buying books (Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball and The Robbers Squeak) and I was intrigued with the idea of what I might dig up at Marchpane on this wintery morning.

Yesterday’s readers know I had purchased my first-ever Louis Wain item in the form of an engraving taken from a broadsheet publication earlier in that morning. So when Natalie pulled out Merry Times illustrated by Louis Wain I realized that perhaps Louis Wain was going to be the theme for this trip. I believe she also had a Louis Wain Annual, but I quickly realized I was all about Merry Times. Like all Louis Wain items, it was intimidatingly expensive even for holiday Pam with pent-up toy money to burn in her pocket, but before I get into that let’s take a romp through Merry Times and see what was getting under my skin.

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The most interesting part of this book for me is the positively whack-a-doodle story first in the book, The Holiday Home, which is a bizarrely bleak tale (considering that I believe this volume is meant for children) about homeless cats at holiday time and an anthropomorphic wealthy cat who is out collecting funds for the poor cats. Sadly it points out the truth that people will frequently just leave a cat behind after a vacation some place, or move house without taking the pet – my mother was in the animal rescue end of things for years and as hard as it is to believe it frequently happens. This story, and others in the book, are a mix of anthropomorphic cats with regular cats and dogs. The human cats are the more take charge and the catty cats and dogs are either children or just animals. Most of the stories are jollier than this one, but others still have some dark overtones. Wain’s drawings are just starting to get stranger, but haven’t really achieved their later more pop-eyed appearance.

Meanwhile, I realize I have neglected to share some of the facts about this publication. While it was illustrated by Louis Wain, the writing is credited to Dorothy Black, Grace C. Floyd, Norman Gale & others. There is no copyright year marked and some quick research turns up that this is not the first printing from 1917, as originally noted by the seller, but a later 1925 reprint which notably has additional text and illustrations. Inscribed in wonderful childish writing on the inside cover in scratchy pencil is From Dorothy To Derick with love and kisses for a happy Xmas XXXXXX.

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Frontispiece for Merry Times, Pams-Pictorama.com collection. Evidently this is a key difference between the earlier and later editions of the book.

 

I am sharing a few of my other favorite illustrations from the book below. Sorry, I was not able to scan these – the spine of the book is too fragile. You will have to make due with photos taken on Kim’s desk. And for those of you careful readers who are still wondering why I have gone all these years, collecting cat items and until now never flipped for a Louis Wain item, I am afraid you will have to wait for the final installment of this story next week!

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Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 1

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have been working up to a big Louis Wain post for a few weeks since my trip to London. I alluded briefly to my Wain purchases in my posts London Fog, Chapter 1 and London Fog: Chapter 2, a trip that was toy poor but provided other buying opportunities, it also most notably broke a long held prejudice I secretly harbored against acquiring Louis Wain associated artifacts.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, Mr. Wain (1860-1939) is attributed with single-handedly introducing comic, anthropomorphic cat drawings into world-wide post-Victorian popularity. Started as a drawings and sketches of their cat to entertain his ailing wife, who it seems was dying of breast cancer, these drawings quickly captured public imagination and catapulted him into a career that was almost exclusively devoted to cats. Over time the cats became more pop-eyed and decidedly more human, the humor more pointed, occasionally a bit dark. I have, in prior posts (most specifically Kitten Class), referred to some Victorian cats advertising that likely pre-dates and may have even informed him, but it would seem that it took Mr. Wain to launch the cat as comic subject into popular conscience. One article I read said that there was a time in Great Britain when virtually every home had a Louis Wain print – not unlike the prints of dogs playing poker of a later, American era.

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Louis Wain painting not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection, card playing cats just for fun!

 

Wain was hugely prolific – the same article claims that at the height of his career he was probably churning out more than 1,500 cat drawings annually. Given this, there certainly isn’t a dearth of Louis Wain art available today. Still, despite the vast number of prints, postcards, books, drawings and even sculptures, his work in every and any form fetches a huge premium, which explains one of the reasons I have been reticent to join the fray on the collecting front. However, I too have of course, always been entertained by them and have been tempted over time.

Also famously, Louis Wain eventually descends into insanity, but continues drawing, and his cats get quirkier and more abstract until they become a color psychedelic almost unidentifiable design. He is eventually institutionalized, but keeps producing drawings although I am unclear on the dissemination and publication of these.

I begin my Louis Wain odyssey with the purchase of this early print illustration I am sharing today. I purchased it on that dreadful snowy Friday morning I was spending near Leicester Square in a romantic mews I have always enjoyed. I was already realizing that the extreme weather was going to have a seriously negative impact on my limited free time in London however. I had a few hours before an afternoon meeting and I started with a print store I have spent many hours in over the years. My memory was that at one time, in contrast to the nice and pricey matted objects in trays upstairs, that there used to be boxes with scraps of old prints and even the occasional book, in the basement. If it was that store, or a similar one nearby that has gone out of business I am unsure. Regardless, the proprietor had made his way to work that morning, and when I discovered this item in the basement (sans boxes of lower end items) I decided to break the self-imposed Wain ban and reward the seller for his efforts to open his shop by purchasing this item.

This clipping, a page from a large publication, is identified as Christmas Number of the Sporting and Dramatic News, December 3, 1892. I am told that his break through illustration was sold as a Christmas drawing in 1884 and that it was two more years after that before he illustrated his first children’s book. This would put this illustration eight years after that first illustration sold, but before he achieves his later best known, more broadly comic style.

With the title, What’s This? and identified as L. Wain he perfectly captures the curiosity of these kitties eyeing this insect. He has signed the image itself and there is another mark I cannot make out which I assume is the engraver’s. I like the limited use of color which gives this a bit of warm and brings out the image. However, most of all, I like the little claws emerging on each of the kits! Cats #3 and #4 (in line, left to right) are emerging toward full blown Louis Wain style. All eyes are on that bug which is slated to be a snack for one of these fellers if he doesn’t skitter fast! For comparison, below is a later painting of a similar theme I snatched off the internet. Cats and bugs have legs as a subject.

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Louis Wain painting, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection, spiders remained a theme!

 

The tale of my purchases, more about my antipathy toward buying Louis Wain memorabilia and other strange tributaries of this story to be continued in subsequent installments. Pictorama readers take note!

 

 

London Fog, Chapter 1

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Window at Marchpane

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am perched in a cramped hotel room as I start this. Tucked under the eaves in a huge, ancient building that is a labyrinth of stairs and hallways – I have gotten lost twice, perhaps the only times I have ever gotten lost in a hotel in a life that has incorporated a fair amount of far flung travel. This establishment also has the virtue, so to speak, of having been the coldest hotel room I was ever walked into when I arrived. (I managed to get heat into the room eventually – evidently Wynton could not and was rumored to have slept in his hat.) London has been experiencing extraordinarily bad weather, unused to snow and generally at a time when they might be expecting winter to start to break toward snowdrops, crocuses and spring, it snowed daily since I arrived earlier this week. Although total accumulation never exceeded several inches London was pretty much in shut down mode.

Let me back up a bit – I came to London to raise interest in (and of course money for) the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra – my primary purpose was a party hosted by an the British arm of an interested fraternal organization. If having an event in another country wasn’t difficult enough (it is) then the snow was the final kicker for this one. I readily admit that I was already a bit frayed when I arrived and, despite London being one of my favorite cities in the world, the city I know best outside of New York, and one where I even had the advantage of speaking the language, the event details were onerous, multiplying hourly with the weather. (We spent days looking for a piano for the venue – no one would deliver one in the snow – then briefly, we had three, finally one.) I was very grateful to have an extremely capable colleague here with me helping to manage it all. Still, when you are off your game you just are and I have been – I commenced by mangling a series of, expensive, tube cards (first de-magnatizing one by placing it near my phone, then jamming another in a machine when I should have just waved it, lost the damn thing about a million times once I realized it couldn’t be near any magnets, credit cards or near my phone) and even lost my trousers after hurriedly changing before our event.

The first two nights of the trip ran very late – the time difference was in out favor however and therefore 1:00 and 2:00 AM respectively were doable for this early-to-bed and early-to-rise Pictorama Pam. However, despite exhaustion, the morning after our event I rallied and rose early for the Bermondsey flea market.

Bermondsey is in South London and the trip required some planning to execute, especially in my somewhat ham handed and under-caffeinated mental state. When I got there I had a long, snowy, cold walk to the flea market site. Despite Google and the cheerful blue moving dot on the map, I was unable to locate the market. Freezing and dripping with snow, I finally broke down and wandered into a cafe and purchased coffee and a bagel. Turns out that the flea market should have been within sight of the cafe – it had not opened that day because of the weather. I curled up with my hot coffee and regrouped.

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Bermondsey Cafe

 

I texted my contact at the Bulgari Hotel to see if I could locate my trousers (a delightful birthday purchase I had no intention of losing) and no one could. I took off to the hotel to see if I could find them myself. This took me to Central London where I could execute that and treat myself to a trip to Leicester Square to see if any of my favorite haunts survived the past decade of my neglect.

Trousers retrieved and in hand, a half hour later I found myself in a mews close to Leicester Square where I was pleased to find that a favorite antiquarian children’s bookseller, Marchpane, is still in residence – although sadly closed due to the inclement weather. The print dealer across the news told me that they had been shut all week – people having trouble getting in from outside of Central London – the snow really piling up out of town.

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Wet plate image from Victorian photos at the National Portrait Gallery, I believe by Oscar Rejlander

 

I restored my frazzled peace of mind by visiting some old favorites at the National Gallery as well as a splendid Victorian photography exhibit at the Portrait Gallery and a small exhibit on the British Sufragette. Afterward, on a whim, I routed myself through increasing snow, back past the bookstore. Blissfully, it had opened! Things were looking up at last. A charming young woman with mesmerizing tiny crystals highlighting her face like 21st century beauty marks, bright blue eyebrows and hair, and a very fetching black hat. For contrast, she sported canary yellow trousers and a blue velvet jacket – a woman after my own heart. Over the next 40 minutes or so I learned that she is Natalie Kay Thatcher – illustrator, book seller and writer (NatalieKayThatcher.com).

 

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Natalie poses for me at Marchpane!

 

I explained my mission – rather specifically cat-themed children’s books – and my sodden disappointment at the failure of Bermondsey to materialize that morning. She was evidently not the least bit surprised that someone would be traveling to London trying to acquire antique toy cats and related items. We commiserated about my bad luck, discussed collecting and toys and soon were thick as thieves. She even invited me to peer into a box of toys in the basement of the store – oh bliss! She brought out a delightful large stuffed bunny which was tempting (he is definitely someone – he was wearing trousers and a vest) to see if I knew anything about him. Glorious bunny, but my mission was very much cat today. Nonetheless, I felt my feathers finally start to un-ruffle as we discussed under-appreciated juvenile series – she is researching some interesting sounding, obscure wartime children’s literature. Pam’s Pictorama came up and so did Waldo – and lo and behold – she had read Alias the Cat! Now my cat collection made much more sense and had context.

We shared some girl talk and she called a friend and former employer in Covent Garden who owns a store specializing in toy theaters. Until recently the store also sold some antique toys. He was unloading a shipment though and it wasn’t clear if he would be available later. Meanwhile Natalie also unearthed not one, but two very splendid Louis Wain books. They were, not surprisingly, quite dear. One in particular caught my attention. I decided I should not be impulsive and went off to eat my lunch around the corner and think about it. I had an appointment in another part of town at 3:00 and had to watch the time. I decided that Covent Garden could wait until later in the day and reluctantly I took my leave, back out into the snow, the siren song of the Louis Wain book taking up residence in my head.

Nearby I passed by a hole-in-the-wall tea shop where I had eaten many meals, and was amazed to still find it there. Ultimately I passed it up in favor of a café located where another favorite place had been, but definitely different, and less dodgy looking than the tea shop. I curled up with hot soup and lots of hot tea to warm myself up and take stock. Talking to Natalie about Kim and the kitties and my delightful life in Manhattan made me a bit homesick but, at least briefly, left me restored by finding a kindred spirit out in the far flung world.