Maud Powell

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last week I wrote from my mom’s home in New Jersey as I occasionally do. Shortly after pressing the publish button on that post I decided to take on the task of going through some things that were unearthed and put aside for my examination during their move a little more than a year ago.

Numerous emotionally packed things spewed forth in that exploration, many small  sentimental items of my father’s – his penknife, passports and driver’s license among them. I am pleased to have them and over time I may eventually write about those, but there was also a box of my sister’s jewelry, mostly small things she wore when she was younger, and in most ways least really of all is a tiny item I am writing about today.

This button intrigued me in part because my sister Loren was not a collector of buttons. To the extent there was a designated button collector and wearer in my family it would have been me. I was the keeper of the political buttons my father gathered on the endless Presidential campaigns he trailed from start to finish as a news cameraman; I had a collection of early smiley buttons. Remember those? (I was a collector of things as I hatched out of the womb evidently. All these early collections have vanished incidentally. I didn’t really learn how to latch onto things until I was older.) Even in college I was still pinning interesting buttons to the old army jacket I wore, and on the labels of the thrifted men’s jackets I favored in 1986. (A friend’s Instagram post of her in college sporting one she bought when we were together in Red Bank, NJ reminded me of that.)

So I was surprised to find this early button saved with Loren’s things, except that it is of a woman violinist and she played and loved the violin. Few things take me back to my childhood faster than certain violin solos which my sister would have practiced endlessly, usually picking up her violin to practice starting around 10:00 pm, after finishing her homework, and playing well into the night. We all learned to go to drift off to her playing since Loren herself never needed more than a few hours of sleep. For years after she died I found I couldn’t listen to violin music without crying.

As it turns out, Maud Powell is not a footnote figure in the history of American classical music. She was a top drawer, famous musician, internationally ranked, and according to Wikipedia the first American violinist of either sex to claim that distinction. Powell was also the first instrumentalist recording star of the Victor Talking Machine Company.

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Born in a suburb of Chicago in 1867 she was a child prodigy discovered at the age of 9. When she was 13 her parent’s sold the family home to fund her studies and career which took her to Europe, and where she first debuted before returning to the United States. Several online sources site her as an advocate for music by black and women composers, including having commissioned a composition by Sierra Leone-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. She made a point of playing for underserved communities routinely. However, in 1919 she collapsed on stage with a heart attack and died the following year, age 52 while on tour, after a second attack.

A biography of her was published in 1986 and there is a Maud Powell Society which has an online presence. NPR did a short piece on Powell receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2014. She was the first female instrumentalist of any instrument or genre to do so at the time. (A distinction I assume stands today, but I am sketchy on the Grammy awards.) Peru, Illinois sports a statue to her according to a Youtube fan of one of her recordings posted there. The Youtube selection of her music appears slim (you can sample it here) although several albums appear to be available in an online search.

The back of the pin helped to confirm that it was indeed old and not a later reproduction. you cannot easily read it in the photo here, but this pin was made by the Whitehead and Hoag Co…buttons, badges, novelties and signs Newark, NJ. (The company was extant until 1959.) I found it interesting that this company, established in 1892, in 1896 introduced and patented the pin back pin. For those of you who thrill to pin back or NJ manufacturing history and wish to explore it more deeply I refer you to a fellow blogger, Newark’s Attic and the post The Whitehead and Hoag Company.

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I will never know how Loren stumbled on this item as she was far less likely to meander through flea markets and antique shops than I was. However, it is easy to understand the appeal and why I would find it, tucked away, saved and waiting for me in a time capsule of her things.

 

 

 

 

Breakfast

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s early Sunday morning and instead of being curled up at our computer at the far end of Kim’s work table, which is where most mornings find me, I am propped up in bed in “my” room at my mom’s house in Fair Haven, NJ. Pictorama readers have found me here before and therefore might guess that I have cobbled together my breakfast from my mom’s mostly vegan offerings. Although only exercised infrequently, it is an alternate routine of sorts. I scrounge coffee and a bagel and take it back upstairs so I don’t have to face her hungry cats with the decision of whether or not I should intercede on their behalf, break ranks and feed them early.

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Mom’s cat Red joins me on a sunny spot on the bed while I write this

 

I myself have a cat-like craving for routine and a green smoothie and (very large) coffee in hand is how I start most days at home while at the computer and chatting with Kim. I try not to get sucked into my work email and instead read the newspaper online (prize or interesting tidbits read out loud to Kim, who in turn proffers some stream of consciousness thoughts while he works) or if it is the weekend work on a blog post.

I wrap up with a look at Twitter and Instagram (see last week’s post which describes my cheerful all-cat, all-early-film preferences on social media) and then, if it is a weekday I begin the process of getting ready for work. I like to get there early and frankly it isn’t an early morning kind of place so being there first isn’t that hard to achieve. Today’s post is about the space between leaving the cocoon of the apartment and arriving at work, although I will perhaps devote a future post to the Q train, which deserves one of its own and skip that part of my routine. (As someone who walked to work for years taking the train each morning was a big change.)

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I have lived my entire adult life in New York City, so I don’t know if the daily commute to work kicks off sufficiently different elsewhere. We live in a building in the Yorkville section of the most Eastern part of upper Manhattan. Our building, christened in 1960, is of an anonymous white brick facade where one in a rotating series of doormen are the last folks to say have a good day each morning. I always feel as if they should also hand me my brown bag lunch as my mom used to do on my way to the school bus each day.

I have written before about my chosen neighborhood diner previously in my post Cornered (found here) and also about the role a local diner played in my walking commute to the Met each morning – a tradition that I mourned a bit in my post, here,  about leaving that job after 30 years. Starting on my first day of work at Jazz at Lincoln Center I began sizing up my breakfast options. I eventually began dividing my breakfast consumption between a bodega and a restaurant – on either end of the block that is the west side of Seventh Avenue between 57th and 58th.

The bodega is less expensive. Starting with this new job, I fell into the habit of purchasing flowers for my desk  at the start of each week and the bodega wins many Mondays because it also sells flowers. The downside to it is coffee that is not great and the fact that the construction workers, who put in long days on the towering structures near my Columbus Circle office, form long lines and purchase baskets piled with staggeringly high calorie breakfasts of eggs, cheese, sausage and bacon, coffee and other drinks.

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Office flowers one day recently

 

On the other corner, my preferred establishment was a restaurant with take out in one half of it. The waiters and coffee guys. a rotating cast of musicians. occasionally belting out a rather stunningly good renditions of Happy Birthday (yes, at breakfast and I cannot explain that) for an appreciative customer. I often wonder to myself if being a few short steps from Carnegie Hall was encouraging or discouraging for them.

The short order cooks, a non-singing crew, generally remember my regular order. Then, as things do in New York, it closed abruptly one day. It took me a few days but I eventually found the cooks, but not the singing waiters and coffee guys, at a chain restaurant called Roast Kitchen and, after an initial snobby resistance to breakfast at a chain restaurant began to frequent it.

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Morning at Roast Kitchen, 57th Street near Seventh Avenue

 

My order varies daily, although my large coffee with skim milk is consistent. One of the men there offers me a blessed day whenever he waits on me (or sees me) which was a bit surprising at first, but I have come to appreciate. After all, blessing is good. They offered me the rare free coffee or even lunch on occasion – as at one point they also became my midday salad provider. (I am especially fond of the spicy pumpkin seeds, pepitas.)

The regular cast includes three men – the man who blesses me, another man who does most of the cooking and is the least friendly, and a very young man who seems only capable of the most simple tasks at hand. (Making your coffee is, for example, a bit complicated for him, especially when combined with the cash register. However, he seems to be reasonable adept a making the soup base and the prep for the later lunch.) There is an occasional woman working the register, but not often. They appear more frequently to help at lunch.

One of the things that interests me about it is that, despite being a chain restaurant, they actually do seem to cook there. I see stock being made each morning for the daily soup, the oatmeal homemade as well – it isn’t just all dropped off a truck from a shared kitchen in another borough. Hot greens with a pile of grain offerings isn’t my thing for lunch, but the salad made to order is acceptable – sometimes with a slab of roast salmon, but most often not. There is only mysterious artisanal and I tend to avoid it.

Lunch caters to a broad population, office inhabitants like myself, students and teachers from The Art Student’s League next door, and there is a long line snaking through the storefront. No time for any pleasantries – all business at lunch – as am I, feeling lucky if I have managed to duck out for the ten minutes round trip to get the aforementioned salad.

Meanwhile, the whole point of the breakfast interaction is that it also be briefly efficient and mine is generally satisfyingly so. Yet, it is an important interlude in the space between the subway and the office, as I move from one world to the next and prepare for the rigors of my day. It is a friendly oasis these days between and not unlike the doormen at my building each morning, they send me on my way with their well wishes for a good day and hopes to see me later – and a paper bag with a hot breakfast in my hands and I am repeatedly grateful – and yes, in fact somewhat blessed.

Premium

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Something given as a reward, prize, or incentive…Early 17th century (in the sense ‘reward, prize’): from Latin praemium ‘booty, reward’, from prae ‘before’ + emere ‘buy, take’. From the Oxford English Dictionary.

Pam’s Pictorama: For me one of the amazing and tantalizing pleasures of existing in the moment of time and space that I do is the relative availability of various premiums from the past. These items, only obtainable previously through either luck (think Cracker Jack) or by dint of labor (collecting cereal box tops shall we say), the products of early, crafty advertisers, are available now to us for examination and purchase more or less at will. It’s hard for me to describe how entertaining I find this to be – booty is the perfect word indeed, treasure! To a large degree, just being able to actually see them is enough, but yes of course, sometimes I find myself with a hankering to possess them as well.

I first became aware of this particular bounty while working my way through a Hake’s auction catalogue. On the festive occasion that those folks sends me one of their fat color catalogues I like nothing better than to curl up in bed and read every page, pointing out the best stuff to Kim. (If the folks from Hake’s are paying attention I would like to point out that I rarely disappoint them on the occasion of receiving their missive and have made many a purchase I may have not discovered online. I wrote a little ode to the Hake’s catalogue once which can be found here.) In the process of this, I have discovered things I never knew existed that deeply interest me. Among these are strange political buttons of elections long past and a wide variety of premiums – give aways from everything, cereal to radio program tie-ins. Most with origins I am at least passingly familiar with, although some dimly at best.

Therefore it is fair to say my fascination with these items is not linked to a particular affiliation with the origin. I can deeply enjoy perusing Lone Ranger premiums (silver bullet ring anyone?) while being only passingly familiar or interested in the lore of the Lone Ranger, his comrades and their adventures, having personally only ever been exposed to the television show as fodder for Sunday afternoons in my childhood. The rings alone – those that might decode, magnify, signal or contain a bit of mythical meteorite – tempt. Truly I would like to own them all and have only barely contained myself, limited by space, money and time.

Obviously where advertising and premiums intersect with felines I have made acquisitions (for example I opine on some splendid pin trays which sit happily on my dresser in my post Corbin Canadian Cats which can be found here), however I do wander astray occasionally however and give into something. Today’s item, this wonderful Little Orphan Annie Ovaltine mug purchased for me by Kim, is an example I am especially pleased with. It was easily obtained – I imagine the bar for acquiring it set purposely low and therefor in a sense still is – and you can all have one if you want. We paid a nominal amount for this very pristine example. I believed that it came in this cream color or a white version when I bought it. I purchased a cream colored one – but I now realize as I photograph it that the cream reads white – maybe all are cream colored? Ultimately I chose this one because of it’s utterly unworn state. It looks like it just came out of the box.

These mugs, manufactured exclusively for The Wander Co., Chicago makers of Ovaltine (as per the bottom of the mug) were evidently a tie in with the Little Orphan Annie radio broadcast, sponsored by Ovaltine from 1931-1940. I gather this was an extraordinarily effective tie in and, in the day, one rarely thought of the radio program without also thinking of Ovaltine.

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I have only a passing experience with Ovaltine from my own childhood. It wasn’t a favorite by any means but wander through it did. In my mind it was a lesser cocoa additive than the Nestle or Hershey scoop-able brown powders or (best of all) syrup that was preferred. My memory is that I sort of liked that it was more granular than powder which made it more interesting to dispense. I am not sure that the concept of it being more of a malted drink than a chocolate one was entirely coherent to me although my tastebuds knew it and preferred chocolate. I gather there was a nominal component of it being nutritious?

This mug surprised me by being somewhat child-sized, not tiny, but as an adult more appropriate for expresso than your morning cup of joe, which means I will not be using it for that end. I dearly love the image of Sandy on the back. I deeply regret that I have never found a Sandy toy that seems to entirely capture his mercurial charm. I continue to search. I am very enamored of the one I wrote about in my post Sandy Finds a Home which can be read here, but cuddly he is not. I would like to find a nice mohair version, something you can imagine a child taking to bed at night.

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Sandy, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Little Orphan Annie is enjoying a prolonged vogue in our home. Kim is reading his way through the series, via the IDW volumes for the most part, and is currently enjoying and very involved in 1935. I read one of the volumes several years ago and intend to get back to it now that they are all in the house or will be. For now he recounts highlights and occasionally points out whole strips for my delectation. Weekend mornings are his primary comic strip reading time – while I work on these posts as a matter of fact.

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The siren call of premiums has started to take hold of me however and I think Pictorama readers can anticipate a trend here. The lure of these items, hard won and carefully hoarded for us future generations, is one I cannot seem to resist.

 

 

 

A Parade of Toys: Part One

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I am the first to admit this year I was a bit indulgent over my birthday, and Kim nicely enabled me to a nice degree. Last weekend I covered what ended up being day two and day three of a glorious birthday week. Today, I circle back and start at the beginning. So many treasures did I acquire in this first foray, the day before my actual birthday, that it will take at least a few photo and several toy posts to fit it all in, so now I begin.

Last year on my birthday I discovered a gem of a toy store I had somehow missed, located in my own backyard, over the past several years. It is called, quite simply The Antique Toy Shop (you can visit their site here) and it is the sort of El Dorado of antique toys that I haven’t had locally in years. It’s most recent predecessors in my affection were a tiny hole in the wall operation in Greenwich, Village owned by a remarkably elderly man which was a bit too neat, very expensive and had a few too many toy soldiers to really satisfy my toy yen deeply, and another store that never quite took root, across the street from the Film Forum movie theater. However that one skewed toward somewhat later toys and I have never really been someone fishing in my own past – I like to go back further, to the earlier part of the 20th century. This recently discovered, tiny outpost is a true trove of Pictorama pleasure.

Anyway, a friend out-of-town inquired about this establishment and I looked it up. At the time it was located in a strange high-end antique mall in Manhattan’s east fifties which I had never been aware of. One summer weekend Kim and I hiked down there only to find it closed. I believe the next time I checked online I found it had moved to Chelsea and for whatever reason, it wasn’t until my birthday last year that we made the trip to one of the last antique strong holds in Chelsea, across the street from the remnants of the weekend market that used to thrive there, now a handful of vendors holding onto this last gasp, a building that houses three floors of dealers in antique clothing, jewelry and a delightful variety of other things. (A reminder of that day’s haul can be found here and here.)

As fulfilling as my online toy buying experience has been (and Pictorama readers know how, um, deeply I have supported this industry) there is nothing like a well curated collection which represents someone else’s vision and therefore introduces you to things you never knew you would love and well, need. And I do love that on the website for the The Antique Toy Shop the owner, Jean-Pol Ventugol, declares, Nothing useful, you don’t need it, you DESERVE it. For you or your beloved collector, it’s the only place of it’s kind in New York. Packed with childhood dreams from the floor to the ceiling. A man after my own heart!

Jean-Pol did not immediately recognize us when we arrived. Perhaps in years to come he will develop that sixth sense around Christmas and my February birthday, as has my toy dealing compatriot Regine Beghin in Belgium. She knows when to tempt me with prime offerings and her thoughtful greetings and emails add cheer, both personal and toy related, to each of these events annually. Anyway, last year was a mere introduction. This year we walked out pleasantly laden with toy take.

Mr. Ventugol does not exaggerate when he says his shop is packed from floor to ceiling – it quite literally is. So tightly packed is it that we stripped off our heavy down jackets and left them outside the door; I parked my shoulder bag (large enough to potentially contain my toy loot) and handbag safely on a corner of the floor in order to move as unimpeded as possible in his space and not be in danger of knocking into toys. Jean-Pol’s taste runs ever so slightly to the masculine for my own taste (he has a thing for these sort of glorious toy race cars which I can absolutely appreciate but fall outside my areas of obsession) and which takes the occasional fascinating turn toward things like early bikes. (If I ever were to purchase a bicycle I would certainly check in with him first.) His stock runs from the late 1800’s through the 1970’s, with a broad swath in the early 20th century, right where I like it.

Oddly, I have yet to purchase an actual toy cat from him – he is evidently not particular to them. As you can see, today we start out with this rather splendid Donald Duck (or as I like to think of it, a Donald Duck variation) Chein brand tin wind-up toy. Last year’s take away was a delightful felt covered wind-up pig which plays the fiddle, so the shop has broadened my horizons.

J. Chein & Co. was an American toy company started at the dawn of the 20th century and bumping along until the 1980’s. These early 20th century tin wind-up toys are what I think of as their real metier and although I don’t collect them deeply, I find the occasional one irresistible, usually for its wind-up movement. As I think I have shared before – it is the movement of tin toys that first attracted me to collecting, both wind-up and early battery toys. I am a sucker for the sputtering feet of this duck which provide his waddling walk. (I just wound him up and our cat Cookie sat up to take notice. Blackie, however and as is his tendency, remained asleep undisturbed or interested. Cookie however, is deeply interested and stares intently at me and Donald. She’s thinking – deep cat thoughts.) There is nothing like great toy movement to get my happy endorphins to kick in.

This is already a wildly meandering post so I will not go into the (rather fascinating) history of the Chein company too deeply. However a thumb nail of highlights are as follows: the company was founded in a loft in New York City, the original founder, Julius Chein died in a horseback riding accident in Central Park. His brother in-law, owner of the rival Mohawk Toys, took it over and merged the two enterprises. In addition, Chein was the producer and supplier of the early metal Cracker Jack toy prizes. (See here for a recent post on early Cracker Jack prizes, and do rest assured I have quite a future Cracker Jack post or posts in the making as they have become a new sub-genre of my collecting mania.) I also find it interesting that Woolworth’s was the later major client of Chein and as a result their financial fortunes waxed and wained along with that enterprise.

My duck is the second entry of this family to enter my collection and they are shown together below. The earlier and more beat-up variation was purchased in Europe I want to say. (A Google image search turns up a great penguin variation on the theme I will need to look out for.) I think I purchased the original Donald in a large buy of toys at a flea market in Paris several years ago.  Both examples seem sport sort of strange beanies (Donald with yamaka? Why?) whose origins I am unclear on. The new fellow is in splendid condition and sports a jolly painted on cane in one feathered hand. I particularly like the fact that these toys had wind-up keys that were a permanent part of them so no fussing over potential missing keys with these. My earlier example winds and will move if held aloft, but no longer can execute his waddling walk. The new entry waddles splendidly, as duly noted by Cookie.

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Chein Donald Duck toys, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Kudos to you readers who have made it through a post which is much longer than original conceived! I will save the further exploits of my birthday acquisitions for tomorrow and beyond.

A Birthday Do-Over

Pam’s Pictorama: So when I left off my meandering tale yesterday, I had actually failed to acquire the featured small white plastic cat and we had not been able to visit the store in question, Obscura Antiques and Oddities, although the day ended well despite all. However, this sort of thing brings out the stubborn and compulsive side of my nature and I wanted that tiny kitty. (Meanwhile, I have to say there’s another whole piece to this story which I will share, where Kim and I have an absolutely splendid time at an antique toy shop in Chelsea. It will require several toy posts! But I seem to be committed to starting this story in the middle so I will continue on the path I have set for myself.)

Therefore, last Sunday we set our caps to right these wrongs and with Kim’s indulgence had a do-over of sorts. We started with Blick Art Supply and acquired the white plastic kitty and added the pig and a few drawing pencils on for Kim. (This time I immediately secured all in my handbag.) Then we made our way up to 13th Street and found Obscura open.

 

It has been about six months or more since we had paid this store a visit and I was pleased to find some new stock. The photographs I acquired relate to earlier finds at the store. This page of cat and dog photos definitely belongs to the same family album I wrote about shortly after discovering this store in my post A Page of Life (which can be found here) which was a leaf from an album created on the pages of a publication on steam boilers. This one seems to be slightly different, but if you look carefully this is also built on a page from a previous publication – a few words sneak out in the lower left corner, Show Sault Ste. Marie in its relation to Canada, East…

Whether this method of creating an album was one of thrift or an affection for the nicely bordered pages I am unsure. As this page features the gray and white family tuxedo kitty and their sprightly terrier dog, I cannot imagine I passed it up previously so it must have somehow just made its way into the filing cabinets of photos, waiting for me to come and reunite it with its sister page. Both are shown below.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The photographer had more ambition than skill – exposures are wonky, as is printing. The glue affixing some of these to the page has further obscured the images. There is indeed a hit and miss quality to these. Still, the overall affect is endearing and tells a story and it is an interesting entry in the Victorian photo collage discussion. Notably the photographer has marked this page Rolex II in the lower left corner.

The other entry is also a bookend to an earlier post called Kodak: Box Camera (which you can find here) and I am left wondering if it is the same family and photographer or not. It is a much better – or at least much improved – photographer that made these photos. My earlier acquisition, shown second below, is a beauty of a snapshot and this new one a fair entry and also in the telltale circular image of the Kodak Box Camera. While this one lacks the great contrast of the earlier one, the new one showing a Victorian woman riding sidesaddle has a nice composition and it is a beautiful location. It is a small thing, but I am pleased to reunite these as well.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Lastly, on a whim, I purchased something unusual, this elaborate wooden photo frame. If you live in one room with most of the wall space spoken for, you generally resist such purchases, but this one just cried out to me and I capitulated. More on it when I figure out which two prized cat photos will go into the spots available – I can assure you that a photo postcard with someone posing with Felix is likely to fill the 5×7 inch spot. Hotsy totsy as I like to say!

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So, with large photo frame and photos made into manageable bundles off we went in search of a place to eat during prime Sunday brunch hour in the East Village. We found long lines out the door at most of the establishments we frequent. Therefore, on a whim, we took a chance on the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant. While I had an erstwhile urge for matzoh brei which I could have satisfied at either B&H or Veselka I made do with a bowl of soup (a variation on the split pea, lentil and barley soup my paternal grandmother used to make) and another plate of potato and onion perogies. Kim dined on a substantial grilled cheese made with what can only be described as slabs of bread.

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Ukrainian East Village Restaurant

 

I have always been a bit curious about this establishment which has been there for as long as I can remember, tucked down an industrial looking hallway, removed from the street. It has always looked like it was some sort of a private club which coincidentally served food. It reminds me a bit of many years ago when I lived in London for a time, a friend took me to a kosher lunch outpost way out on the East End of London. This somewhat makeshift lunchroom served a huge Jewish working population in the area. It was a memorably good meal and the existence of the establishment seemed a bit miraculous. This was a bit more ordinary, but it was hot and welcome after an interesting morning of shopping out in the February cold of New York’s East Village. A nice finish to the birthday fiesta this year.

 

Birthday Smalls

Pam’s Pictorama Post: So, I have this odd habit – occasionally on my birthday, almost without realizing it and while hanging out with my husband (the ever-wonderful Kim Deitch) I tend to find a tiny item which I ask him to buy for me and which become a memento of the day. Two of these are marbles, shown below. The large one lives in my winter coat pocket where I take it out occasionally to admire. The small one lives (appropriately I think) on my desk at work in a specially made Kim Deitch decorated box. (The origin story of this wonderful box can be found here called Kim’s Elephant Box.) I am not sure Kim even realizes that this is a thing that I do (I suspect that as he reads this it is the first he is finding out about it), but it seems I do.

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Beloved lucky marbles, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

This year I found a sort of perfect item early on my actual birthday. My birthday was celebrated in parts this year which turned out to be a lovely three days scattered across the week. (More about that below however.) The item in question was the tiny white plastic cat shown at top. In fact, my friend Eileen Travell has been in the habit of giving me lovely plastic animals of a slightly larger variety, those shown below and I think one acquired by me on a prior birthday, but this little fellow is very tiny indeed, could perch on a dime in fact. I found him at Blick’s Art Supply at the beginning of our celebratory birthday day and the kitty seemed to fit the bill splendidly. (Kim needed some new colored pencils, ink and paper – the fundamental supplies of a workaday cartoonist.)

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Schleich cats and pigs, Pams-Pictorama.com collection with thanks to Eileen Travell

 

Despite living in a very chaotic apartment crammed with stuff, the tiny toys have a place here too and I do a pretty good job of keeping track of them. There is a spot for many at the foot of our bed, some live on a mirrored cabinet there, others live scattered among the feet of the larger stuffed toys. As noted, several are assigned to my desk at work, having made the move from the Met, where they cheer things up. As you can see, for some reason in addition to cats there are pigs. There’s something very satisfying about these solid plastic toys and I can easily imagine happily playing with them. Those are made by a company called Schleich. For some reason I cannot explain, I have kept the tags on them all.

This year’s purchase, the cat (and pig, shown bottom) are made by a company called United Art and Education and an entire tube (or Toob as the have chosen to call it – does that seem educational?) of animals can be purchased for $12 online. We paid a premium of .99 cents for each at Blick.

My plan for the day discussed here, technically day two of celebratory birthday fun (I am starting my birthday tale in the middle this year and will circle back to day one in a near future post or posts), was to head up to a store I have mentioned before, Obscura Antiques and Oddities, on East 13th Street and Avenue A. This is a store where I am delighted to spend time pawing through their collection of photographs and picking up all sorts of the kind of bits and pieces I didn’t know I needed. For example, in the past I have purchased an ancient wooded backed hand mirror, a tiny wooden wall shelf, in addition to many photos and pages of antique photo collage. (The photo collage – sort of a passion here at Pictorama, can be featured found here.) It is what flea markets and antique stalls used to be like here, but have disappeared largely due to rising real estate values.

Unfortunately, the day went off the rails a bit starting here. It was a Monday and I had taken the day off from work since it was my birthday – a suggestion my sister made years ago but I have rarely put into practice. Obscura was closed when we got there and I was sad. Although open on Mondays they just weren’t, perhaps we were too early; I don’t know. We then wandered over to a rather splendid place where I buy a lot of my clothes, D. L. Cerney. I go way back with these folks who used to have a store on 7th Street, near McSorley’s pub.

D.L. Cerney has a line of clothing which hews to vintage design, somewhat modified, made with classic and even occasionally vintage fabrics and buttons. All are produced here in New York state and are extraordinarily well-made. Back in the early days they had a small line of actual vintage clothing and I fondly remember purchasing a pair of man’s oxfords I wore to shreds over a number of years, a lovely cotton shirt, a women’s suit made of mohair which, however, turned out to be extremely warm for my then office. They lived in memory. I stumbled across their new digs at 324 East 9th Street when returning to a vintage clothing store that briefly had residence there.

Upon my rediscovery of D. L. Cerney, I have purchased a number of pairs of men’s trousers and some lovely cotton shirts, among other things. I live in these trousers (which have heavenly deep, deep pockets – you boys are so lucky!) and wore my first pair almost every day of that snowy trip to London last year. (A bit of a tangent here. It turns out that our, brilliant, photographer at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Frank Stewart, dresses pretty much exclusively there as well. Sometimes Frank and I are twins, especially when traveling with the orchestra. The story of that snowy London trip with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra starts with a post found here.) I can only say, if you like such things, do not walk, but run to this store. I am heavily invested in keeping them in business, which sometimes it appears I am attempting to do single-handedly with my purchases.

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Photo of D.L. Cerney’s store at 324 East 9th Street, taken last spring

 

I hadn’t really meant to hold Kim hostage while I tried on clothes, but he had a book and got into a conversation with the woman who I believe is one of the owners. I was in the middle of purchasing a vest (men’s style but sized for a woman, vintage buttons, a bit neo-Annie Hall, but I decided no time like my birthday to buy my first ever vest, oddly never owned one before) when my phone exploded with texts and calls from the office. A certain beloved and well-known and generally beloved boss needed information for a meeting that was occurring in the next twenty minutes. Such is my life these days and, while still wearing the yet-to-be purchased clothing (vest and a nice pair of gray trousers too) I did my best to remedy the situation, but admittedly felt a bit peevish as such information had previously been offered and deemed unnecessary – ahem.

It was late afternoon by the time I extricated myself from work and purchased a pile of clothing. We took ourselves over to a favorite hole-in-the-wall, B&H Dairy, for a hot and restorative lunch of potato perogies, burger for Kim, soup and hot coffee.

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B&H Dairy, East Village, NY, February 11, 2019

 

Fed and considerably buoyed by the hot food, we headed home. Immediately upon arrival I went to find my plastic cat so he didn’t get lost and could achieve a place of pride somewhere in the Pictorama universe. We were devastated to discover he had not made it into the bag! Such a tiny fellow – I should have pocketed him immediately after purchase. A bit chastened, I curled up on the couch to watch TCM and consider the gravity of my 55 years when my phone rang. It was, again, the assistant to my fearless leader and I figured I would at least get the report on how his meeting went. Instead, a piano played a jazzy version of Happy Birthday which made me laugh and laugh. It would of course be impossible to stay cross with such a person!

So now you are wondering how I show you this fine, tiny white cat – and his buddy the pig. We had a Day Three, birthday re-do last week and achieved the purchase this time – and a trip to Obscura Antiques and Oddities. All this and a trip to a wonderful toy store in Chelsea and many purchases there still yet to come in what appears could be the better part of a month of post-birthday related Pictorama.

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Fervor for Ferber

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Interesting photo of Edna from the 1940’s, snatched off the internet

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have always been a voracious reader. From the time I first mastered the skill, I delved deeply, deliciously and happily into a never-ending parade of books. I started with what we would today call young adult fiction, but quickly found my way to the broader world of fiction where I have largely wandered around delightedly ever since. I am, almost exclusively, a reader of fiction – straying into non-fiction only often enough to prove the rule.

I like to read books in order if they are a series, and it is annoying to me to not be able to start at the beginning and move forward – I also am irritated by gaps; I am a completist. This is sometimes stressful when reading old and somewhat obscure books which required hunting down, purchasing. (See my post on Grace Harlowe, the Automobile Girls and the Moving Picture Girls Novels which can be found here.) When I was younger I was fairly strict about reading one book at a time. These days I am likely to have an audio one going at the gym, a few available to me on my phone and iPad, and at least one in physical form. Those last ones generally reside next to the bed in our tiny bedroom a waxing and waning pile on my side. (Kim’s side of the bed requires its own future post, with high, towering piles which threaten to bury us in a Collier brothers type demise.) The audio books tend toward lighter fiction, short stories on my electronic devices and more serious fiction preferred in book form.

I would like to note here that I am an escapist in my reading. I shy away from the tragic and generally use my reading as a way of relaxing and shutting out the world. By my own definition, I read a combination of trash and good writing – classics, juveniles, comics – my own media feed of entertainment which follows my nose. I keep lists of books on my phone, on Amazon and on my Audible account so I don’t lose track of what crosses my path out in the world which I may wish to eventually devour.

I took on Edna Ferber last summer. I began with her short stories and a short novel and devoured them, finishing with the novels I had not read in my youth. Let me state for the record – she is one hell of a short story writer. Each story is a little gem of character development. The plots are simple, but not annoyingly so, and the stories have the added attraction (for me anyway) of being miniature time capsules of her day. She wrote very much of her world and the time she was living in – a very contemporary writer. Her stories, often but not by any means always, written from a women’s perspective frequently examine the changing, but often still confined and limited, role of women as the 20th century in this country really got rolling.

Most compelling for me in some ways are the stories of the women who made up the force of nannies, cooks and house keepers for Manhattan’s wealthy of the time – a live-in work force which peeled off to their other homes in Harlem and (my beloved home) Yorkville on the rare day or evening free. Often we get both sides of those stories – Edna was as able to write about the wealthy (so successful was she as a writer and screen writer, that she eventually joined their ranks) as well as the working class – and occasionally even the middle class folks on their way up and down the economic ladder.

It was the working class and the young and making their way in the world folks that she is at her best with in my opinion. One story that stayed with me Sun Dried, a collection called Buttered Side Down (1912) is about a young woman who comes to New York to become a writer and what happens to her as she sits on the roof of her building drying her hair. (Yes, a quaint idea but not uncommon in the days before home hair dryers and a women’s fashion that valued long hair, piled high on the head, for women.)

Edna (born in 1885 and died in 1968) made a study of people and that, combined with experiences from her own life, inform these stories and color them deeply with detail and immediacy. She was an excellent observer of people and their habits – had suffered a certain amount of anti-semitism herself which seems to inform her perspective as a loner and outsider.

Project Gutenberg provided me with (free no less) download access to much of Ferber’s earlier volumes of short stories and the novella, Dawn O’Hara: the Girl Who Laughed, published in 1911, all of which are a bit scarce in their non-electronic form these days. Kim kicked off the Ferber fiesta with a sampling of her series about the corset saleswoman, Emma McChesney. He hated it. Nonetheless, it caught my imagination, although I am willing to admit that those are indeed the lesser of her short stories they got me hooked. It was the early collections such as Cheerful by Request and Roast Beef, Medium which earned my deep regard. I believe I gobbled up all of the collections of her story, although perhaps a few of the uncollected stories escaped my dragnet and will come my way eventually. I do hope so.

Edna divides her attention largely between the greater Chicago area of her youth and New York City where she eventually sets up shop so to speak. Some of her stories take the occasional trip to Europe, Gigolo comes to mind, the same way she herself periodically made the tourist tour of the Old World. A partnership with George S. Kaufman produced plays and screen plays, some which became beloved films, such as Dinner at Eight and Stage Door.

Her novels, numbering more than a dozen, also contribute more than their share to cinema and musical history. Show BoatGiantSo Big, and Saratoga Trunk are among those that come to mind. The novels are very different fare and I have read almost all of them. The good ones are great – So BigShow Boat and Saratoga Trunk – are tops and sparkle with the best of her work. But I found the novels to be a mixed bag. Generally, even the good ones, lack the cunning and often mordant character development of her short stories.

Edna traveled with me to and from New Jersey all summer as I visited my father in hospice. It was often Edna I read at his bedside if he was asleep while I was there. I read her novel about Alaska (Ice Palace, 1953, – very disappointing for me actually, suffered from very two-dimensional characters, and I love a good Alaska story) while trying to recover from a miserable summer cold which plagued me from July into August.

I spent part of one night on our couch with a cough induced insomnia, giving Kim a break from my endless hacking, dosed with NyQuil and reading the bits of her autobiography that interested me. (She wrote two and we had the earlier one, A Peculiar Treasure, in the house thanks to Kim.) In short, Edna’s voice colored and calmed me both through the terrible and the monotonous over that long summer.

By fall I was working my way through some of the remaining novels – Saratoga Trunk traveled with me as I made my way to and through California with the orchestra, reading it on the bus and backstage at various times. I adored it and remember wishing it would last longer. (I am a fast reader and flights across country or internationally require several books.) A less successful book about a Connecticut family also consumed this fall, American Beauty, 1931. I did find her hit or miss on some of the novels. Giant, which I finished over the holiday season, was middle of the road for me. It wasn’t a favorite, but it was very readable and well written. Although I will never think of Texas exactly the same after reading it.

There are still a few scraps for me to read if I can track them down. Of the novels Cimarron remains. I recently read a book of short stories by Fannie Hurst, who certainly worked the same side of the street on short stories at the same time. (She too enjoying the voracious appetite of the theater and cinema for consuming her work.) The short stories were for me just that bit more maudlin, the characters a bit sodden and sentimental – missing the sparkle I am afraid. I will give her novels (Imitation of Life and Back Street among them) a try and see what I think of those. If I find anything of interest I will, of course, let you know.