Swanning

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother is not a collector, I inherited the gene from my dad and from his side of the family. His mother loved to attend auctions here in the city and stuffed their house with carpets, furniture and trinkets. She loved costume jewelry – in many ways I am her successor. My father was an accumulator as well, garage sales, auctions. He was a man who liked stuff. While there were no toy or photograph collectors, I’m sure Pictorama readers realize that this is the category I fit into – and at least in this way I take most decidedly after the paternal side of my family. (I most recently wrote about Dad’s passion for silver in a post here.)

My mom on the other hand is not especially interested in things. She can be discerning about what she likes and prefers, but generally speaking my mother just lived among the stuff my father accumulated without being especially engaged with it or the acquisition of it. This is not to say she didn’t enjoy a trip to an antique shop or flea market – she would pick up this or that. However, she does not possess a deep affection for the items of the world, nor the acquisition of them.

Undated snapshot of my mom.

A scientist at heart my mother’s passion lies deeply embedded in the natural world. As a result I grew up with a cheerful allotment of pet cats, dogs and fish. (Two past posts addressing this roster of pets and my early life can be found here and here.) We had a vegetable garden which she planted and tended and we lived on a river where we enjoyed a passing parade of waterfowl and aquatic life. Her father was a devoted fisherman and repaired outboard motors and made fishing lures for extra money, so she knew the waters of the area well. Much of the idyll of my childhood I have shared with Pictorama readers was shaped by my mother’s views, knowledge and interests in the nature world of the seashore where we lived.

One Thanksgiving, several decades ago now, my mother noticed a flock of swans in the backyard and became intently interested in them. Before long she was feeding them as well as watching them, along with the geese and ducks which also made our river inlet home at the time. Eventually an injured one turned up and she found someone to help heal it. Slowly she became involved with a loose network of people who were knowledgeable and would help when an injured swan or goose would cross her path. I remember visiting my folks and finding that I was sharing the guest bathroom with an injured swan overnight. (He was a noisy neighbor that night!) Strangely (to my mind anyway) mute swans are an intensely political and controversial issue for people who live on or near the shore. Other than to acknowledge that it is, and that clearly my mom falls on the side of protecting this wildlife, it is not my intention to tackle that topic.

For today all this is to say that on that November afternoon my mother recognized and embraced her spirit animal and although she loves all birds (and in fact all animals) she is deeply and especially attached to swans. She has devoted much of her time and energy in subsequent years to caring for them and defending them with all the resources she could marshal. In recent years, no longer living on the water and now mostly confined to the house, I say she still wields a mighty phone and computer. Her now tiny yard remains a haven for song birds who attracted by and enjoy bird baths and feeders, as well as a garden designed to feed them and the insects. (I wrote a little about her gardening in a post here.)

While living on the waterfront those many years mom photographed the swans, along with geese, ducks, other birds and of course our cats. Those photos proliferated on the walls of the house and my father, the accumulator, brought her swan related items and in that way she became an inadvertent collector of swan stuff. However, when the time came to downsize into the house she lives in now she shed most of it without regret. I think she rather enjoys living a more pared down life.

Therefore, as her birthday approached this year, it was never my intention to purchase items of this sort for her. However, much like those first swans years ago, these presented themselves to me in recent weeks and I found myself purchasing first the pin and then the photo. The pin hails from the British jewelry dealer Mia (IG @therubyfoxes or therubyfoxes.com, my most recent past post of an acquisition from her can be found here) who told me that five flying swans is the symbol of the Nordic countries, swans of different types being the national birds of both Finland and Denmark. Although unmarked, esthetically it appears to be made in one of those countries. Mom was never much of a jewelry wearer and wears none now really, but I think she will like having this, perhaps on a piece of ribbon, pinned up near where she likes to sit most days.

Meanwhile, a week or so later when following a sale by my Halloween supplier, the Midwestern Miss Molly (IG @MissMollysAntiques who I gave a nod to just last week in a post here), I stumbled across this early photo of two swans and again I answered the call and purchased it for mom. There is something about the reflections in the water I think mom will especially like. Later today I will pick up a frame and tomorrow I head to Jersey to see mom, slightly in advance of her birthday later this month.

Sometimes when I run in the mornings I see geese or ducks here on the East River, flying by, and I email mom and tell her they were waving to her in tribute. It felt like these items also arrived on Instagram pointedly just in time for her birthday this year. Maybe although dad is gone, he is still finding a way to send a few swan items her way.

Anna Belle Knowle’s Baby Vanities

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo came to me via Molly Sims (IG @missmollystlantiques), who in some ways is my square one for my pandemic purchasing on Instagram. Her Halloween items are generally what tempt me, but she also has interesting photos. She is responsible for the Krak-R-Jak Biscuits tin box which sits on my desk and which I recently wrote about as part of my home office gear up and can be read here. (I have a number of great items recently purchased from her, several are Halloween related, which I will be sharing in the coming weeks. As it happens I just got a DM from her about an upcoming sale this afternoon so stay tuned.)

As luck would have it when I sat down this morning and started searching I hit on a group of what must have been promotional photos for sale as a group on Biblio.com. (The lot can be purchased as posted here.) Most fortunate for me, they had a brief description. The seller is in Vancouver, Washington which makes sense as these appear to be for an early 20th century performing arts school in Portland. However, my Miss Molly hails from the Midwest so this copy found its way far afield.

From the Biblio-com sale mentioned below. Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

According to the scant information provided it was a Depression era kiddie performing arts school called the Hollywood College of Music, Dancing and Fine Arts. Their information claims that students started at age 6 and reached into the teens and was, as shown, for both boys and girls. Annabelle Gertrude Knowles was the Director of the school. The photo was taken by Joseph Baker of the Baker Studio in Sandy, Oregon. While usually all of this would be enough to turn up further information, the trail went dead with these leads, perhaps because all are of the words and names are too common to conjure this rarefied tidbit of information sought. I assume that some nominal information must have been available with the clutch of photos the seller on Biblio.com has in hand. None of the named performers turn up anything I can find searching either. I did find a single obit which mentions that Betty Ross Abbott was a student at the school, although she went onto a career in real estate.

This version NOT in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.
Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

My photo, which has Annabelle Knowles Baby Vanities stamped on the front, is in better condition than the version offered in this package – as below, theirs has some paint used to improve the reproduction whereas mine is clean. Mine shows evidence of having been pasted into an album, but otherwise is in excellent shape. The five costumed little girls appear to range in age, roughly, from about eight to about early teens. The girl in the middle appears to be the oldest of them and, although she isn’t looking directly at the camera, distracts somewhat from our young man at center stage. I especially love their sort of shiny, celluloid headgear, a nod toward top hats I guess? Each has a sparkly topped cane and clever ruffles around their wrists and necks, bows on their shows.

Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Part of me is surprised that the girls are so gussied up in their costumes while the boy is at center in what appears to be a straight ahead suit and fedora. The room in question is very simple with a painting, the image which is unreadable, a drape covered window and a fern in a standing planter. The wood plank floor looks dance ready though and he seems to be perched on a stool rather than a chair. (A slideshow of the additional horizontal photos from the Biblio.com sale is below.)

The other photos offered in the package, which I am only able to supply with image grabs off my phone so apologies for the quality, are sort of wonderful and I love the why their name is applied onto the photo – Barbara Jane Wicks of the Anna Belle Knowle’s “Baby Vanities” in a neat type.

Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The story brings to mind a somewhat obscure film Kim and I remember called What’s the Matter with Helen from 1971 which is a sort of Baby Jane knock off. It stars Shelley Winters, Debbie Reynolds and Dennis Weaver in a story about two middle-aged women who move to Hollywood (California) after their sons have been convicted of a notorious murder and open a dance school for children eager to tap their way to stardom according to the IMDB database. One wonders if the Anna Belle Knowle’s Baby Vanities and studio in Hollywood, Oregon could have been in living memory and inspired the writer, Henry Farrell, born in 1920 it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

Felix with the Family at Bournemouth

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Hurricane Henri has scuttled my day two plans for vacation (it was to be cartoons being shown outside in Brooklyn tonight which I had hoped to pair with a visit via ferry to the Brooklyn Flea and of course no running along the now flooding river esplanade), so I am taking comfort in someone else’s long ago vacation photo here today. This photo is one of my favorites from the recent cache I tapped into. (I wrote about the purchases from that collection just last week in a post that can be found here.) Instead we will be huddled cozily inside today, perhaps I can curate my own cartoon fiesta via dvd and Youtube later.

The cartoon show we’d planned to see tonight. Hoping it will be rescheduled!

In the many hurricanes of my childhood and adolescence I never remember them so early in the year as this. We lived on the aptly named Waterman Avenue and it flooded routinely even without the benefit of a hurricane. My memory of hurricanes and tropical storms are always associated with fall however, usually early fall but sometimes into November, however summer vacation was never interrupted in my memory. Hurricanes were always a bit exciting with doors and windows taped up with silver gaffers tape (my father was a cameraman and we always had copious supplies of it) protecting us against wind breakage and busting open. No school obviously and the novelty of neighbors checking on us via small boats during the eye of the storm, geese at the back door, and a day spent playing board games and the like while somehow pets and humans found their way to the living room in the middle of that small house.

The church in Sea Bright shown here has remained throughout. This appears to be a fairly recent photo.

Hurricane Donna of 1960, which precedes me by several years, was the benchmark that was frequently used for reference during my childhood, a storm that was born in August, but hit the Jersey shore in early September and was notable for its destruction. (Adults would always tell me that the ocean and the river met in Sea Bright, a small spit of land and beach town I have written about a few times before. (A favorite post about the variety store frequented in childhood, Wiseman’s, can be found here. A photo of the town of Sea Bright above.) They would always point out that the water from each was a different color and that photos showed a dividing line. I have in my life seen photos and sure enough, the greener blue of the ocean and the darker of the river didn’t just mix, but stayed separate to the eye.

Mineshaft 31 with a zippy Jay Lynch cover. This one also had a bit of Kim Deitch in it.

In later years Kim and I were on a summer vacation (a rare one traveling to visit Everett Rand and Gioia Palmieri of Mineshaft magazine fame) when Hurricane Katrina hit the south and hurricanes seem to have caught up with summer vacations.

Back to our jolly Felix card which was mailed (unusual for these surviving cards of this type) on July 23, at 1:30 PM, the year is obscured on the postmark. (Any of our British clothing specialist friends want to weigh in on a possible date?) It was mailed from Bournemouth, a resort town on the southern coast of England grown out of a spa and health resort in an earlier century. There is a short note on the back of the card which (to the best of my deciphering) reads, Dear Mother, Still having a lovely time. The Weather is lovely now. We are quite comfortable. Lorie. It is addressed to, Mrs. Dailey, 71 Tennyson Road, Luton Baths. (This house still stands and appears a pretty brick terraced home according to sales photos online.) Not sure any of my other Felix photo cards are known to be from Bournemouth.

A sunny day in Bournemouth with Felix! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

It is a bright, sunny beach day in this photo; they are also quite dressed (albeit beautifully) for a beach photo on a July day, at least by our standards today. The pretty cotton dresses of the period, the hats and the men’s summer suits never fail to appeal to me. There is a woman to the far left who has a very fashionable head scarf which matches the trim on her dress. Most of the women sport pretty straw hats or a cloche type made of another light material. The men’s head gear seems to range from a a single derby, to numerous caps and a bare headed fellow or two. The linen and cotton layers of the dresses and jackets represent many collective hours of ironing I would think. Among the young and adolescent girls in the second row I will guess is the author of our card – the handwriting is not that of a child.

Back of today’s card. Perhaps you can read it better than I can?

We’ll assume this is some sort of family gathering and they have designated one of the littlest girls at the bottom, amongst a coterie of children, to hold and hoist up Felix who has joined their group. He is a somewhat smaller model Felix for this purpose, although I have numerous cards with what I think of as a portable Felix. (Also the sense of the ubiquitousness of Felix in these photos always entertains me! Of course Felix is in your family photo.) After all, while the outsized ones that appear to be the size of a child are favored with me, they were too large to lug around to mobile locations on the beach such as this. The photographer has managed to get a great vantage point above this group which is part of what makes this photo a bit more special.

Fish soup, featured in a post earlier this year.

As for me, the rain has whipped back up and is lashing the windows again. Kim, who is the process of reading several books simultaneously, has put away one and is eating a yogurt before moving onto the next. (This is hard for me to do – I am a linear reader and have difficulty maintaining more than one storyline at a time.) I will perhaps spend the day with some of my more prosaic vacation tasks around the apartment, although I still have the Red Cross Girls stuck in WWI occupied Belgium so maybe I will tend to reading a bit of that too – one has been taken into German custody and I am a bit worried about her. Since it is such a cool day perhaps I will make soup, something I haven’t managed since breaking my fingers. (My fish soup recipe, the one I will probably use as a base today, can be found here.) Good rainy day activities all I think. Time for another cup of coffee and my own deferred breakfast.

Collecting Felix Photos

Pam’s Pictorama Post Post: This card is part of the recent windfall of Felix photo postcard purchases I made recently. I am told it was a collection with a nucleus formed in the 1970’s when purchased from another collector, and then more recently purchased by a seller who goes by the moniker Andyroo on eBay and is located in the rather romantic sounding Rowland’s Castle in Britain. (A quick look on Wikipedia tells me that Rowland’s Castle is largely a quiet residential village, with four pubs and a few small shops, including a hardware store and a local convenience store, located in East Hampshire. They also note that the main local attraction appears to be a model railway depicting the village during the war. Sadly no photo.) I have tried to pick Andyroo’s brain a bit about the nature of the collection, but his answers to my inquiries are nominal while not quite all the way to curt. His regular beat seems to be china figurines so the El Dorado of Felix cards is unusual for him.

Next to my own collection, it is the first one with a significant number of these photos that I have encountered although photo postcards do not make up the majority of the collection, and I believe I have largely acquired the smattering of them in it. (I do wonder if they were part of the earlier collection – so interesting to think of these being passed from collector to collector when virtually all of mine have been one offs which seem to come from the families they were made for to a dealer and then me.) While I know there may be my counterpart out there somewhere, on the other hand it is also be possible that there are really not other people who live amongst a vast number of one-of-a-kind photos of people posing with Felix the Cat dolls of varying sizes up to those (the very best) which are the size of a not so small child. What do you think?

Pams-Pictorama.com collection, also purchased from Andyroo.

While of course I would be very jealous of the photos of such collectors (and want them – all) I would of course also be very interested to meet such a person. (If you’re out there – raise your hand!) Among postcard collectors my area is so niche as to be unknown – even at postcard shows people have never seen such cards and have no idea what I am talking about and look at me blankly when I inquire.

Also purchased recently from the Andyroo El Dorado of postcards. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The original owner of this collection did not focus on these cards and the vast part of their collection are the more typical drawn series, of which I own a few. I did buy one of those off of Andyroo, shown above, because it tickled me and that recent post can be found here.

There was an interesting few cards which were photos I own and I believe were not widely printed, but must have been printed in multiple for the people who purchased them from the photographer at the time. They also, like me, purchased the occasional person photographed with Mickey Mouse. Their collection included some of the tea cards and includes some of the earlier versions of the drawn cards. They owned a few of the stencil cards I featured recently as well. (That post can be found here and the card shown above.)

This studio photo postcard of a little girl and Felix has a mate for sale from this collection. This card Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Mostly of interest to me that this person had the two cards of kids posing on the giant black cat as shared in recent weeks here and here. These were identified as Felix cards in the selling which made me happy because I found them more easily that way although I have never thought of those as Felix before.

Drawn with a stencil and colored by hand. Pams-Pictorama.com collection. A very similar one was for sale as part of this collection.

Today’s photo was one of two prints for sale of the same identical photo. It is printed sloppily on the postcard backing which is askew. (Strangely in all the photo postcards I have seen this rarely if ever occurs.) There is nothing to identify it on the back of the card. This jolly little shaver seems pretty happy to pose with this Felix which while nice and big, is still a bit smaller than he is. Our kid is nicely and warmly dressed in a double breasted coat and hat, high socks make up for short trousers. The partial view of the person standing near shows someone in a long coat and gloves.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Felix seems to be offering an arm to the child in a chummy sort of way. He is a bit in shadow so we don’t get a very good look at him and he has something over one shoulder that I can’t quite make out, maybe something on the fence, or not. We can just sort of make out his tail which creates a tripod effect to stand him up. I wish we could see his toothy grin better.

I can’t set a good guess on date – children’s clothing is a bit ambiguous as it didn’t change much for a long time. The pretty wrought iron fence behind them has some broken bits, a few missing finials and another torn looking piece. The pebbly sidewalk makes a nice pattern on the ground and may have been a bit distinct to the place.

Note the number 2705 in the lower left which would have linked this to a sitter. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The fact that today’s card does not have a number on the front (the convention itinerant photographers used to track a photo to a customer) makes me think it was a photo set up by the family, perhaps in front of their home. This makes me wonder if this lucky little fellow actually owned this Felix or did he come as a prop with the photographer?

As for me, even I sometimes wonder at my rather unique fascination with these photos. Was I a child who especially loved my Felix doll in a past life? Had my photo take with him at some seminal moment? Or was I an itinerant photographer who lugged Felix around the resorts of Great Britain, Australia or New Zealand? This blog was original formed with the idea of organizing my photo collection into a book, although it rapidly incorporated my toy collection and then of course me. Lately I have been talking again about a book of the photos. More to come as I move that project forward!

Oceanside Kitty: Part Two

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is a wet morning as I contemplate my second, splendid cat chair card and my upcoming ferry trip to see my mom in New Jersey. (If I could figure out a universal way of referring to these cat postcards I might be able to locate more, but I tend to go with cat chair photo or giant black cat postcard. However, when I Google those phrases I generally just get my own posts. Thoughts anyone?) Should I decide that I don’t mind risking getting wet I could probably get a run in before leaving, but as it stands now it is not an inspiring view out the window.

Meanwhile, the very first thing I did when I began looking at this card was to compare it to a few others to see if it was the same cat. (That post can be found here.) This one has such jolly white toe lines and a very pointy ears and tail. If you look carefully, this cat sports a collar which is a nice touch. While it is a close match for one of my other cards, shown below, it isn’t the same cat. (Looking at the tail and the shape of the head mostly.) I think it is fair to say, however, that it is almost exactly the same spot as the other photo – the buildings behind them are identical. It is easy now to imagine that there may have been several cats lined up as options to pose on – a delightful thought.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

It is a totally different cat than yesterday’s photo and the background looks substantially different, however reviewing my past posts it turns out that these are also likely taken at Margate as well – which places a few others with very similar (same?) cat and background. (Those posts can be found here and here.) Unlike the little boy in the other photo, this little girl looks pretty pleased with herself perched on this kitty. She is dressed up for the occasion with a dress, hat, stripped socks and maryjanes, always a good look. This girl rides the kitty with aplomb.

Looking at yesterday’s feature photo, I realize that it is that Kenneth and Ruth might be riding the same cat as one featured in a photo I have owned for a long time, one of the first cat chair photos I ever purchased. Look at how similar the tails are! I should have noticed this yesterday. (The post can be read here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.
Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Unlike yesterday’s card, today’s was never sent and has nothing noted on the back so we don’t know a date or this little girl’s identity.

As I look at the spattering of rain and contemplate the prospect of a ferry trip to the shore in a few hours I will keep the stalwart British vacationers in mind. Their notes always express gratitude for when it doesn’t rain, clearly many beach holiday hours are also spent inside contending with the weather.

The ferry is always an interesting trip (IG followers will surely see some photos later) in any weather. I think I can expect the water to be a tad rough today and I will layer up for the chill too. The last time I was in New Jersey was for a concert for work – we froze in the rain then too. It was Memorial Day weekend and I came home and fell running – and broke two fingers – so I have not been back yet this summer. Regardless of weather, I am looking forward to seeing my mother and her collection of cats which has expanded by two over the past year. More on that to come.

Betty’s Cat Crew!

Oceanside Kitty: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I am celebrating a rather rarified subset of my photo postcard collection, people astride giant stuffed black cats. There appear to have been fewer festive felines for posing placed out in the world of the 1920’s and ’30’s than there were large Felix dolls and therefore fewer photos floating around in the world, nearing a century later. (If you are new to Pictorama and have no idea what I am referring to when I refer to Felix photos, some past posts featuring Felix can be found here and here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Today’s postcard is unusual in that it has been inscribed on the back and appears to have been sent, but since there is no postal mark I assume it was placed in an envelope instead of mailed as a postcard, as was last week’s post. This seems often to be the case with the photo postcards – they were rarely mailed, but sometimes have messages or notes on the back.

On the back it says (his caps):
Ruth 11 e yrs
Kenneth 2 yrs 4 mths
August 27, 1932

Dear Lizzie,
Thought you might like this Photo. We are all feeling much better for the holiday, good old Margate for Building one up. Weather is not so warm this week. Hope you are all well. love Roy

Another Margate souvenir card in Pams-Pictoram.com collection.

This card is 89 years old almost to the day! Ruth and Kenneth look very happy perched and posed here on a slightly lumpy version of this Margate kitty photo op. Ruth’s legs are long enough to just about touch the ground, but Kenneth looks like he is kitty jockey racing along. They are clad in swim clothes (love the swim shoes of the day – so practical!) although the weather may be a bit overcast – could be the film of the day, unable to record clouds in the sky. Some out of focus, empty beach chairs seem to be set up behind them.

Several of my photo postcards confirm their origin as Margate (this is the Margate of Great Britain, although one of my photo posts does hail from Margate, New Jersey, also a beach community where a giant elephant hotel holds court – that post can be found here), which I read has been a source of seaside respite for over 250 years. (Two other Margate cards can be found here and here.) I suspect that many others originate from there as well and are just not identified as such. If the mercurial British weather held, you could have a rollicking good time there I gather.

As I limp toward my own summer vacation after a very long year, I am so glad that Ruth, Kenneth and Roy are feeling better for the holiday – and I vaguely yearn for a 1930’s Margate of the mind for my vacation; one that will build one up! The relatively carefree days of surf, sun and sand appeals to my worn out state. My guess is that there was a fair amount to get away from in Britain in 1932 – the Depression was raging there as it was here in this country. A seaside holiday was likely a luxury in every sense.

From an earlier Margate postcard post, Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Aside from a slowly growing pile of reading material and a nascent list of films, Kim and I have few if any formal plans for the end of August this year. I have a vague pledge to myself to go through the closets and deal with the mounting moth problem at the best I can – finally rooting through a work wardrobe which has now sat for almost two whole seasons, while I first gained weight and now head down to a weight lower than where I started in March of ’20. I suspect this must means a huge clearing out. For now I am planning to stick to a rotation of a very few sun dresses and attempt to find their equivalent for the fall as I, hopefully, find my way out of Adidas track pants and into something more presentable. But obviously this is task related and not really vacation relaxing.

My co-worker, Blackie, earlier this week.

So, while resolving that issue and hopefully at least putting a dent in the moth colonies in the process, I have not exactly figured out what will relax me. I realize that removing the email app from both phone and computer would be the smartest thing (or just throwing them in the East River) it is sadly not practical for this year.

I will try to limit my involvement in the office however, while increasing my time outdoors, running and walking, visit my mom at the shore, read those books and listen to some music. Kim and I have much catching up to do, despite spending all of our time together, much of that is spent working. Cookie will get many tummy rubs and Blackie can rule the desk chair, although I suspect he will miss fighting me for it and of course his daily Zoom fix – I however, will not!

Felix at the Chelsea Arts Ball

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Recently I have been in the midst of chasing down the remains of a Felix postcard collection, but this one popped up on its own from a different source in the middle of it. Felix on parade could be a real sub-genre of Felix photo collecting. Unlike the photo postcards of folks posing with Felix which hail exclusively from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the parade photos are as often from the US. While many seem to be variations on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloons, the best of them are from small parades elsewhere in the county. (Some of these previous examples can be found in posts here and here. Some of the photos from those posts are pictured below.) However, it has been a long time since one has come up for purchase. Hang onto your hats though folks – I think this is an interesting one.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Today’s comes to Pictorama from Great Britain and celebrates the Chelsea Arts Ball. The card was never sent. The only information printed on the back is Pathe Freres Cinema Ltd. Series Copyright. It turns out to be the 1922 edition of the ball. A bit of further research reveals that the design was overseen that year by artist Fred Leist and the theme (somewhat ironically as I write now in 2021) was Brighter London 100 years Hence. (I am thinking another worldwide pandemic was not on his mind at the time having just lived through the 1918 one.) That year the revelers danced to the Ceadon-West Orchestra, noted as a Big Band, but I cannot find many traces of them online.

Meanwhile, the Chelsea Arts Ball dates back to 1891, as far as I can tell from a brief history on the website of the club, (found here – and note the image of Felix on the side of their building in the photo!) having grown out of a tradition of fancy dress parties in the studios of artists in the 1880’s. It was meant to rival the already established Arts Club of Mayfair. (A side note that women were not admitted for membership in the Chelsea Arts Club until 1968!) The balls typically seemed to take place over New Year’s and/or Mardi Gras and eventually settled in at the Royal Albert Hall as a venue for a decades long run until the 1958 one was so raucous (Wikipedia sites, rowdiness, nudity and public homosexuality – which was illegal at the time – as what caused the ousting) that the ball was banned from the venue for the next 30 years. If I understand correctly, I believe that the party tradition continued until December of 2020 when, for Covid reasons, it was banned. The parties have been held at the site of the club at 143 Church Street in recent years.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The hope had been to rival the French equivalent, the Bal des Quat’s’Arts established in 1892, I gather a similar soiree produced by architecture students there. They achieved their goal and the Chelsea Arts Ball grew to be extravagant affairs with a hundred performers, lavish decor and thousands of participants who partied until dawn when breakfast was served. It was, according the the Chelsea Arts Club website, the centerpiece of London society. I will also credit them with providing the quote, The mere mention of the Chelsea Arts Ball would make the debutante blush and the dowager blench. Lady Muriel Beckwith, 1936. It leaves me with questions about the participants – had the ball left its roots among artists and become a fête only of the wealthy? Or was it an event that embraced both, high and low brow so to speak?

Felix stereocard. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Each ball was punctuated by a parade at midnight – presumably we are seeing some sort of a dry run here with a photo taken during a misty day and used for promotional purposes. There is no real indication, London weather being what it is, if this was a Mardi Gras or New Year’s version. While seemed to me that it is a New Year’s version, no hint of spring in this photo, research shows that this ball was held on February 8 of 1922 – still very cold, and a bit early for Mardi Gras. Very chilly for those short dresses! Somehow the gray mistiness of it adds to the appeal and creates the right atmosphere in this photo.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

And oh what a photo is it is! A giant paper-mâché Felix with a distinctly worried look (hands behind his back in the Felix Thinking Position) hovers over this bevy of women in short white dresses – it is hard to see their masks but I believe they are little birds; I think I see beaks! They are cute little white fluffy skirts however, with ruffles and a bow. As noted, they are not warmly dressed. The dancers are being herded by Felix costume clad men. These gents are also in charge of Felix’s movement and he is balanced (precariously?) on a sort of dolly. Felix appears to have three of these escorts. A few folks are onlookers, as they are largely men and hard to see them clearly.

The real scoop here is that film exists of the pre-ball parade shown on this card. It can be found on the British Pathe website. However a superior and decidedly longer version exists on Youtube and can be found here or below. This one goes on to show the assembled costumed performers and even some of the individual wild costumes that could be found. The Felix men and white dressed women join hands and dance around Felix in a delightful fashion!

An interesting and somewhat moving account of the party given to celebrate the end of WWI, also found on the Chelsea Arts Club site, describes it as the most famous one, held on March 12, 1919. It used the concept of Dazzle, the Navy camouflage process which owed its roots to Cubism and Vorticists. (Okay, I had to look that up – Vorticistism was a brief industrial influenced abstract art movement of the pre-War teens in Britain – one of my facts for the day!) Dazzle is described as a visible expression of jazz syncopation. Here they were in 1922, a few short years later, wondering what the next hundred years would bring.

Another photo related to the ball, from the Royal Albert Hall website.

Felix and the Seashore

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I always like to say it is an especially wonderful day when one of these photo postcards finds its way home to the Pictorama collection! Long time readers know that my nascent collection of these photos inspired this blog as an activity while bed bound after foot surgery many years ago. I added toys from my collection and it grew like topsy from there. Still, nothing makes my pulse race like coming across one of these – by their very nature each is different of course. I am like a kid about these and I believe passionately that I should, quite simply, own all of them. (There are obviously many earlier posts about these. A couple can be seen here and here.) Woe be to the person who tries to get in my way!

That these cards exist at all is a sort of a miracle. On beaches across the United Kingdom and a handful of places in New Zealand and Australia, folks paid to pose with Felix dolls ranging from just large to that of a good size child. Somehow here in the United States, his place of origin, it never caught on and so it is the world of the internet that allowed me to amass my collection. They were however routinely saved as photo souvenirs. Most, like this one, were never mailed and remain more pristine as a result.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection
Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This particular card features these two women who are wonderfully fashionable. My internet friends, especially those in Britain who deal in vintage clothing, can probably date this pretty accurately from what they are wearing, but the late twenties or early thirties I would think. (Any thoughts wassailantiques.com?) I love that women would be dressed so nicely for a day of seaside enjoyment and it makes me think of boardwalks, cool drinks and salt air – cotton candy and saltwater taffy – and most of all my beach-y childhood. I always sort of like that in these photos people generally stomp around on the sand without worry for their shoes or clothes – men in suits, women in lovely cotton or linen dresses.

Collection of Pams-Pictorama.com

Part of one of those comfy beach chairs can be seen to one side and somehow they are perfectly designed for reading a book and napping. I always used to fall asleep at the beach, stretched out face down on a towel. Must have be the sound of the water and the warm sand. I always brought a book but usually didn’t read much. Can’t say the number of times I woke to find that I had parked myself too close to the water and suddenly the rising tide found its way to me and my possessions which were suddenly floating around me. The beach has always immediately relaxed me and I think my attachment to walking by the East River daily gives me a bit of that these days.

The East River on a recent morning.

This Felix is among the smaller, but not smallest of those who worked this beat. The women have gotten into the spirit of the photo, throwing their arms around his shoulders like an old friend. Felix has a natty bow and one leg off to the side gives him a sense of animation. He too is enjoying his role center stage.

The bobbed hair of these young women is another indicator of the years this image falls within. They feel very up to the moment for the fashion of the day, visibly pleased with the knowledge that they look good. The photographer has captured them nicely. With their ascending order of heads, they (along with Felix) form a good composition in the middle of the picture – Felix has one errant ear up which adds to his always roguish charm. The people in the background are all blurred, but they also add to the festive sense of the day in their different beach and swim garb. There are folks wading and swimming and it is a busy and glorious day. I think I would dearly love to join them.

Felix Summer in the City

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo comes from the Midwest (it found its way to me via @missmollystlantiques who discovered her) and hails from the earlier decades of the 20th Century. I tried to date this photo by the Felix toy which is a Yes/No Felix but couldn’t find anything definite. (However, I am pleased to say I have one of these little fellows and I have written about the acquisition of him for a birthday gift back in 2017 and that post can be found here.) I am going to put this photo at the late 1930’s, but I am open to the opinions and interpretations of you all as well.

Yes/No Felix. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The other toy is maddeningly hard to see. I think it is a monkey, a step up from a rag doll, but with very long arms and sporting a little uniform of sorts.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The age of the girl in the photo eludes me as well – dressed a bit childishly, how old or young is she? Of course I myself often pose with my beloved toys so I cast no aspersions if she is a bit older. Her gingham sunsuit and pigtails trimmed with ribbons seem young on her, but that could also just be by today’s fashion. One sandeled foot sporting a striped sock is barely visible. Although it could just be a wall of a building it feels like a rooftop to me, something about it says roof to me. A hot summer day at midday.

There is nothing written on the photo and the back is clean – it was not ripped from an album. I like the border of dots around the edge. That sort of border and the later scalloped edges were nice touches. A photo feels more like a finished product even without a frame with those added bits.

Kim and a reluctant Cookie.

Her toy-pride has earned the photo a place in my collection. The impulse to pose with your toys is almost as strong as scooping up your kitty for a pic.

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As an aside, for those Pictorama followers who know I recently broke two fingers, I am pleased to report that I was set free from my (somewhat hateful, hard plastic) splint yesterday by the good Dr. Mir, who also said I don’t need to see him for a month. (The post about my mishap on Memorial Day can be read here.) I am not allowed to run for three more weeks, but I suspect I will start gentle workouts on the other parts of my body this week, under the careful eye of the every vigilant Harris Cowan, my trainer. Physical therapy continues – three times a day at home and twice weekly at the facility on 87th Street.

I am actually typing this post, albeit slowly, with both hands. The word Felix is a tough reach for my ring finger, but I am pleased in general to see the wounded fingers respond to being put through their paces!

The better side of my newly freed hand!

Felix in the Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As some Pictorama followers know, I have long favored Instagram as my favored social media poison pick. Kim is devoted to tending the curation of his Facebook page, but I prefer to pleasantly lose myself scrolling through my iteration of the universe which skews heavily into vintage jewelry and clothing, antiques, cat doings (go @sadieanddottie!), the antics of some real world friends, and of course early photos.

Cookie and Clark Gable recently.

The viewing world in return gets a version of me (@Deitchstudio) which includes these blog posts and related photos, the comings and goings of Cookie and Blackie lovingly chronicled, story vignettes of my morning runs along the East River (walks for since my great fall, see my post Busted, here, for that tale of woe), and in the before times my occasional travels with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra as the fund raiser for that organization. I try to avoid any whiff of politics and try to keep the chaos of our tiny abode visually within bounds admittedly. Photos of Kim only with his knowledge and permission. Selfies rarely, usually just with friends.

Running became walking about two minutes after I snapped this photo on Memorial Day.

When I look back on this time I think I will mostly vividly remember scrolling through IG and watching home renovation tv.

You all over here at Pictorama get more insight into the inner life of Deitch Studio, but the folks over on Instagram get a daily visual account of me and mine. Obviously there is crossover and I know many of you follow me there and a few of the folks who I “know” only from IG wander over to Pictorama on occasion. (There are some triple crown folks who are FB friends too!) It is a happy day when these parallel Pictorama worlds collide and today (and likely tomorrow) will highlight some finds attributable to those folks.

Today’s splendid photo find (you were wondering if I would ever get to it I am sure) was purchased on eBay. The listing made no mention of the presence of Felix in their midst (nor cat costume photo) so I wouldn’t have found it without the tip from @the_antique_lens. I only know them by that moniker, no name on the account or bio information. Unlike many of the folks I interact with the_antique_lens is a collector, like me, not a merchant.

Their exquisitely presented account reveals what seems to me to be a remarkably similar visual taste in early photos to my own (Felix notwithstanding) to my own, although less specifically focused than my heavily cat/toy related collection. It is with thanks to them that this little beauty found its way to the Pictorama collection. A thank you to their eagle eye and generosity in the tip.

The photo is oddly mounted on pieces of paper that have resisted the glue applied resulting in ripples. It does not appear to be from a photo album – I think maybe framed at one time, but there are push pin holes in the top corners and one side so it spent some time displayed that way. There is a bit of black tape across the bottom mystifies me which Kim has edited out in this scan. Nothing is written or indicated on the back.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

It is an interesting photograph. At first glance you might think was taken for Halloween, but the Christmas tree makes me think not. Perhaps a school play? Felix is especially curious in this case (hard to think of what that story line might be, but he is front and center), however given that several children wear similar costumes school play gets my vote. The costumes have a consistent quality too, all of the same quality. I am sure I cannot imagine a story that might incorporate the kid dressed as a gift box, an Indian, the little girl with a burlap bag over her head and the imaginatively rendered bear in the lower right. I am especially enamored of the teacher’s fairy costume, and as Felix the Cat costumes go, that is one I want!

The photographer had a good eye for framing this, especially if he or she arranged everyone. However I also feel that the photo maintains the aura of the stage presence of the kids – they do not mug, or even mostly smile much. There is a look of shared purpose and focus to them and they gaze directly at us. I am especially fond of the rifle bearing soldier and bear on all fours holding down the composition on the right, while the white fairy costume draws you back to the left.

A careful examination of the writing on the blackboard (a credit to that instructor’s neat hand which I am attempting to read more or less a hundred years later) appears to list three clubs. Furthest to the left (and easiest to decipher) states, The Right Club, Lois Dickason, President, and a list of names. The center reads, Our Writing Clubs, Gold Highest Honors, Blue Standard, Red Below Standard. (Underlined twice!) I can barely make out what it says on the board behind the teacher, but it appears to be, Gold Star Club, Ellen Montgomery, President, and a list of names too faint to decipher.

The Right Club and the Gold Star Club names listed have one or two stars after each name. (I would like to point out with girl Presidents of each, clearly the girls here were doing an excellent job representing for the fair sex.) The scrawny Christmas tree with its star is a poignant seasonal touch.

This is one of those photos that allows you to time travel and I think wall worthy – a tribute here in the cramped environs of Deitch Studio. Hope you enjoyed the trip.