Friday, May 11, 2012

Anatomy of a Cat Scrapbook

Last year at this time, I was immersed in discovering details about David C. Nolan through his handwriting on the back of Marilyn Monroe photographs. This week, I'm trying to do the same with the cat scrapbook. Who is this woman who owned it? What could I find out about her? Is her address anywhere in this book? Could I visit her place just like I did Nolan's last summer? Those were a few of the questions I had as I started reading as much of the text that I could open without ruining any of the cards.

Here's the set-up in the newly cleaned and organized studio: previously existing notes taken during a lab night in Photo 1, sketchbook for new notes, scrapbook and laptop. What is playing on that laptop?

Why the most important live feed I could watch while researching this project: the Kitten Cam.

I am still convinced the woman who assembled this scrapbook is named Arline. Though some of the cards were addressed to her mother, Arline could have acquired those later in her mother's life (or after her death). Her mother is once referred to as Mrs. Conradt, therefore, I can presume that Conradt was also Arline's last name. There is no mention of Arline ever being married or of any male in her life. She does have a daughter named Paula though. She could be a widow or a divorcee. That is not really known.

The dates referenced in both the greeting cards and the newspaper clippings include: 1940, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1955, and 1956. The majority of them are from the 1940s, therefore, they were collected over a long period of time and assembled in the mid 1950s at the earliest. 

Pauline, eventually revealed to be Arline's sister, sent the majority of the cat cards. Pauline is married to Bob and they have two children named Maude and Duncan who often make an appearance. Pauline is a teacher and there are a number of Dear Teacher cat cards. They are adhered well to the backing so the writing is unavailable. Maybe Arline was also a teacher or Pauline sent her some of the cards she received from her students? In any case, there are a number of significant references to that profession throughout the book.

Sometimes Pauline addressed cards to Arline's cats. This leads to the question, how many cats did a woman who amassed this gargantuan scrapbook have? There was a Smoky (also called Smoke), Teat, and Goldie. Smug is cited once (while the other cats are mentioned multiple times). Smug could be another nickname for Smoky.

The name Yama starts to appear frequently: "A Valentine note for Teacher from Yama," "Love Yama and Smoky" (in Mother's handwriting), and "Love Smoke, Yama, and Arline." This was the most confusing aspect of the information I gathered. Was Yama another cat? I finally concluded that Yama could be a nickname for Mother (abbreviation for Grandma from one of Pauline's kids or Arline's daughter Paula perhaps?).

Here is another full page letter Pauline wrote to Arline in the voice of her sister's cat Smoky (complete with magazine clippings).

This was one of the most interesting cards from Pauline to "Yama and Arline"  in terms of the information that it revealed. It in Pauline writes: "... the artist author who panned modern art is amusing to us because he is the artist who uses the abstract forms of modern printing in creating furniture..."

"The sculpture panel discussion went off O.K. Dr Stafford and Dr. and Mrs. Williams came over from Denton to see the exhibit and hear the discussion. We were pleased to welcome them and everyone of the art group were a flutter over them!"

So Pauline is a teacher who is also interested in art.... Hmmmm.... At one point, Pauline writes to Arline: "Smoky's Christmas card is wonderful - so good in lights and darks, in composition and in likeness, too. We all do like it, Arline and Smoke."

I remembered that there were some interesting drawings in the back of the scrapbook and upon returning to them after reading this information, I was happy to discover that they were drawn by Pauline.

The shapes initially reminded me of Fernand Leger.

Other observations:

1) There is a cat birth announcement. In 1942, a woman named Louise sent Arline a note featuring: "the birth of three lovely babies to Tippie Louise Tainbaim on September 15, 1942. Mother and children are doing well. Visitors welcome! We are considering naming the babies Connie, Gussie, and Lennie."

2) Arline sent greeting cards from her cats:  "With Love to Mother from Teat."

3) Mother only signed her cards and very rarely did she use the word "Love." She often uses quotes around "Mother" as if she didn't really believe in that name. She would have liked to have received correspondence from daughters more often than she did by the sheer amount of "Haven't heard from you in awhile cards" that were sent to Arline.

4) There are many references to Chessie and Peake who I knew nothing about prior to a couple weeks ago. From 1939-1945, the Ohio Chesapeake railroad system had a "We are in the war" campaign and used their "Sleep like a kitten" mascot in supporting the soldiers overseas. Judging from the dominance of clippings (other than greeting cards), from this era, it reaffirms that the majority of this collection came from the 1940s.

5) This scrapbook was purchased at a yard sale in Western Oregon. Locations (aside from Denton mentioned above) are predominantly from the Beaver State: Seaside, Cooston, and Portland. Unfortunately, there wasn't one address featured in over 300 pages. Alas! No residential comparison photographs from decades later on my part.

6) The scale of this beast of a scrapbook is 16.25" x 13.5" x 4".

I don't have any grand conclusions yet other than handwriting has been a key to both of the projects in A Tale of Two Obsessions.

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