About Me

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Washington, United States
loves: you win if you guessed "pets" and "museums". Also books, art history, travel, British punk, Korean kimchi, bindis, martinis, and other things TBD. I will always make it very clear if a post is sponsored in any way. Drop me a line at thepetmuseum AT gmail.com !

Monday, February 28, 2011

dickens: pets = mean you are a good person

Here's Charles Dickens* in defense of the household pet and its proof of the householder's moral superority. Granted, he's being slightly facetious in the interests of entertainment, but why not enjoy a minute of self-congratulation?
**Curator's note: Dickens was also the editor of Household Words, so it is entirely possible this excerpt was written by someone else. I've been looking the volume over backwards and forwards for the correct author - if you happen to know it's not Dickens, please let me know so I can give credit where due.
Everyone feels the difference in the moral atmosphere when a house is devoid of pets. Its inhabitants lack an intangible something which one becomes aware of at the first acquaintance. They cannot have quite such loving natures as those who, while spending the bread of their hearts on their human kind, think also of the crumbs for their cousins the animals. . .

. . .There are few people, however long behind them they may have left their youth, who, during a seaside outing, do not still secretly delight in sand-castle-building the while they excuse such frivolity to themselves and the public by pretending it is all kindness on their part to amuse the children. And in our homes the pet animals have very much the same mission as the holiday children in giving us opportunities of indulging that spirit of eternal childhood which every unspoilt nature possesses.

It is charming to see a great rough man, full of his business and the commonplaces of life, having a game on the sly with a kitten, and touching it as tenderly and with as much care as a little girl does her best doll. . .

. . .When you hear a person say, "Oh no, we keep no pets; they spoil the furniture," you immediately feel a just antipathy to that dreadfully fussy person, and hope that, in right retribution, something much worse than the little soft paws may spoil the furniture—moths and rust, or a local earthquake.

* * *
Gracious. I can't say I've ever wished an earthquake on anyone, but I guess Dickens has beat us all to it. (Tongue in cheek, of course.) From Household Words: A Weekly Journal, vol. I (Bradbury & Evans, 1881), "Home Pets," p. 437.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

vintage photo time: conclusion, the dogs and their girl

And here we are in March 1976 (says the developer's mark on back).
The girl -- why not keep calling her that -- has lots of gray in her curls now, but still smiles just like she always did. Here she is back on the lawn at the family homestead. And look at that, after all these years and dogs, she's got a fine new puppy.
I truly don't know who she is, or where she is now; when I do the math it's likely that she and her dogs are all together on another shore. But I have had such pleasure and inspiration in the constant joy, love, and sheer willingness to embrace life that I've seen in this series. I hope you have seen a little of that too.
Now go enjoy your own memories, hug your pets, and make new happy days with them.

Friday, February 25, 2011

vintage photo time: the dogs and their girl, part V

May 1966.
That tubby little puppy is a grownup now, it appears. As for our girl, she's been grown up for a while, but still has the same smile and same joy in dog-hugging that we saw in the first snap. There's one more photo in my series: what will you see? Check in tomorrow to find out.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

vintage photo time: the dogs and their girl, part IV

Still June 1962 here; I couldn't resist the sheer playful joy of these photos. She's very proud of this puppy -- but wait, who is this in the photo below? Did the puppy grow up that much in a few weeks? They do grow fast. What do you think? -- and a quick addition from me: We have a couple more days of this series yet, so do stay tuned for more of the story.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

vintage photo time: the dogs and their girl, part III

We're at the family house in June 1962.
This must be Mom (don't they look related?), and that must be a new puppy.

I imagine this is Dad, who seems to have taken a shine to the young'un.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

vintage photo time: the dogs and their girl, part II

August 1952, say the developer's marks on the back of these two photos.

So it's six years later. She's grown up, and so has that puppy - if this is the same dog, and I think it is. These two snaps show them going on an adventure together. I wonder where this is?

Monday, February 21, 2011

vintage photo time: the dogs and their girl, part I

Shortly before Christmas this year I stopped by an antique mall in West Seattle. On the basement level, on the lowest in a set of bookshelves, I found a box of photographs. Since there weren't many being sold in the shop I took a quick riffle through. What I came up with wasn't only a fistful of images, but a life lived in dogs.

This is the first: April 1946. A teenager with a sweet, distinctively round face and dark curls holds a fluffy golden brown and white puppy. Over this week we'll be watching her grow up, her dogs - always the same color and type - coming and going by her side over the years. I'm very excited to bring you these photos, and hope you'll agree that they are something special.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

young lady elizabeth and her dog

public domain; wikimedia commons
Elizabeth Brydges was 14 years old when Hieronimo Custodis painted this portrait in 1589. This alone would account for the mischievous look on her face, but as it happens, she was already serving as a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth I. Though she would by most reckonings then have been considered a grown woman, think about it: any young creature thrust into that much excitement and importance is going to enjoy it to the possible fullest, while dodging any number of complications. That fabulous dress isn't just a status marker, it's armor.
Luckily Custodis (Flemish, worked in England, died c. 1593) must have had some empathy for this youngster so carefully managing herself, for he included a scrappy dog jumping up on those fine skirts. More often than not, the inclusion of a dog in portraits of women serves as a reference to fidelity and loyalty, which a maid of honour would need to show her sovereign. Yet it doesn't hurt if that pet's animal spirits mirror those its owner is still fresh enough to feel, even if she's already wise enough to keep them in check.

Friday, February 18, 2011

cat space

I wouldn't think cats had patience for going into space (though they have had their place in aviation history). However, in October 1963 the French sent a cat up in a rocket from their base in the Algerian Sahara. Depending on where you read the history, the catonaut was either a black-and-white street fellow named Felix, or a girl cat named Felicette. It seems Felix may have taken a powder or just didn't have the right stuff at the last minute.

Whichever explorer it was, cat and rocket went about 130 miles into space, and then after 15 minutes the capsule fell away and the pod was retrieved, kitty safe and probably beside itself inside. Unfortunately, a second attempt a week later did not go so well, and that cat did not survive.

This whole thing of sending animals into space was always distasteful to me. The purpose was to test the effect of such adventure on vertebrates without risking human beings, and I suppose that's appropriate, but I just never liked the idea. (Let's face it, don't most of us have a short list of people they could have experimented with instead?)

Here's a good link about this little piece of space history, with source links to look over. Felix made it to a stamp. Not much consolation to Felix I bet.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

the unparalleled value of an arab horse

From a 19th-c collection of horse anecdotes comes this noble, soulful story of an Arabian horse and the owner who could not part with her:

* * *
So strong is the attachment that the Arab sometimes forms for his horse, that death alone can separate them. The whole property of a native of the desert consisted of a beautiful mare, which the French consul, it is said, wished to purchase for his master, Louis XIV. The Arab, pressed by want, long hesitated, but at length consented to part with her for a very high price, which he named. The Consul receiving authority to close with the terms, immediately informed the owner. The Arab, who had scarcely a rag to cover him, arrived, mounted on his mare: he alighted, and looking first at the gold, and then at his faithful and much valued servant, heaved a deep sigh. " To whom is it," exclaimed he in an agony, " that I am going to yield thee up! To Europeans, who will tie thee close, who will beat thee, who will render thee miserable! Return with me, my beauty! my jewel! and rejoice the hearts of my children!" With these words, he sprang on her back, and was out of sight almost in a moment.

So tender is the Arab of his horse, that he will seldom beat or spur him ; and in consequence of this humane treatment, the animal considers itself as one of the family, and will allow the children to play round it, and to fondle it like a dog.
* * *
That flavor of Western patronization is inescapable when you're reading in the time period. Still, I find this tale moves me greatly. Found in The Wonders of the Horse: recorded in anecdotes, and interspersed with poetry (New York: Mahlon Day, 1836), p. 102.

Monday, February 14, 2011

meet amber alexander

image copyright by and with kind permission of the artist

"Basically, I just love and respect animals and enjoy painting them and imagining they live lives very much like ours," Vermont artist Amber Alexander wrote. I'd just dropped her a line telling her I loved this piece. She titled it "My Baby," and adds this word picture:

A formal portrait of a very serious kitty who found a stray poodle-esque dog and adopted her as her own.
This kitty has a VERY strong nurturing instinct as normally these two probably wouldn't get along so well.
Kitty even carries her around in her dress, all the while referring to the little dog as "My Baby, My Baby". What luck to have found such a kind feline soul.

I was struck by her delicate handling of the notion, the restrained palette, and not least the looks on these creature's faces. I could well believe this dog had been recently lost on the streets, and that this cat craved something to love warmly. (And here come the memories of all the years Zozo was "my baby.")

Alexander enjoyed Beatrix Potter's books as a child (as did I), and notes that she finds humor and warmth in animals. I see all that in her work. She also paints primarily in watercolor, of which she notes "Watercolors are interesting in that you have to become friends with the water, work WITH it, corral it into doing what you want it to do on the paper." You cannot help but infuse such a medium with immediate spirit. To see more playful and gentle-hearted pieces, visit her Etsy store and her blog.

- and how could I forget to say to you all - Happy Valentines' Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

a cat arrives at the elysian fields

I found this tender verse in The Every-Day Book (ed. William Hone, pub. Hunt and Clarke, 1868; p. 556). It was originally written in Latin by a Dr. Jortin, as an epitaph to a favorite cat.

Worn out with age and dire disease, a cat.
Friendly to all, save wicked mouse and rat
I'm sent at last to ford the Stygian lake,
And to the infernal coast a voyage make.
Me Proserpine receiv'd, and smiling said,
"Be bless'd within these mansions of the dead,
Enjoy among thy velvet-footed loves,
Elysium's sunny banks and shady groves."
"But if I've well deserv'd, (O gracious queen,)
If patient under sufferings I have been,
Grant me at least one night to visit home again
Once more to see my home, and mistress dear,
And purr these grateful accents in her ear.
Thy faithful cat, thy poor departed slave.
Still loves her mistress ev'n beyond the grave."

I think "Dr. Jortin" must be the English clergyman and scholar Dr. John Jortin (1698 - 1795). The biographical link I've got there includes this note on the gentleman: "Besides great integrity, great humanity, and other qualities which make men amiable as well as useful, this learned person was of a very pleasant and facetious turn; as his writings abundantly shew." I think the poem written for his departed friend shows that well indeed, and I like him for it.

PS.: I realized last night I've been posting a disproportionate amount of epitaphs. Sweet as they are, perhaps I need to get out of the house a bit?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

suphalak means excellence

This is another of those posts where I recommend you hasten to the link.
Back in its number 30 issue for Summer 2008, Cabinet magazine included an article on the "Auspicious Cats" of Siam. Turns out that when the breed we now call Siamese came to British shores from Thailand, it was thought to be the royal cat of special significance, but that was wrong. As it happened the Thai like cats in general, and there are sets of superstitions and auspices attached to various breeds.
The article includes works from one of the illuminated manuscripts written at the time. There I learned of the Singha Sep (the Black Lion), the charming cloudy gray Dork Lao (Lao Flower), and to my joy the copper-colored cat called Suphalak, which means excellence, and of course it does.

Please do have a look at the article and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

a vicar on his dog's soul

Every so often, I fall upon some little meditation on the question of pets having souls. Of course I'm going to favor the ones that say "yes." After all, the credentials of that camp are often without reproach. Such is the case with George Arbuthnot, who was Vicar of Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon (retired 1910; here's the house in which he lived after that). Here is the verse he wrote in memory of his dog Plum-Pudding:

Plum-Pudding's Epitaph

"Pudding!" companion of my parish round,
Content to walk to heel or patient wait,
Eager to follow, and yet always found
Watching attentive at the sick man's gate:
Thy task is done, and through the busy mart,
The idler sees thee thread thy way no more,
But I, who know thy faithful, loving heart,
Expect to meet thee at the Heavenly door.

He was a Vicar. You'd think he'd know.
--from Songs of Dogs: an anthology, selected and arranged by Robert Frothingham (1920: Houghton Mifflin Company), p. 152.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

another mannerist cat

Bacchiacca [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is another woman-and-cat portrait by Francesco Ubertini, known as Bacchiacca. It dates from 1525, and is possibly even more Mannerist in style than the first one I posted a while back.

I say this primarily due to the very odd - almost Cubist - stylization of the young woman's features and unusual posture. However, I find the hands rounded and appealing, much less spindly than the Mannerists were often wont to use. The color is more lush as well, though you always have to take reproductions from the web with a big grain of salt.

Speaking of lush, how do you like that gorgeous cat? Mm! Such dainty feet, such a perfect turn of the head. And that fur reminds me how "tabby" cats are said to have gotten the name: from atabi, a richly marked watered silk from the Baghdad area.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

ahoy there

I'm pleased to draw your attention today to:

The Museum of Maritime Pets.

You'll see it's been around 2006, and "explores and interprets the role of domestic animals on sea voyages from ancient times to the present." They do research on that topic and present public programs. Soon they hope to have a permanent home, so they are in the throes of a capital campaign. That's very exciting. They also warmly welcome volunteers, so if you're near Annapolis MD, maybe you've some time to help out.

I notice as I write this post that the featured breed is the Cormorant, and the article includes a photo of a tame fishing cormorant that looks like it means business.

Yay for an interesting new pet museum!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

happy lunar new year!

Two Rabbits under Chinese Parasol Tree by Leng Mei

By Leng Mei [18th c, Qing Dynasty; public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Year of the Rabbit! which incidentally means Happy Year of Curator! And as a Water Rabbit, I'd like to say two things:
1. I hope this is a joyful year for all of you, humankind and petkind equally.
2. Water Rabbits are suckers. I wish I'd been a Metal Rabbit.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

bunnies, considering

image permission of & copyrighted by Karina Kalvaitis of The Secret Nest
Mysteries: what is the neat, dark hole in the ground? Why are these bunnies looking it over with such care rather than bolting down into it, as normally they might do? What exactly is it about this drawing that makes you feel such empathy for their concern?
I can answer that last one, a bit. I feel protective of their babylike little heads and bodies, their tiny ears, even as I also notice those ears laid back just enough to signal wariness. (I get a lot of practice via Elizabeth's ears -- different species but same principle.) I look at their faces and see their mouths curving down, along with the occasional brow. Last but not least, the very softness of the lines creating them, the absence of any other detail, makes me look for anywhere they might go, or any explanation, but this takes place in what's essentially a dreamstate. Still, I can't honestly believe they'll come to harm; their space is too pure for that.
This sensitive work comes from the hand of Victoria, BC artist Karina Kalvaitis. Here's something she says about her art, and see how perfectly she works to its purpose: "I make things that reflect my two obsessions – animals & all things tiny and mysterious. I love creating enigmatic little habitats in 3 dimensions and I love painting, drawing and sculpting animals. I spend a lot of time looking at animals and trying to guess what they are thinking." And she added in a note to me, "I have always loved animals and I use them in my artwork as stand-ins for human beings. They so often show the feelings and emotions that we humans try to hide."
She creates that sure soft line with specially sharpened mechanical pencils - which I've never come across before, so that delights me - and lots of selective erasing. Again a use of mystery in the line that used to be there.
You're going to really enjoy her work - go to her Etsy shop, The Secret Nest, and find out just how much.