Monday, March 31, 2008

Followup to
Who Says There's No Gender Programming
Blog Entry

Previous Post

Here are some links about the history of gender identity and color:

Princeton Report on Knowledge
Color Matters
How Stuff Works

As an artist and someone interested in art history, I've often wondered what role these two paintings played in the development of the pink-for-girls, blue-for-boys phenomenon:

Jonathan Buttall: The Blue Boy (c 1770)
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88)

oil on canvas, 70 5/8 x 48 3/4 inches

Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie (1794)
Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)
oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 40 1/4 inches

History of Blue Boy:

"The best known painting at the Huntington, Gainsborough's The Blue Boy, portrays Jonathan Buttall, the son of a successful hardware merchant, who was a close friend of the artist. The work was executed during Gainsborough's extended stay in Bath before he finally settled in London in 1774. The artist has dressed the young man in a costume dating from about 140 years before the portrait was painted. This type of costume was familiar through the portraits of the great Flemish painter, Anthony van Dyck (1559-1641), who was resident in England during the early 17th century. Gainsborough greatly admired the work of Van Dyck and seems to have conceived The Blue Boy as an act of homage to that master. Mr. Huntington purchased the painting along with Gainsborough's The Cottage Door and Reynolds's Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse from the Duke of Westminster." (1)

History of Pinkie:

"Pinkie, facing The Blue Boy in the Main Gallery of the museum and often paired with it in popular esteem, is by Thomas Lawrence, one of the great portrait painters of his generation. It was painted about 25 years after Gainsborough's masterpiece and had no association with that work until they both were displayed in the Huntington in the late 1920s. Executed when the artist was only 25 and shortly after his election to the Royal Academy, Pinkie is an extraordinarily fresh and lively performance with the sitter standing on a hill, her dress blown by the wind. The movement of her dress in conjunction with her frank gaze gives a sense of immediacy to the composition and expresses the animation of the sitter. The young girl was the daughter of a wealthy plantation family in Jamaica, who came to England for her education. Called "Pinkie" by her grandmother who commissioned the portrait, she was only eleven when her likeness was taken. Sadly, Sarah died within a few months of the portrait's completion, probably of tuberculosis. Her younger brother Edward was the father of the poetess Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Pinkie was the last painting purchased by Mr. Huntington, who did not live to see it installed in the house." (1)

One has to wonder since the two pieces gained tremendous popularity after they were associated with one another in the 1920s. They were reproduced on just about anything one can imagine (coasters, posters, tins, etc.) and reproduced as figurines. In fact, my grandmother had both of them in 10 inch figurines on her dresser. I have no idea where she got them, but they were the most memorable thing about my grandmother's taste in art. Interestingly enough, the two pieces were featured prominently on the Cleavers' walls in the 50s television show Leave it to Beaver.The gender identity of pink and blue had inverted around this time. One has to wonder if this is a connection or just a coincidence.

It just seems strange to "color code" people.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who Says There's No Gender Programming?

Recently, I had the pleasure of judging the PhotoLucida Critical Mass photography competition for the fourth year in a row. I was notified yesterday that there are six finalists and they are asking for proposals from each to choose two top award winners. The award is having their work published.

Here are the remaining six. See what you think:

Beth Dow
Bill Sullivan

Jeong Mee Yoon
Joni Sternbach

Krista Steinke

Peter van Agtmael

If I could cast my vote for one of the finalists, it would be Jeong Mee Yoon. Her statement about life is intelligent, she reveals something about the reality of being human, and reveals the dark and insidious underbelly of gender-programming and our commodity culture. Here is her process:

"To make "The Pink and Blue Project" images, I visit the child's room, where I display and rearrange his/her colored accessories. I ask my models to pose for me with their pink or blue objects, in an effort to show the viewer the extent to which children and their parents, knowingly or unknowingly, are influenced by advertising and popular culture. I first lay out the larger items, blankets or coats, and then spread smaller articles on top of the clothes. This method references objects that are displayed in a museum collection. In some pictures, the children even look like dolls.

I use a 6x6 format Hasselblad camera because the square format enhances the effect of the many crowded objects on display. My photographs are taken with the smallest aperture, f-22, to get a hyper-realistic depiction of each object and person." (1)

Source for photos

I grew up as a tomboy. I liked what boys liked doing and played with boy toys. I always felt like there was a lot of pressure to not be myself. Jeong Mee Yoon's work validates my experience and now I know for sure there is a hell of a lot of pressure on children these days and it is reinforced through commodity culture. Thanks Jeong Mee.


Inside-Out, Outside-In:
The Self as Spectacle

Installation (1) on the University of Arkansas Union Courtyard
March 14 - April 5, 2008
by Kelsey Felthousen

Yesterday, I was driving to work and thinking about Americans' notions about privacy--how we put it all out there on myspace, Facebook, or even here on Blogger, etc. We're acclimated to talk shows where people spill their guts about extraordinarily personal things on television transmitted out to millions of strangers, not to mention "reality shows" that have been added to that mix as well. We're so comfortable or have been made to feel so comfortable at exposing ourselves, there's barely a peep from the culture in reaction to our government's surveillance of its own citizens.

Perhaps it was kismet, but after my morning drive, I arrived at my office where a colleague* had left a newspaper article (2) about Kelsey Felthousen's Master's Thesis Exhibition at the University of Arkansas. Kelsey describes her project as

“(dealing) with the notions of an overexposed, vulnerable society that…feels unprotected. When creating this work I chose to broach the subject of sacred/private space and how that space is being given away freely, without thought of the consequences.”

“Sacred Space, as defined in this exhibition, is the preciousness of close relationships and the privacy within our lives and homes. One need not search far for evidence of this exposure. It can be seen in all aspects of our society, from television programming to technology.” (3)

Of course, after my morning musings and reading the article, I HAD to go see the installation. It's imperative to see an art installation in person because they are time-limited and are meant to be experienced physically.

Typically, I write my "Art Classics" about works from relatively near and distant art history. But, I think I'll preempt art history on this one and say this is an instant Art Classic and will probably be so in the future.

Images from Kelsey Felthousen's Exhibition

First, it is a privilege and a pleasure to view such a cutting-edge, intellectually-stimulating, and culturally relevant work of contemporary art. It is an oasis in the desert that is the dearth of such works in Northwest Arkansas.

Kelsey Felthousen (right)

What I respond to most are the layers of experience embodied in the work. First, it is both installation and performan
ce art (4). Installation is already part sculpture, so one could say there are three immediate layers perceived. The piece is constructed of a central area that is a wood-framed square with the siding for the "house" on the inside. There is a door to enter the "garden" on this "inside" area where there is no roof. Tulips and pansies comprise the garden. The "rooms" of the "house" are outside this square exposed to the elements splayed out on the four sides on various floor substrates in a cloverleaf pattern. The rooms are comprised of variously familiar and comfortable furnishings and knick-knacks that make a "house" a "home." But this "home" is decidedly uncomfortable and vulnerable. It's as if Jeff Goldblum sent a normal house through his infamous teleporting machine and once again, point B came out as something quite unexpected.

The piece is present and massive like sculpture but open to the point of encouraging almost socially inappropriate interaction. There's a natural hesitancy in most people when it comes to entering strangers' homes, but this stranger has opened her house and th
e exhibition goers react accordingly. On the evening of the reception on March 28, snacks were placed in the "kitchen" and "living room" of this "house". One could see the body language of exhibition goers quickly transform to extremely casual mode. They sat on the furniture, ate her food, looked through her cabinets, used her microwave, entered her garden, and used her barbeque pit to cook. Social boundaries had clearly broken down in a matter of seconds.

My favorite view of the installation is the view through the kitchen window. As with many homes, you expect to see a garden and you do. However, this garden is enclosed and the area is in shade. The siding of the "house" can bee seen from that window as well, creating cognitive dissonance. At once, the viewer thinks that he or she is looking into a room and into a garden outside. There is no roof to this room and it is not really a garden.
It is theater, theater in which one has no real inkling of the character or identity of the "actor" -- sort of like myspace®. (5)

Typically, houses represent the self as symbols. This fact has been true historically in art, literature, psychology, and even religion. (6) People in normal houses keep the inside enclosed and private, and decorate the outside of their houses to create a veneer of normalcy to the outside world. In the case of this installation, the garden is protected and the resident's private effects are exposed to inspection and scrutiny. It's not until one enter
s the garden and stands inside that one realizes that the private self is no better protected as there is no roof. Privacy has become an illusion. The self as represented by the house becomes an illusion, a theatrical performance, and a dance between vulnerability and invulnerability; and indeed, a dance with the devil, and as compelling as any Magritte (7) painting.

View of the gallery part of the installation

As I said earlier, there are many layers of experience to this installation. The second layer takes place in the Fine Arts Gallery inside the Fine Arts Building. There is another living area set up in the empty gallery facing what appears to be a television but is a giant computer monitor broadcasting the University of Arkansas Central Quad webcam that is trained on Kelsey's installation. Visitors eat snacks off of a coffee table and can sit at a desk or sit on a couch or chair and view the installation in real time on the large screen. The self thereby becomes a spectacle, and the viewers in the gallery, voyeurs. We have been acclimated to this role for quite some time since the advent of television. "Reality" television makes us even more comfortable with our inner voyeurs. At least some sort of relationship between the artist and the viewing public is encouraged at the physical site of the installation, but this is lost through the physical and digital distancing of the computer monitor. It was not as astounding to see individuals in the gallery as comfortable with boundary-breaking as the visitors to the physical site were because we are so familiar with this scene.

In yet another layer, one realizes from watching the monitor in the gallery, that the webcam is also seen by anyone who encounters it. Also, in a more disturbing twist, the University webcam is fully controllable by those people. So, as one watches the monitor, one is watching a watcher who is a stranger. This stranger may just center the installation and watch it from a distance, they may zoom in on her "bedroom", or they may even focus the webcam on an individual as they walk by and "follow" them while they are doing so. The webcam is not fixed or controlled by one director but is essentially a production of many strangers who are essentially as voyeuristic as the people in the gallery. The irony is this aspect of watching the watchers--essentially making us all spectacles. And that seems to be the nature of modern life--so many people have abdicated their privacy and made themselves spectacles that we all become part of the "show."

The performance art aspect of this show is the fact that Kelsey lives in her installation--submitting herself to the intrusions and glances. A lot of individuals do this in day to day life with little thought to the consequences. She therefore becomes exposed to the elements and what would normally be unwanted behaviors and gestures.

I said earlier that myspace was intellectually-stimulating and culturally-relevant. To me, these are two very important qualities to qualify a work as an art classic. The layers of complexity and even humor make this piece intellectually-stimulating. It is a very difficult thing for an artist to hit the sweet spot in terms of timing in a culture, and Kelsey does it with smarts and gusto. She reveals something about us as human beings in the here and now as a world moves from a culture that sees to one that is seen and dare I say, with a dash of beauty, my other criteria for an art classic. I am going to watch her career and would encourage others to do so. This is not the last we'll see of Kelsey Felthousen.

© Stephanie Lewis, 2008

* Special thanks to Eric Smith who gave me the article on Kelsey yesterday. Eric and I have been on the same creative wavelength for 13 years now and he is a wealth of information that I cherish.

(3) ; Kelsey says that two of her big influences are Ann Hamilton and Vito Acconci.
(4) "Art in which works in any of a variety of media are executed premeditated before a live audience. Although this might appear to be theater, theatrical performances present illusions of events, while performance art presents actual events as art. One of the things setting postmodernism apart from modernism is its acceptance of aspects of theater. Performance elements surfaced in a number of conceptual art movements of the 1960s, including: Fluxus, Happenings, body art, process art, street works, etc. The 1980s saw the emergence of performance artists like David Byrne (American) and Laurie Anderson (American, 1947-), who had each been students of visual art, but whose work gradually incorporated voice, music, costumes, projected image, stage lighting, etc. " ( ; definition of "performance art")
(6) In psychology, there is a projective test in which patients are asked to draw a house, a tree, and a person. Once analyzed, these images will reveal personal information about the patient. For instance, drawing a pronounced knothole in a tree often reflects trauma. If the windows of the house are missing or covered, there is an issue with boundaries and privacy. In religion--Christianity for example-- Jesus compares the spiritual self to a house on rock or a house on sand, and that is one of many religious examples across religions.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Studio is Finally Finished!

I began work on the studio last March. I first had to resurface the deck that is above the workshop that came with the house. I had to make sure it was waterproofed most of all. Of course, I had never resurfaced a deck before so that was a learning experience. Then, I began the process of remodeling the workshop into an art studio -- again, never doing any of this before. So between working full-time, getting married, having a honeymoon and reception, being in a marriage with a stepson, it's finally finished! Here are two slideshows of the process....

Studio Renovation : North End View

Studio Renovation : South End View

Friday, March 14, 2008

Get Smart Out June 20

I, for one, am looking forward to this one. How can it go wrong with Terence Stamp, Steve Carell, and Alan Arkin?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mythmaking with George W. Bush

con·fab·u·la·tion (def.)
1. the act of confabulating; conversation; discussion.
2. Psychiatry. the replacement of a gap in a person's memory by a falsification that he or she believes to be true.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Solomon's Story:
Solomon James Lewis
b. Mar. 2, 1993 - d. Nov. 14, 2007

[Click on the smaller images for bigger views.] This entry is not really an art related post. March 2 was what would have been my cat Solomon's birthday. He would have been 15 years old. I had to have him put to sleep during the early morning hours of this past November 14 at the emergency veterinary clinic. I've been wanting to write his story here since then, but have only become ready to do so now.

First, I want to say I feel great sadness for people who don't find connection with our animal friends. Our relationship with one another is ancient--one that is documented by artists thousands of years ago on the walls of caves. Dogs were beside man on those early hunts. Cats were in temples and even counted among the gods. Our relationship with animals has grown more distant in many ways, reduced to a few house pets for the majority of us and some team mascots or captive in zoos where they are "exhibited." I have always found great friendship and companionship with animals having had cats, lizards, turtles, fish, rabbits, and a hamster. Mostly, I have adored cats. I have found their spirits mesmerizing and their individual differences boundless, their curiosity and intelligence limitless, and most of all, I've identified with their independence and great disinterest in being controlled. Pets are one of the few creatures who grant us unconditional love in our lives. Solomon was that kind of cat. Unfortunately, unlike "real" parents of real children, we commit to only a brief time with our "children." We know that it is quite likely we will outlive them, but embark on the relationship anyway, knowing full well that we will be there for the sad goodbye.

Solomon was meant to be in my life. I had just had an encounter with a Mississippi river rat in my basement apartment after the flood of 1993 (another story for another time). I was living in the river town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. About a week after the rat encounter, I went to a church picnic about a block away from my apartment. We were having hot dogs and hamburgers. Near the beginning of the picnic my cousin's girlfriend came walking toward me with this dingy grey cat and said, "Hey Steph. Look what I found!" He looked less than a year old. She continued, "You should keep this guy. He could help you with your rat problem." The cat had apparently wandered across her path when she was on her way to the picnic. I held the cat and told him, "You're coming home with me, buddy." I fed him some hot dog from the picnic which he ate gladly. He seemed to have not eaten in awhile. When I took him home, I washed him in some of my hair shampoo and made a bed for him out of a cardboard box with some sheets in it. He seemed happy to be inside and comfortable.

That's me with the toothbrush in my mouth.
Solomon is just a little over 1 year old in this picture.

That was the way I met Solomon. I combed the papers for a week to see if anyone was missing a grey cat about his age. I even called someone, but their cat was younger. After checking around for awhile, I gave up checking, and he became mine. That year was an interesting year for me. I could tell you about my upstairs neighbors--one of whom had his girlfriend shave his back for him which would cause plumbing problems for the upstairs and would force some of the guys (who we were friends with) to come use our shower. I could also tell you about my criminal landlord and the incredibly unsafe apartment with smoking wiring. Solomon was my calming presence that year.

Solomon liked being inside that first year, but didn't like being without me. I was going to school full time and was gone most of the day. I'd get reports from upstairs on a regular basis about his caterwauling because I was gone. He had some strong pipes to be sure. When I'd get home, I also discovered that he liked to grab the roll of toilet paper, run a stream all the way into the living room and chew up the end of it into tiny little spit wads left neatly in a pile at the end of the stream. It looked like a pile of paper gun powder streaming to the back of the house. He had four favorite pasttimes: 1) sitting in the basement windows watching feet pass by, 2) watching my two lizards in my terrarium, and 3) sleeping with me every night. During the day, he would sleep in my laundry basket which I kept in my closet with a shower curtain for a door. 4) He loved riding in my 1971 Dodge Dart even if it was just a short trip to the store. He was a roadtripper like me.

He also liked one of my neighbors upstairs. His name was Chris and he'd never had a cat because he was a dog person. He loved Solomon because he was so large. Solomon loved him because Chris would manhandle him like he would his dogs. Every time Chris would come downstairs, he'd fling the door open and say, "Where's my buddy?!!" Solomon would come running for his manhandling session wide-eyed and excited. He could do it all day if Chris had the time. Solomon converted Chris to cat personhood.

At the end of that year, I took him home to live with me and my mom's three cats, my sister's cat Libby, and my other cat Alice. My mom's cats were named Bonnie, Chrissy, and Skeeter. Solomon stayed in my room for awhile and then we slowly introduced him to the other five cats. He was respectful of the matriarch, Bonnie and of Libby and Skeeter, but he discovered that Chrissy was the weakest link and tried to establish dominance over her, much to my mother's chagrin as Chrissy was her "baby." Curiously enough, he formed an attachment to my rather crazy cat Alice who I had adopted a year prior but couldn't have her live with me at the time. They got along amazingly even though they were opposites. He was sensitive and affectionate, but tough when he needed to be -- territorial over all he surveyed and especially protective of me. Alice was and is a high strung and neurotic tiny cat with a strangely commanding attitude despite her diminutive size. Her six pound body actually pushed his 16 pound body around and he willingly complied even though he could kill her a million times over. This was their first of many summers together.

I went back to school in the fall for my last semester. I lived in another basement apartment that was actually across the driveway from my previous apartment. I had made friends that previous year with the minister of the Wesley House. He invited me to room for free with another girl if I agreed to be a caretaker of the place. Free rent is hard to pass up. This basement apartment was much nicer. Solomon was very comfortable in this apartment and he had his basement window to sit in, and my laundry basket, and my bed. I had freed my lizards so he was my only pet. He was always a man of simple needs -- very stoic and never asking too much. That semester had an adventure involving a ghost (another story for another time) and a roommate who turned out to be not what she seemed. It was the semester of two of my regrets regarding Solomon. One was that I had him declawed that semester. Before I could take him back home to my parents' house after graduating, one of my mother's requirements was to have him declawed like her cats so he wouldn't have an advantage (or tear up her furniture). It was a very difficult surgery for him and he ended up being in a lot of pain. I always wished I had never had him or Alice declawed. The second regret was that I had had this falling out with my roommate and she moved out suddenly. Her friends told me right after she left that she had been mad at me a long time and was abusing Solomon. They had seen her kick him in the stomach across the kitchen floor and against the wall. I asked why they didn't tell me when it happened. They said, "Because you would have killed her." They were correct. I hadn't seen the signs of his increasing skitteriness.

After graduating, I took him home to live with me at my parents' house until I would go to graduate school. I worked full time for about 8 months until the fall of 1995. This period was his bonding period with Alice. They had become the best of friends -- probably because they were closer in age and because opposites do seem to attract.

One of my favorite pictures of
Solomon and Alice during this period.

While living with my parents during this period, I had some wisdom teeth extracted. I had to recover home alone after the surgery. Solomon intuited the pain I was in and wrapped his body over the top of my head like he was a pair of giant earmuffs and laid with me all day. He was also disturbed anytime I would cry and would run to comfort me.

In May of 1995, I took an impromptu road trip to Alaska with a friend (yet another story for another time). I also had just purchased my first newer vehicle -- a 1993 Nissan Truck. Alaska gave me my first epiphany about life. Solomon was there before the epiphany and he was there afterward. I worked two jobs that summer and then went off to graduate school.

Solomon and Alice were 2 and 3 years old respectively when I moved to Arkansas. Alice rode in my parents' Suburban on the way down. Solomon rode with me in my truck. She was quiet the whole way. Solomon cried all of the six hours except the first twenty minutes and the last twenty minutes. He preferred to be able to walk around the car, but since I only had a truck cab and the Dodge Dart was passed on to my sister, he had to stay in his cat carrier. He didn't much care for confinement.

I lived in my first apartment in Arkansas throughout graduate school for about 3 and a half years. Three stories come to mind about Solomon during this period of my life: the time he got out of the apartment; the time Buddy, my neighbor's cat got into the apartment; and, the first time he met a kitten close up. When I first moved into the apartment I began attending a Friday night drawing group at the University. I think I'd only gone to two of these sessions when the following event occurred. For about a week, Alice had been playing with a leaf touching the outside of my screen in the window of my bedroom. I hadn't thought anything about it at the time. I came home one Friday night and Alice came running, but not Solomon, which was unusual. As I entered the living room, there was a line of leaves leading from the living room into the bedroom and when I turned on the light in my bedroom I saw that the screen had been ripped open. I frantically ran outside, tears streaming down my face, calling his name and God's alternatively. It was a sight to see. I worried about him because he'd been an indoor cat for 2 years and hadn't been outside in Arkansas so was unfamiliar with his environment. I feared I would never find him. I walked counter-clockwise around the apartment complex until I heard two cats caterwauling at each other, one of which was Solomon. He was puffed off and facing off with another tom cat. He wouldn't let me approach him and was very disoriented. I shined my flashlight in his face so he wouldn't see me attempt to grab him. It worked and I grabbed him by the scruff and quickly supported his backside and pulled him to my torso. He immediately began purring at a level I never heard since. It was loud and thunderous and desperate. He was so relieved to be back in my arms. I took him back inside, and everything went back to the way it was.

Another time, I had brought two kittens into my apartment because I was planning on transporting them to someone else who wanted to adopt them. I kept Alice and Solomon in the bedroom half of my apartment and the kittens in the living room/kitchen half of my apartment. Right before I was going to transport the kittens, I thought I'd check out what the cats would think of the kittens. I opened the bedroom door and let Solomon see one of the kittens a few feet away. He caught sight of it, dropped down low in stalking mode, with this murderous look in his eyes and a guttural sound coming out of his mouth. The kitten frolicked innocently toward him and I scooped the kitten up, realizing that he was going to kill it. I had never had a male cat and didn't realize that some tom cats wish to kill kittens instinctively. I was very disappointed in my baby that day.

Still another story was when Solomon was sitting on my rocking chair about 15 feet away from my other entrance to my apartment. It was an internal stairway. My neighbor came over for a visit, but didn't realize her cat Buddy had followed behind. Buddy immediately began eating Alice and Solomon's food by the door. Meanwhile, Solomon saw Buddy, quietly got down from the rocking chair, crouched down low and went into what I call "choo-choo" mode. He began moving low and rapidly like a train toward the unsuspecting cat. Buddy looked up from crunching on their food and saw this 16 pound cat charging him and ran back down the stairs. To give you an idea of how fast this transpired, it happened in the time it took for my friend to come into my apartment and close the door behind her. Seconds. I'll never forget Buddy's face when he saw my mammoth cat coming toward him. Buddy never showed any interest in coming into the apartment again.

After I graduated from graduate school, I moved into an apartment that was larger so I could have a studio in my home. I lived in this apartment for 8 years, so the bulk of Solomon's history was in this apartment. It is during this period that our bond deepened. We had always had a habit of laying together before going to sleep. We started a ritual of listening to the radio on the computer and laying together before I'd go to sleep at this point in our history. We both got very used to this ritual. Solomon would often go in before me in anticipation of "Solomon time." I would usually lay there and listen to the radio while petting and talking to him. He lived for these moments, and it was a good way to wind down my day. This period in his history was also filled with games of laser light tag, which was his favorite game in his adult life. He would leap and frolic like a kitten even though his giant body and large paws thudded hard against the wood floors. It was an adorable sight. He was also a connoisseur of catnip. He would roll his entire body in it and eat it until he was as high as a kite. He was a true hedonist, which is one of the reasons why I respect cats.

He also had a neurotic quirk that I discovered in this apartment. All of my closet doors were folding doors. He had never liked closed doors, but these were particularly irksome to him. He would bounce his large body against them until they would inch open. Then he would slide his paw under the door to pull it open and go in and investigate. Basically, I'd close all the doors in the morning before I'd leave and all 4 of them would be open by the time I got home. I'd close them before bed and I'd hear him opening them all night. The closed closet doors just really bothered him. All cats are all slightly OCD in their own ways.

One of my favorite photographs of Solomon.

I dated quite a bit during this period of our history together. Solomon liked my first boyfriend in Arkansas, but after that ended, he became scrutinizing of future would-be suitors. I was dating this one man and he was intimidated by Solomon's size and Solomon was suspicious as always. Once, the man sat across from me at the kitchen table and Solomon sat between us with his body perpendicular to us. He looked at the man out of the corner of his eye. The man said, "He's checking me out!" I said, "Hey, pretend to attack me. I want to see what Solomon will do. I've always wondered." He said, "Are you kidding?!!! Have you seen the size of this cat?!!! No way!!!" This is just one example of him scrutinizing men that would come into my life.

It was also during this time that I discovered that Solomon just really liked dog people. I have a friend who is a massage therapist who cat-sat for me a couple of times. Solomon had never met her before, but the minute she entered the apartment (anytime), he would act toward her as he did toward Chris in that first apartment. He would frolic and throw himself down and roll and look like he had a smile on his face. The only thing I could determine is that since she owned Great Danes and Chris was a dog person, that he just jived with dog people.

But he wasn't a dog person himself. Whenever Solomon was curious about something outside, he'd disturb the metal window blinds noisily. There was always the constant din of what I called the "chinga-chinga-ching" sound. One night, in the middle of the night, he was frantically going after the blinds in my studio and caterwauling desperately at something outside. I got up to see what the fuss was and I opened the blinds for him and there was a husky dog outside cocking his head to one side while Solomon caterwauled at him outside. The dog was perplexed. Solomon then thrust his entire body against the window so his paws and chest hit the glass with some extreme force. The dog ran off. Solomon always believed he was the owner of all he surveyed and could kick any dog's ass inside or outside of the house.

Getting to know each other: Neither is very sure it will work out.

When my husband entered my life, Solomon was suspicious as always, but he was soon charmed by many games of laser light. Solomon had a lot of fun with Jeremiah in the later years of his life, but he would always remain my best friend. Solomon liked my husband very much eventually, but never warmed up to his son. He was terrified of children from very early on. I always wondered if he came from a household of mean little children that made him run away. One time, he heard children talking on the radio and ran off the bed and out of the room. I tried to reassure my husband's son it wasn't personal.

Making friends.

In the fall of 2006 we moved to Bella Vista, Arkansas. The backside of the house is almost entirely windows with the view of the forest and some bird feeders and tons of morning sun. I thought this place would be perfect for Jeremiah and I but also a fitting and comfortable retirement for my two elderly cats. I had no idea at this point that I would only have Solomon for just over another year. We kept our nightly ritual up and Jeremiah played laser light with him on a regular basis. Alice still kept warm with him.

In the spring of 2007, a feral cat had her kittens on our property and we decided to keep one to inject some youthful vigor into the house. Samson and Alice were and are at odds with each other--probably because they have similar wills. Samson took to Solomon as a male mentor. Solomon surprisingly had gotten over his bloodlust for kittens. I was pleased and relieved. He took to fathering Samson. He would bathe him and play with him and discipline him, when Alice didn't want anything to do with him.

I didn't see signs of Solomon's illness until 3-4 days before I had to put him to sleep. In hindsight things were recognized, but even if I had discovered his problem months in advance, it would not have been likely that he would have lived much longer. He lived out his last weeks the way he wanted to. I noticed that he was spending a lot of time daydreaming out the bedroom window in the sun. A week and a half or so before he passed, Samson had grown and began to challenge Solomon's dominance. Solomon put him in his place in a fight that seemed to invigorate him. He was suddenly very spry and strong and succeeded in putting Samson in his place. He had a look of joy on his face as he fought and a look of pride when the fight ended. He walked away with a little pep in his step.

One of the last photos of Solomon and Alice
after 12 years together. Alice misses him too.

The day before he passed, Samson and Alice were spending a lot of time with him. I had made an appointment for him at the veterinarian for the next day thinking that he just wasn't being himself. When I came home, both of the other cats were wrapped around him in an unusual way on a largely unused chair. That night I went to an event at work and when we got home we noticed that Solomon hadn't been eating or drinking. He would just go over to his food or water and stare at either and walk away. I gave him a can of wet food and he ate that like he was starving so I thought there might be something wrong with his teeth. I had to help him into the bed that night for our ritual. He didn't seem to have much strength. I petted him and talked to him during our one last bedtime ritual. I fell asleep and Jeremiah got me up at midnight and said that Solomon had thrown up what little he ate of the wet food, so we took him to the emergency veterinary clinic. They initially gave us hope and said I could pick him up in the morning, but called the house as soon as we got back and said he was slipping away fast and recommended euthanasia. It was complete kidney failure. He was gone at 4:30 a.m. on November 14, 2007. I thought about writing about his last hours and minutes, but they are not fruitful to repeat and just like in life I want this piece to focus on his life and not his death. Suffice it to say, I was there with him like he had been with me. I told him I loved him over and over and called him by his secret nickname as he slipped away. I know he heard me because he calmed down as I talked to him. He went peacefully as he deserved.

Many stories and anecdotes are missing from this biography of a truly noble cat. He was with me from the age of 21 to 35 -- through schooling, graduations, art exhibitions, joys, sorrows, and epiphanies. During his life Solomon was playful, had a sense of humor, was manly, tough, sensitive, neurotic, dignified, stoic, loving, affectionate, a great friend and companion, a dog person, and a fighter until the end. He was all the things people can be with the unconditional love only innocence can offer. He will be missed always. He was so beautiful.

Some more photos.

Solomon playing with his laser light.

© Stephanie Lewis, 2008