Sophisticats - Page 3

How the feline form in the mid-century evoked a cool yet spiritual persona with an aura of mystery
Artist El Gato Gomez (above) has a jones for the bizarre—space invaders and saucers, monsters and spooks, all things beatnik and tiki, and of course cats and mid-century modern. She brings together the feline form and MCM here with two untitled but intriguing recent paintings (top and middle).

The popularity of cats as pets surged in the mid-20th century, says Karen Lawrence, curator of the Feline Historical Foundation, which has a cat museum in Ohio. In its collection is "an appropriate residence for the cat" designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (or an associate) for Wright's 1954 Tonkens house in Ohio, Lawrence says.

"You had a lot of cat shows back then. Cats became exceptionally popular in the '40s, '50s, and '60s. That sort of started a whole new era," she says. "There was a recognition that a cat was actually a popular pet."

Cats magazine, which started in 1945, and similar titles that followed also played an important role, Lawrence says.

"Cats magazine had a long and very successful run [through 2001]. It brought about an era of more communication. It highlighted different breeds," she says.

Cats get center stage for 'Mambo for Cats,' a classic 1954 album cover by the legendary artist Jim Flora.

Perhaps because cats were becoming more civilized, the cats that dominated décor in the mid-century were far from raffish, alley cat types—or even the sort of cats that would lurk about dead fish.

The 'cool cat' phenomenon was worldwide back then. Some artists even specialized in cats. Some played up the mystery or menace of cats, or suggested a certain spirituality about them.