Sophisticats - Page 5

How the feline form in the mid-century evoked a cool yet spiritual persona with an aura of mystery
Sophisticats
This 'appropriate residence for the cat' found its way into the Tonkens house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Ohio (1954).

Years before Andy Warhol (1928-1987) remade the art world by showing paintings of Campbell Soup cans, he was focusing instead on cats. In 1954 he published a book of lithographs, 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy, in an edition of 190. These were all cats Warhol had been living with.

Many of the popular producers of ceramic statuettes and home décor throughout the '50s, '60s, and '70s included cats in their lines, including Witco (Western International Trading Co.), which is best known for tiki ware. Designer and one of Witco's founders, William Westenhaver (1925-2016), had a style all his own, as his long-necked, rather-clunky-looking cats attest.

And, as Josh 'Shag' Agle reminds us, no discussion of mid-century cats can ignore the Kit-Cat Clock, which, although invented by Earl Arnault (1904-1971) in 1932, soared to popularity after a redesign in the 1950s, gracing countless children's bedrooms with its Felix the Cat eyes and wagging tail.

  Sophisticats
A trio of Sexton wall plaques: vintage, kitschy, and Siamese.
 

Popular among fans today of mid-mod cats are the Sexton wall plaques, which were made of cast aluminum at the firm's foundry in Missouri. The company, founded by Leland Sexton (1922-2010) with his brother shortly after World War II, churned out varied décor, from Colonial in spirit to whimsical, till its closing in 2003.

"I consider the Sexton cat plaques to be kitschy, but that's not an insult," Agle says. "I believe there is room for kitsch in interiors; even a high-end serious interior can be invigorated by a spot of kitsch.

"Imagine if you covered one wall of a room with dozens of Sexton cat plaques. It would be transformed into a high-art assemblage."

  Sophisticats
A pair of clunky-looking cats from the Witco company.
 

However, few of Sexton's pieces are as stylish as their series of curvaceous Siamese felines, their tails upraised sinuously.

It's hard to go wrong with cats when you keep it simple.

 

Photography & illustrations: Mark Berry, Bernard Schilling; and courtesy Josh Agle, El Gato Gomez, Donna Mibus, Barbara Bullington, Office of Frank Lloyd Wright, Mendocino Art Center, Bauer Pottery Company, estate of Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman, Rico Tee Archive

 

 

STORY RESOURCES

Shag (Josh Agle)
shag.com

El Gato Gomez
elgatogomezarts.com

Barbara Bullington
fineartamerica.com

Donna Mibus
donna-mibus.pixels.com

Feline Historical Foundation
felinehistoricalfoundation.org

Alley Cat Allies
alleycat.org