Pyramid of Cats

December 9, 2015 § 24 Comments


Marion Seawell | Pyramid of Cats (1971)


My house is full; I have too much art; I need to downsize. And so, inspired by Marie Kondo’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I began to dig around downstairs for art I could sell or donate.

I was looking for an old print I knew was around somewhere, but instead I found a wonderful cat poster I didn’t recognize. One cat was piled on the back of another, from a big lion on the bottom to a perky black house cat on the top. My husband and I are cat people, but we had no idea when or how we had acquired it. Perhaps it was from his mother, an amateur artist who loved cats, or maybe it came from a friend in a library where I worked in the 1970s. We obviously liked and saved it, but it was never framed and has no pinholes from being hung on the wall of our son’s room. What should I do with it?

It was signed Marion Seawell, 1971. Enter the Internet. I quickly found out that Marion Seawell is a California artist and that the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco shows her work. So I emailed the gallery:

Are you interested in this poster or can you suggest how I might sell or donate it? I see the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums own a copy and I am not interested in selling on eBay. 

I received this prompt reply:

Thanks for your message, which comes as an answered prayer for someone inquiring recently about where to find the Pyramid of Cats. I am copying Diana Dee on this message and leave it to the two of you to work out arrangements. Marion Seawell will be pleased.

I quickly heard from Diana Dee, who wrote:

I recently contacted Mr. Reynolds regarding Marion Seawell’s cat pyramid print as I’ve been unable to locate one. The print was in my grandparents’ home when I was a very young child and now hangs in my aunt’s home. I’ve always loved it and been mesmerized by it. I’m not sure what you would prefer to do with your copy, but I’m very interested, obviously. I work at a nonprofit mental health center and I also do wildlife rehabilitation (unpaid). I honestly can’t afford much, but I would still like to know what you would be asking for it.

Soon Diana and I became email pals, sharing what we knew about Marion Seawell’s Pyramid of Cats. Diana wrote that her aunt purchased the poster when she was in college and then left it at her parents’ house. She remembers staring at the entire poster, but also looking at the cats as individuals.

She wrote:

Sometimes I’d test myself by trying to name each species or remember their order. I was captivated by the detail in the drawing and I’m pretty sure that poster started my overall fascination with big cats and animals in general. My grandparents both passed away and my aunt reclaimed her poster at some point. It’s worn and is not framed. I’m not sure if it ever was. The poster now hangs in the beach house that has been in my family for generations. A couple of summers ago, I texted Marion Seawell’s name to myself and started looking for a copy. I was unsuccessful and had little hope of finding it to begin with for some reason. This past summer, I did the same and wasn’t so quick to give up. On a whim, thinking I might not receive a response at all, I sent Mr. Reynolds a message after finding a connection between the gallery and Ms. Seawell. Now here we are, thanks to the thoughtfulness of both of you.

I was touched by Diana’s story and happy this neglected poster, which had lingered too long in my storage room, would have a good home. I told Diana she could drop by and I would be pleased to give it to her. Well! Remember the old cartoon about how nobody knows you’re a dog on the Internet? I just assumed, since the artist, her gallery, and I were in the Bay Area, so was Diana. Not so. Diana lives in New Hampshire. So I went looking for a mailing tube, and the one I found brought back memories of another happy art story.

We had kept a tube acquired years ago on a walking trip in France. At the end of our walk, we wandered into a little art shop outside Chartres, attracted by some colorful prints. We dallied a long time and finally chose one, but the artist-shopkeeper had overheard that I really liked another one better. She said: “I never do this, but I really like you two, so I am giving you the second one.” I love those prints even more because of her generosity. The tube we had packed into my backpack to bring home so long ago was clearly waiting for another art trip.

Off it went to New Hampshire, with Marion Seawell’s Pyramid of Cats inside, to live with a woman who had been inspired by it when she was just a little girl and loved it ever since. And now Diana has recently become a fulltime intern for the wildlife organization where she volunteered.

The Thomas Reynolds Gallery tells us its philosophy is that art is good for you and can improve your life. Through this experience, I have discovered that art can not only make life better — it can even change your life, as it did for Diana.

§ 24 Responses to Pyramid of Cats

  • nyamahiro says:

    What a fantastic story!

  • MM Fisher says:

    I really enjoy reading the posts on Art Matters and today particularly enjoyed Pyramid of Cats!

  • Sandy Ostrau says:

    What a great story!

  • Emily Rice says:

    I am looking for a print of “Pyramid of Cats” by Marion Seawell. I have found you through a strange set of circumstances. Stranger still is that this story may sound a bit familiar.

    My grandfather had a print of “Pyramid of Cats” by Marion Seawell hanging in his home for as long as I can remember. He used to teach me how to draw those cats, and partially due to his influence I became an artist and gallery curator. When I think of my grandfather, this is the image I see. When he died, my uncle threw away most of grandpa’s stuff and the poster was lost. I was crushed, but at least my parents still had many of my grandfather’s things, so we still had some good sentimental family heirlooms.

    However, I’ve never stopped looking for that poster. The only thing is I had no idea who the artist was, what the title was, if it was an original drawing or a poster. Nothing. So no matter how I searched, I never found anything.

    Fast forward 25+ years to this summer. My parents retired, packed up everything they owned and moved across the country. Only the moving truck never arrived. It was stolen, along with everything they owned. We were absolutely devastated — 70 years of collecting and memories gone. As I tried to help my parents pick up the pieces, I thought again of this poster.

    So I went on Facebook and reached out to my cat lovers group and asked everyone if they could help me keep an eye out for it based on my foggy recollection of what it looked like 25+ years ago. Not only did someone find it within 10 minutes, but she found it in connection to an article written by one of your clients. Reading her story sounded so much like my situation it was a little strange; at one point I wondered if we had the same grandpa.

    Her story was really inspiring and started out similar to mine. It also led me to you. So I wanted to reach out to you and see if you have one of these posters or know of someone who might be interested in selling.

  • John says:

    I have one if you are still looking…It is framed but the frame could use updating. I believe it is a poster or lithograph with Marion Seawell’s name and the date of 1971 next to it. I’m located in NJ.

  • Marie Ady says:

    I too have a framed one, and I was curious as to the value. The lady I got it from lived in SF. It is unique. Just curious as to the value.

    • John says:

      One sold at auction a few years back for $120. From the picture that one looked like it had a stain on it so if the market was the same and you had a clean copy I would think 130-150.

      • Marie Ady says:

        Thanks for the prompt reply. Mine is framed under glass, so very stain free.

  • B & C Seawell says:

    Our cousin, Marion Seawell, would be so pleased to hear your stories about the Pyramid of Cats poster. Unfortunately she passed away today, April 7th. She was a wonderful, kind, woman who will be missed by her friends and family.

    • Marie Ady says:

      So sorry to hear of her passing. I was new to researching the picture. I would almost bet that she (Virginia Roth) was given this picture. She did bookkeeping for Mark Hopkins, I think. Loved and cared for 2 stray cats that were dumped there. Incredible lady. I received the picture after Virginia died.

    • Lisa says:

      I read of Marion’s passing when I was volunteering at The Redwoods today. She was a lovely and talented person and will be missed very much.

  • Riley says:

    We have “Pyramid of Cats” hanging in our bedroom — it is my very favorite thing in our home. I am so sorry to hear of her passing, and grateful to have her beautiful work in my life.

    • B & C Seawell says:

      The Seawell family is very glad that her art lives on and makes people happy. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • John says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with her family. Her legacy will continue to bring joy to many people. Thank you

  • editors says:

    Farewell to a talented artist and a special friend.

  • Marian Seawell says:

    It’s nice to read that my Aunt’s artwork is well liked. She was a likeable person and it’s fitting that her artwork is as “liked” as she was. Thank you everyone for all of the nice comments and thoughts.

  • I am looking for Marion Seawell’s Pyramid of Cats from 1971. Please let me know if you are interested in selling.

  • joannalule says:

    I absolutely loved reading this wonderful thread! I recently came across some paintings owned by my grandfather and found an original Marion Seawell! We believe this print is called the Last Egg.
    It is many birds surrounding a nest with just one egg. I would love to post a picture in case anyone is interested!

  • Dawn aura says:

    Hi I was just given a copy of the pyramid of cats. How many copies were made? mine is framed and water stained around the frame and the paper is a bit yellowed but the drawing part is fine. definitely needs reframing and cleaning up. thanks,

    • editors says:

      Marion Seawell says in her book: “Two good friends who admired my drawing of a pyramid of cats suggested I go into the poster business. One financed the production, the other and I split the cost of a small ad in The New Yorker. We immediately received 3,000 orders.” So, assuming they filled all those orders, there are at least 3,000 copies out there, and probably more. Enjoy it!

  • Cynthia GeistTidd says:

    I own one of these Pyramid of Cats posters. I’ve always loved it. The time it must have taken her to create this is amazing. Mine is framed and I really enjoy looking at it.

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