Pyramid of Cats
December 9, 2015 § 23 Comments
By KAY ROBERTS
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.
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.