I looked at Cookie on the kitchen floor, on her back with her toes curled, a defiant look on her face, and it happened—that moment of visualization. I could see a linoleum block print in black ink on white rice paper, hand-tinted with oranges and yellows for the patches in Cookie’s tortoiseshell fur and green for her eyes and pink for her nose. I would call the print “The Goddess” for the many women depicted with generous figures in sculpture and painting through the millennia.
From the time I first described it to someone, who chuckled at the idea of the image, I knew Cookie was a winner (scroll to the bottom to read more about creating the print and also “The Roundest Eyes”). And through the years she has continued to bring people and stories to my display no matter where I am—everyone knows a cat who looks like Cookie! I’ve decided I finally have a place to share those stories, here in this blog post. I’m starting with a few from the Artisan Market, and I’ll just keep adding to the top after this; not all are tortie cats, but all are beloved kitties. If you have a story, add it to the comments!
On Friday at Carnegie Arts & Heritage, a friend stopped by who I’d worked with at an art store years before and then who turned up at the framer I worked with for years and framed several of my largest paintings, and who also happened to be a cat person, along with her husband and mother. Somewhat into our chitchat her mother nodded at the t-shirt bearing Cookie’s image and said, “Doesn’t that look like Bethany?”
It turns out Bethany also has a half and half face, is a little plump and lies on her back all the time! She was found as a kitten by her other daughter in an alley behind a bar in Bethany, WV where her daughter attended Bethany College. The woman had lost her 21-year-old cat and determined not to get another “at her age”. “Mom, I know you don’t want another cat, but I found this kitten and I can’t keep her and I can’t just let her go, let me bring her home and see what you think,” she said.
Despite a kitten who nips at fingers and ankles in the middle of play, Bethany quickly won over her new human’s heart and is two years into her new position of becoming her human’s next long-lived kitty.
Thursday night at Carnegie Arts & Heritage a young man hurrying through the artist’s tent stopped and looked open-mouthed, pointing at the print of Cookie, quickly whipped out his cell phone, tap, tap, tap, held it up to show me a photo of his tortie cat, then ran on to whatever he’d been doing in the first place.
A mother and her three daughters headed straight for the print of The Goddess at my booth, laughing and pointing at the kitty who looks just like their Kissa—who lies on the floor “just like that!” Kissa was one of two stray kittens, the other a tabby, rescued in their neighborhood by a neighbor; this family adopted Kissa from them. She is playful but can be unpredictable, though not enough to scare off three little girls! “Kissa” is “cat” in Finnish.
Any tortie living and playing with three little girls is one special tortie!
It must be a habit of tortie cats to lie on their backs! Baby was another stray kitten (I see another trend there, too) who now rules the house and lies on her back just like Cookie. “She’s a real queen!” said her owner.
Queen, Goddess, they really carry through!
Princess is a tortie who was rescued during the Rodney King riots in LA at about age 11. She’d been living in a closet of an apartment with a paraplegic drug dealer and a few itinerant roommates, but the building was in danger so everyone was moved out, but no one could take the cat who was taken in by her current owner. She is now 22, “pees wherever she wants to”, and is still the grande dame of the household.
Real tortitude to get through all that!
TABBY and CHARLIE
Tabby was one of two kitten stowaways found in her owner’s vehicle during a hurricane in Florida. There had been a stray mother cat around with kittens and they tried to find her before they evacuated, no luck. When they arrived at their destination they unpacked the kittens and could only guess that the mother cat stowed them in the vehicle to save their lives, then ran to hide. They never saw her again, and found another home for the other kitten.
These same people took in Charlie–or rather when their son stepped out the door one afternoon to talk on his cell phone, Charlie walked in as if he already lived there, right past the 150-lb. Rottweiler. They decided that kind of cojones deserved a home, so they kept him.
(They came for a closer look at The Goddess, then saw the tote bag with Mr. Sunshine in the sink.) Turkey Howard has spent most of his life in the sink, and he still enjoys it at age 13 but needs a lift from a human!
With an inspiration that strong, I probably would have done it anyway, but I had other reasons as well. In the late 1990s having my sketches and paintings reproduced was still expensive and not always successful and I wanted artwork that I could reproduce easily and inexpensively myself so that I could have something more affordable than original artwork to sell in my displays.
I’d worked with small linoleum block prints for years and always enjoyed the medium, but this time I decided I wanted something larger and I might actually create a series—which led to “The Roundest Eyes” depicting my other tortie, Kelly, a few months later. Between the two, Cookie gets more notice and stories, but Kelly sells more t-shirts and prints…we just don’t let Cookie know that.
Capturing all Cookie’s freckles and spots and stripes was indeed a challenge, especially when I went to actually cut them out of the surface of the linoleum block. Below, compare the reference photo and the print.