Caticons – 4,000 Years of Feline Fascination

You may be wondering … “what exactly is a caticon anyway?” … well, let’s start with the actual definition:

Cat·i·con [kat ́-ī-kän]; n. A tangible representation of the feline form of a purely decorative order, i.e., an object with no functional purpose; an objet d’art created in the image of a feline.

This post is about a book called Caticons which chronicles the private collection of Sandy Lerner and documents 4,000 years of humans and their love of all things feline. It’s a truly remarkable piece of art in its own right and a MUST HAVE coffee table book for any cat lover!

Sandy is the quintessential ailurophile … in other words, she’s one serious cat fancier!  >^..^<  Sandy has spent 30 years meticulously collecting and curating cat memorabilia from all over the world and her new book is a fascinating testament and historical journey of art imitating cats. Check out Sandy Lerner’s bio here.

Caticons: A remarkable new book that celebrates 4,000 years of humans and their love of all things feline. Click To Tweet

We had the distinct privilege to interview Sandy and find out a bit more about her journey and the impetus behind her collection. Here’s what she kindly shared with us. {Note: when Sandy references an item with a page # in her commentary below, that’s from the actual Caticons book itself.}

Q:  Do you have a favorite (or two) artifact(s) in your collection? If so, what are they, and why?

I’ve always said the one I’d save in a fire is the little octagonal silver tea caddy (below) with the kitten on top (p.189) …AFTER the REAL cats, of course! It would fit right under my arm, along with the Hittite cup (p. 45…photo is further down in this post).

I think I’d also try and save the Ronner on p.260 (top), because the fat orange kitten is so like Ratty. I quote Alberto Giacometti on p.146, “In a fire, between a Rembrandt and a cat, I would save the cat.” Me, too. 

Photo: Contentment by Henriette Ronner-Knip

Q:  What was your impetus (other than loving cats) to begin such a remarkable 30 year caticon quest?

If you look at the book, it talks about the genesis of the term “caticon” and my husband’s embargo on “Cat Icons,” i.e., substitute cats as he was allergic to cats (p.13). I decided that anything we needed to by would have to have a cat (or many) on it, but it was not a Cat Icon as it was a useful item we needed. I love both a challenge and a puzzle. Long after I had real cats again, I kept up the game.

Photo: 1936 f Gilt-bronze-mounted and Cream-painted Lit de Chat (Cat Bed), 20C, French

Q:  What were you hoping to achieve or did the collection process evolve naturally?

My stated objective was to acquire a cat-themed object x for all x. Meaning that, if there existed on in some representation of or with cat/cats, I would have it.. cat measuring spoons, cat calculator (yep! Hello Kitty), cat shoes (LOTS), cat scissors, etc….(cf p.14)

Photo (left): Porcelain Model of a Cat on an Ormolu Base
Photo (right): Staffordshire Porcellaneous Model of a Cat and Kittens, 19C, British

Q:  What was your most memorable (or unexpected or even funny) acquisition and why?

An early one was the Michael Leu, “Fuzzy on the Golden Gate Bridge” (p. 12 – photo below) which I scored at a street fair in the bay area. It was memorable as I had just started Cisco Systems and the logo I had designed was an abstract representation of the GG bridge, and there was a blue cat (me) on the center of it. I felt very validated … 😉

My most memorable purchase was, of course, the Hittite cat cup (p.45 – photo below). I still marvel that it’s in the vitrine; I keep thinking I’ll wake up and it will have been a dream.

Q:  What was the most unusual place you ever obtained a feline artifact?

Wow.. that took some thought. I have looked all over the world. Probably the Persian cat-lock (a lock shaped like a cat, not a lock to put on your cat…) that a friend picked up in an Iraqi flea-market (p.49 – photo below). I didn’t get it personally, but it’s certainly someplace I’m not likely to frequent. Mostly it was just serendipity–being in the right place at the right time, rather than being in weird places. I often go to flea market booths and say, “Have you got any cats.” Usually, the answer is “no,” but sometimes…

Q:  You mention that your collection has no unhappy, unlucky cats, even unsociable cats…a conscious choice no doubt…yes? Why?

These are things I live with. We all know that there are unhappy cats out there, no matter how we cat-people try and find all of the poor and suffering ones and help them to a better life. I want to surround myself with things that remind me of the long, long time that people have loved cats have loved people, and the wonderful and varied ways we’ve found to express this–on both sides.

Photo (left): Staffordshire Pottery Laughing Cat / Photo (right): Pair of Imari Cats

Q:  Are any of your items unusually rare or perhaps even ‘one of a kind’?

That’s a hard question, as so many caticons are in private collections, as museums usually do not put a high value on acquiring animalia in general, and caticons in particular. Certainly, I’ve never seen anything close to the Hittite cup. Some of the artists represented in the collection produced only one work featuring a cat, and I have several of those. In 30 years, I’ve never seen another Chinese bottle like the one I have with the cats on it (p.187 – photo below left)…on the right is a white Potpourri Vase, Mennecy, mid-18C, French.

Another such item would be the ravishing moonstone brooch on p.20 (photo below). Come to think of it, I’d take that out in a fire … it is truly magical.

Q:  Is there a special/unique item that’s still on your ‘must have’ list that you have yet to acquire? If so, what is it?

Well, I’m still waiting for that jade yin/yang pendant (photo below) to come back around (p.72) and the Stubbs’ “Miss White’s kitten” (p.72). Mostly, these things just appear, and there’s no real way to look for something as so few have been documented. I’ve been to several cat museums (US, UK and Holland) and haven’t seen anything that would inspire me to cat-burglary. I’ll know it if I see it…

Q:  What’s the best (most fun) thing about collecting these items? 

I call it exporrigo ad absurdum (p. 11). Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess. It keeps things from becoming completely mental by focusing on the downright silliness of it all. Best not to take anything temporal too seriously.

Photo: cat night light (left) and door bell (right)

Q:  As of this writing how many items (approx) do you currently have in the collection?

Please see “The Cat Conundrum” on p. 297. The answer is an imaginary number. There are thousands…

Photo: Two sample display cases which no doubt continue to spark many a fascinating conversation

Q:  Where are the caticons displayed…in your home? Office? Elsewhere?

EVERYWHERE!! I have a house in England, Catcombe Mill (seriously…) that has cats, my other houses have cats, my cars have cats, and I try to have at least one cat on me at all times (real or caticon). I’m kind of like Barbara Cartland and pink, but I hate pink but if I don’t have cats on me, people will think I’m not well, or that I’ve been body-snatched.

Photo: Ballroom Mantel

Q:  You had to see this one coming…do you own any cats now? If so, how many? 

Weeeelllllllllllllllll, that’s not as easy to answer as it might first seem. I live in my personal house with three personal cats. The manor house on the property has an amorphous quantity of special-needs cats; some pass away, others are lucky enough to be patched back together so they can get a more personal forever home, and we take whole feral colonies (and recently rescued some cats from the hurricane in Louisiana) to re-establish in the various structures at the farm–usually between 30-60. We have a full-time veterinary nurse to care for them, and they all have proper food, vetting, and warm, safe places. So, how many cats…?  Photos of my three housemates are below… Remember, you asked for it…

Sippa uses Caticons for protective colouration. Check out those ear-furnishings!! She won first prize for Best Ear Hair at the Average Joe Cat Show in Seattle a few years ago. 

Photo: Sippa on left lounging and again on right hard at work helping Sandy with the manuscript editing

The other two cats are called Nina and Thing…we’ll let Sandy explain…

Ravenna Charlotte (“Nini” – photo left) is named after Charlotte Weir, one of the local Sainte Chats. She is an excellent hunter, and the Designated Adult of our house [below photo – left].  Thing [photo – right] has Bedroom Eyes and  the most amazing feet… 24 beautiful toes, and in a perfect circle. Thing uses Caticons for protective colouration (in this case, a 19th Century printed cat-pillow).

Thing just turned 17 and went to the pub in Castle Combe for his birthday. Thing has even been to Thingley, near Chippenham, England.

Q:  Can we expect (or at least hope for) another 30 years of Sandy’s ongoing quest for cat icon acquisition?

I’m definitely slowing down… I have finally found a cat salt-cellar (p. 37) which I have to acquire because it’s one of the rare things I could know I didn’t have. At this point, I am VERY choosy, like cats and expensive cat food. >^..^<

Summary

If we had any problem creating this article it was in trying to decide which of the soooo many amazing images to showcase! We just had to sneak in another photo because we were purr-ticularly smitten by these two caticons…

Photo (left): Tabby Cat Seated at a Treadle Sewing, likely Austrian, c. 1880-1920, cold-painted bronze, 2-1/4″ high
Photo (right): Cat Corkscrew, c. 1935, bronze and glass, eight” tall

A very special thanks to Sandy for her candid, humorous and entertaining commentary! A huge thanks also to her wonderfully helpful and efficient assistants Diane and Judy for their patience and support, and of course for sourcing and providing us with all the luscious caticon imagery!

We wish Sandy at least another couple of decades of active caticon collecting so we can anticipate her second book … “The Caticon Conundrum – so many feline artifacts, so little time!”  Please be sure to follow the Caticon IG feed to see many more feline inspired marvels at @caticonsbook

Order your copy here => Buy the Caticons Book

Do you own a unique caticon? If so, drop us a comment in the “Leave a Reply” box below and please feel free to email us a photo.

 

2 Comments

  1. Kathleen Mueller November 1, 2017
  2. jmuhj November 3, 2017

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