Tucson, Arizona– July 10, 2015 | written by Museum Services Manager Emily Wolverton
Strolling through our galleries, visitors will quickly realize that our Museum Founder loves animals. Furry friends can be found in many pieces which Pat Arnell acquired, and were almost always incorporated into the pieces which she herself created. She often develops amusing backstories for the pets in her settings and frequently features them in scenes of merry mischief. While the range of critters to be found is varied – from poodles to dragons to mice – there is arguably no animal which can be found in more abundance than the common tabby cat. As a proud cat owner herself, she has bestowed countless feline companions upon the residents of her nutshell neighborhoods, ensuring happy homes for pet and owner, alike. It is no surprise that she fell in love with the miniature cats and feline figures of David Claudon,1 whose theatrical eye enabled him to create cats with robust personalities.
Sculpted in the likeness of his own pets, the cats made by IGMA2 artisan David Claudon have a realistic charm that is easily recognized by cat owners. Their bodies have a blocky tenderness that comes from being hand-formed, allowing the love of the artisan to be felt intimately. Their fur is handpainted, not made of faux fur or flocked as some miniature animal artisans will do – though sticklers for detail will appreciate knowing that their whiskers are made from actual cat hair. Claudon created epoxy casts of his little sculptures, which he was then able to manipulate – cutting their heads or limbs to put them in new positions – which he could simply epoxy back together again when finished.3 He created his cats under his business The Butterfly Cat Studio4, a name which stemmed from a Kewpieville story written in 1924 by Rose O’Neill for Ladies Home Journal, which featured a cat with butterfly wings.5 (Incidentally, our museum doesn’t have any butterfly-winged cats in our extensive Kewpie Collection, but we do have numerous Kewpie Doodle Dogs, which have little blue wings of their own.) In a partnership with his former wife Ferbie, the Claudons also created a line of cat figures called Kitty Kitsch, which highlighted Ferbie’s excellent skills as a seamstress. The Kitty Kitsch line celebrated their mutual love of period fashion and theatrics, generating feline figures in wigs and hats, decked out in splendid vests and sequined gowns. Arnell designed Meow Mansion (1987), one of her more imaginative pieces in our Enchanted Realm Gallery, to feature various Kitty Kitsch inhabitants in a half-inch scale dollhouse. Visitors can see even more of these precocious kitties nearby as stand-alone figures in a dedicated display, Claudon Cats (ca. 1980-1998). Their business ended in 1995 when the couple parted ways, leaving many collectors still hungry for more, including Pat Arnell.
In total, Claudon cats can be found in over 35 roomboxes and dollhouses in our galleries, including Greene and Greene (Pat & Noel Thomas, 1989) and Colonial Mexican Dining Room (Peter Westcott, 1991). They are found sleeping in baskets, curled up on beds, and lounging on couches. They can be seen rubbing up on the furniture, standing watch on the stairs, and floating on cruise ships. They hunt mice, nurse kittens, and snooze by the fire. They are mermaids and mummies, witches and soldiers. Trying to spot them all is a delightful challenge, made all the trickier because Claudon made them in one inch, half inch, and even quarter inch scale!
Perhaps surprisingly, there are many instances in our galleries where there is no human figure to be found, with the pet alone providing that special spark that brings a scene to life. The inclusion of a pet, a food bowl, or a tattered toy are attentive touches that allow viewers to unfold the story before them. Pets are our most loyal confidants, eager to please and ready to play. For many, their friendship is a much-needed salve in a world where people so often fail us. There is a wisdom in Pat Arnell’s liberal display of furry friends – a pet truly makes a house a home.
- In 1995, Charles Claudon made the decision to go by his middle name, David. All of our museum citations list him as Charles Claudon, the name he used while making his cat figures.
- International Guild of Miniature Artisans
- The Butterfly Cat Studio was in operation from 1980 – 1995.
- Smith, Anne Day. Masters in Miniature Volume One: 12 Artisans At Work. Benton Review Printing. 1987. P 33.
- Ibid, p. 37