Three cats watching fish in an aquarium

by Vintage Editions

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Artist Statement

This delightful illustration of three Siamese cats staring intently at their target—a bowl with three fish—never would have come about without the efforts of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration.

Within the Works Progress Administration, there were several different programs creating employment opportunities through public works initiatives. One such program was the Federal Writers’ Project (or the FWP). It provided jobs to writers as well as librarians, clerks, researchers, editors, and more. It is estimated that over ten thousand people found employment through this specific project. Over its existence, the employees of the FWP produced thousands of publications ranging from state and city guides to local histories and ethnographies.

Another series of works from the FWP were children’s books. While the books were intended to amuse and divert children’s attention from the hardships of daily life during the Great Depression, they also sought to teach facts, morality, and justice through simple, easy-to-read narratives, striking illustrations, and intriguing graphic design. One of these children’s books was Wilson Morris’s A Day With Bum; and the smart little fish, illustrated by Clyde A. Copson. It's Copson's signature that you'll spy in the lower right corner of this edition.

The publication of the book was co-sponsored by the FWP and the New York City New Reading Materials Program, the latter having been created to improve the reading skills of the city’s youth. While other initiatives that worked with the FWP brought in commercial partners, the New York City Reading Materials Program self-published its 200-some titles in large editions, unfortunately relying on inexpensive and unstable paper and ink. The few copies that survive today exist mostly in public and academic libraries, and are often badly damaged due to the brittle and acidic paper used in their production. A Day with Bum; and the smart little fish now lives in the Rare Books Room at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Why We Love It

Our starring cool kitties are staring down their intended target—three plump, pretty fish gliding around in a glass aquarium. Please, for the love of art, zoom in on the green fish’s incredible, anxious side eye. If that expression doesn’t inject a little joy into your life, perhaps a trio of symmetrically posed siamese felines will strike your fancy, or the layered, colorful layout and peculiarly flat perspective. You don’t need to be a cat person to appreciate the playful vibe, poppy palette, and appealing detail work in this vintage print. Add to that this artwork’s interesting history and you’ve got something extraordinary on your hands ... Read more on the blog!

Vintage Editions

For our Vintage Editions series, our curators scour historical archives for both timeless classics and heretofore unseen gems. These images come back to life as exhibition-quality prints now available to everyone. As a bonus, purchasing equals patronage: sales from Vintage Edition prints go towards supporting our growing roster of artists.
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