At the end of 2020 I was commissioned by a cat named Dinah to make a gift for her father. This would be a farewell piece, as she was moving away from home and wanted to leave him with an assurance that he’d done a good job as a co-parent.

I adore cats, and loved the sweet idea behind this request. Dinah I was told, is best be described as “Loyal, cautious, shy, stubborn, talkative, regimented, gentle.” Dinah’s father loves old Hollywood cinema, traveling, fedoras and being on the water. She further told me, that pop was a “Simpsons” fan and that an homage to the heart-swelling ‘do it for her’ scene would be good inspiration.


Dinah in progress

I work primarily with vintage books and magazines. For this project I also incorporated ink-printed photographs of Dinah and her dad. Initially I thought I’d do a single piece collage, and the squarish center piece is where I started. The images are from old high-end interior decorating books–heavily influenced by overly-perfect movie sets.

I’d sketched out some ideas that basically aped the photocollage Homer made, but that quickly led to dead end. After some struggle, I eventually realized that the collage I was making should actually be the opposite of that scene. Instead of employing Dinah to motivate her father’s work, this piece should be a reassuring capstone to his time raising her. Dinah is going out into the world happy to start a new chapter in her life thanks to dad, and I wanted to show that.

the stage set
portrait of a young professional
Dinah as a young professional

Without going into all my symbolic intent, here in broad strokes are some of the ideas I put into this triptych. The backdrop became the setting for a classic tv show, something along the lines of 1966’s “That Girl”, 1968’s “Julia”, “Maude” from 1972, or 1970’s “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. Maybe it’s the set of a talk show, like something Dinah Shore hosted?

When I saw a proper looking human figure with “CAT” written over it in “LIFE” Magazine, how could I resist? Instead of just gluing Dinah the cat to the backdrop I made a freestanding body for her–a nod to standing on her own two (two?) feet. I think she looks like a reporter conducting an interview, or maybe a successful business lady checking her packing list before heading for a long voyage.

Father and daughter

Finally, I couldn’t call the set finished until I put in a picture of Dinah and her pop, Todd. I thought about simply buying a frame for one of the photos, for realism. Instead while working with the pictures that I’d printed out in multiple sizes, I overlaid two and the doubled image felt almost right. The duplicated dream-like image said something to me about the parts of us that we leave with others, and the memories of loved ones that we carry forever. I wanted to accentuate the idea of emotions and memories over of ‘photorealistic’ perfect recall though, so I quickly colored over the small collage with pencil, crayon, and watercolors, obscuring it with a rough foggy child-like sketch.

While the sketch dried I cut a rectangle from the center of some striped origami paper, and started making stands for each element of the triptych. I wanted the drawing framed to feel like the kind of snapshot a person would’ve had for ages, and carry off to college or set up in their first apartment; and for the whole diorama to give viewers a place to get lost with their memories, to look from inside and out at the ongoing story of their past.

“Dinah, Cat’s Cradle” Triptych, December 2020