Sometimes you get tired of all the folk paintings of kids and their pets. This piece is a welcome relief from that monotony, at least for me. We've had it in the Fenimore Art Museum collection since 1992, when it was bequeathed to us from a donor in California. It's an 11" square painted "box," actually stretched canvas, painted to look like an actual cat in a carrying case. The artist painted leather straps along the front side to allow the feline to look out and, presumably, to breathe. This artist obviously had a love of animals had a sense of humor.
We think the painter was Florence Elizabeth Atkins, who was born in Louisiana in 1876 and spent most of her working years in San Francisco, where she moved just a few years after the great earthquake of 1906. Atkins never married, and died in San Francisco in 1946. Aside from working as a clerk for Western-Union Telegraph Company, she was known for her painted and sculpted animals, particularly her bird studies, and her work was included in prestigious venues such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
Atkins did study art formally in California and in Europe, so strictly speaking she is not really a folk artist. But there is something about pieces like this that have a homespun and offbeat quality about them that appeals to me. This is a piece meant more for a middle-class parlor than a formal art gallery in a mansion.
What also appeals to me is that Ms. Atkins is truly a lost and under-appreciated artist. It is very difficult to find information about her on the internet, and their are no images of her work to be readily found anywhere. Maybe this post will help get the ball rolling. In the meantime, it is hard to look at this painting without smiling. Especially when you think of this kitty sitting in Florence's studio looking out longingly at all those bird studies.