The Owl and the Pussycat by Paul Spooner


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Paul Spooner has made a small edition of automata to raise money for UNICEF
H 16cm x W 8cm x D 5 cm

‘The Taliban have shown themselves to be very good at fighting and frightening people but it’s likely that some extra skills are required if they want to run a country-full of real people. Obviously, organising booze-ups in breweries won’t be one of their primary aims but educating more than half the population ought to be even if it’s only seen as a means of avoiding further economic collapse. For that reason we’ve decided that, rather than sending the proceeds of this edition of cat-based mechanical playthings to a local charity, we will donate it to UNICEF, part of whose mission is to encourage the education of girls in places where such necessities are not clearly understood by the people in power’.

Some time ago I noticed that an owl’s silhouette, if carelessly drawn, looked a bit like a cat’s and that this could be useful to lazy artists illustrating the well-known rhyme by Edward Lear. Henry David Thoreau, too, seemed to have spotted the resemblance when he wrote in his book ‘Walden’ about the Owl: ‘winged brother of the cat’. In my ignorance I thought that only Henry David, myself, some other lazy artists and a few American children forced to read ‘Walden’ understood this. A glance at the internet would have told me that millions of others shared this revelation and some of them even felt driven to merge images of cats and owls by more or less skilful photoshoppery.

This Owl/Cat chimera is made in an edition of 20. The result combines some owl characteristics with some cat’s. The head rotates through about 180 degrees, an angle that a cat could achieve only once in a lifetime (owls can manage 270 degrees at a pinch but they would also have the choice of turning only 90 degrees in the opposite direction). The big eyes are owlish but cats have eyes too and they have real ears on top of their heads unlike owls, whose ‘ears’ are just tufts of feathers. The pink nose/beak is neither cat-like nor owlish but rather a piece of artistic anthropomorphism. Interestingly, if you still are interested, there are accounts of winged cats but the ‘wings’ are generally considered to be flaps of matted hair, the consequence of neglect or reckless grooming.

If you find the above tiresome and verbose, I suggest you avoid reading ‘Walden’ by H. D. Thoreau. If, on the other hand, you enjoy picking over a text like a diner taking a knife and fork to a roasted sparrow, it’s ISBN 0-691-01464-7. Princeton University Press paperback edition.

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