Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Saga of Scooter and Hammie

So, a couple years ago, Garth's had this little stuffed toy dog for sale. He's pug-like, with a smooshed little face, shoe-button eyes, a nose that bears a resemblance to a piece of electrical tape, and a little curled tail. He was part of a lot of three small toys, but Andrew noticed him immediately. He's hard not to notice, since he's very well-made, neatly pieced - and he has chair casters whip-stitched to his feet. Every catalogue or so, something comes along that delights the staff, and this little brown dog spent a lot of time in the cataloguing room. They named him Scooter.

Of course, we wanted Scooter to come live with us and were hoping frantically that we could work out something with the person who would buy him. We can't bid at Garth's, part of a long-standing company policy, but fortunately, on the day of the sale, the lot was picked up by a dealer for $125. Andrew was taking a break from the auction block at the time and had a moment to run over and ask if we could buy him from her. She did some quick math and said we could have him for the reasonable price of $81. To this day, she tells Andrew that if she'd actually gone back to pick Scooter up before he asked, she'd never have sold him for that price - he's just that cute.

So, Scooter came to live with us in the schoolhouse. We took a picture of him and sent it off to Andrew's Winterthur classmates, because they'd heard so much about him. Almost immediately, we got a message back from Sarah Woodman, who is working at the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield, California. Turns out Scooter has an identical brother living in California! Not much is known about him, except that he was donated by Mrs. Hillman Arms and won a dog show in San Francisco in 1888 when entered by a Mr. Lechner who was unable to get there with a "real" dog. Who knows - early days for San Francisco, so maybe they didn't have many dogs to choose from? As you can see, he's virtually identical to Scooter - same casters, same tail, even the same ears with one tacked down and one loose. (Photo below appears courtesy of the Kern County Museum.)

Needless to say, we were delighted. What are the odds that someone we know would be working in a facility with Hammie and recognize him? Plus, Scooter has family! And we were puzzled. According to the textiles folks we know, Scooter and Hammie are too early to have come from a pattern for a child's toy, as they weren't being published in magazines at the time. But they're so much alike, it would seem they were made by the same person. And how did Hammie end up all the way out in California while Scooter stayed here in the Midwest?

Questions aside, Scooter settled in and we promised to take him to visit his brother the next time we go to California. Then, this winter, a friend came to visit and was only too pleased to show us her copy of The All-American Dog: Man's Best Friend in Folk Art, a catalogue from a 1978 exhibition at the Museum of American Folk Art. And who did we see? Scooter! He's so modest, he never even let on, but it's definitely him right down to the tiny little separation at the seam on his nose. So, not only did Hammie travel to California, win a dog show, and end up in a museum, but Scooter apparently was in New York, exhibited in a museum and wandered west to Ohio. Apparently, you can really get around on chair casters!