Once upon a time in New York (well, actually, the early 1950s) there lived a struggling illustrator named Andy Warhol. When his mother Julia Warhola found out he was practically destitute, she upped sticks from Pittsburgh and moved into his small Upper East Side apartment to help out.
Mother and son were soon joined by a female Siamese cat named Hester, a gift from actress Gloria Swanson. Then along came Sam who was introduced to the household after Andy and Julia thought that Hester might appreciate a boyfriend. And appreciate him she did. The pair produced numerous litters of kittens and so began Andy and Julia’s foray into cat collecting / breeding. Eventually, Andy and Julia’s feline companions reached more than a couple of dozen, all of which, with the exception of Hester of course, were named Sam after the original patriarch.
Julia was an artist in her own right and had inspired a love of both art and cats in Andy from a young age. In 1954, mother and son self-published a limited-edition book about their feline brood entitled 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy (the “Blue Pussy” being Hester). Julia, who did the calligraphy for the book, accidentally left the “d” off the end of “Name” – a mistake which Andy found charming and so left it as is. Just to mess with everyone’s heads even further, the book only featured 16 cats, all illustrated by Warhol and reproduced as lithographs. One story goes that the colouring of the lithographs was done at “colouring parties” with Warhol’s friends.
The books were hand-signed and numbered as editions out of 190 (although it’s thought that less than 150 were actually produced) and were mainly given away to friends and clients. As you can imagine, existing copies are now worth tens of thousands, although a re-run was printed in the 1980s, copies of which can be obtained online from about NZ$100.
In 1957, after their beloved Hester died, Julia and Andy self-published a sequel to 25 Cats called Holy Cats by Andy Warhol’s Mother. This time, Julia did both the calligraphy and illustrations which depicted Hester’s adventures in heaven. Andy later remarked on his mother’s strange and downright awesome project that “It featured what she loved to draw most, angels and cats.”
In later years, cats remained prominent in Warhol’s life and work. The Factory had resident cats named Black Lace and White Pussy and, in the 1970s, he created a series of cat and dog images. By this time, Andy had two dachshunds with his boyfriend Jed Johnson (but we won’t go into that too much here!). The first cats Andy photographed for the series were actually taxidermy, but he did later include live models including a black and white puss named Broadway.
Warhol had a fascination with taxidermy and acquired an extensive collection ranging from peacocks, a lion and a Great Dane named Cecil. In 1983, he gifted a taxidermy cat to an eight-year-old Sean Lennon. According to Lennon, the cat freaked out Yoko and “immediately enraged” the household’s (living) cats.
In his final years, Warhol lived alone in a five-storey building surrounded by cats and dogs as well as his numerous collections which included antiques, art, cookie jars and toys.
And so, Andy Warhol was one of us; a crazy cat (and dog) lover who tended to prefer his four-legged companions to his two-legged ones. As he once said, and I’m sure you’ll agree, “I never met a pet I didn’t like.”
If you’d like to read more about artists with penchants for pussies, check out Artists and their Cats. We also stock a range of artist-inspired cat cards which include: Frida Catlo, Pablo Picatso, Meowdrian, Wassily Catdinsky and Yayoi Catsama.