|Buenas Noches print by Bogardus|
The Cambria/San Simeon Country News
February 18-24, 1981
Gourmet-artist-author in love with life
By Sam Vigil, Jr.
It was anticipated that an interview with Ellie Bogardus, know as the “Cat Lady” in deference to her penchant for feline images, would take the familiar form. However, the artist had a different course in mind.
She handed over a scrapbook containing photographs of her work and suggested I look through it while she discussed her art and continued on her latest painting – a couple sitting in a European café.
On the wall was the only painting she said she kept, a self portrait showing her having a good time in an Italian café. She spent ten years in Europe, about half that time in Italy.Ellie Bogardus sits before one of her works in progress. The feline friend with her is included in her painting so frequently she is sometimes called the "Cat Lady." In the accompanying interview she talked about her painting and philosophized about cooking, humor, and life in general. When her painting style was likened to that of Matisse, she researched the great artist's life and found coincidences that "sent shivers up and down" her spine.
People kept saying my work looked like Matisse,” she said. “But it doesn’t.” Then people must be associating her bright and vibrant colors with those of Matisse, I thought. She continues; free association is her guide.
“Not too long after I was back from Europe, I thought, ‘I wonder where Matisse lived?’” She researched a little and found he lived in a place called “Cambrai.” “It just sent shivers up and down my spine” she said as shivered again. To top that, her voice rising, “He died in 1954 and that’s the same time I went into Chouinard (Art School!).”
“There appears to be a similarity,” wrote Richard Challis of Challis Gallery in a brochure of Ellie’s work, “to the bolder works of Henri Matisse, but compare carefully: Matisse, more often very serious, with Bogardus, bursting with humorous satire, unafraid to mix special art form with unmitigated jole de vivre.”
Ellie’s joy of life is probably illustrated well in her self-portrait in which she is joyfully sitting in an Italian café, while in the background the proper Italian ladies have their tea and cream in their little tea cups and an Italian gentleman looks on in wonder at these crazing Americans. And of course, there is a feline peering into the café through the wrought iron-type fence.
Another painting, probably my favorite of the ones I saw, shows a girl talking on the phone. As the cat behind her reaches for a fish from those on a platter, the girl is saying, “Come on over, darling. We caught some lovely fish for dinner.”
Speaking of which, Ellie is a gourmet cook.
“I’m an inventor in the kitchen,” she says. She is also in the process of inventing a cookbook. “Some of those recipes are my friends and some are my great inventions,” she says as I turn the pages of the cookbook she had plopped before me.
“I love to go mushroom hunting,” she says as I try to pronounce “Des Champignons,” “The Mushrooms,” one of the first recipes, illustrated with large mushrooms of the type one only finds in a wooded area. Ellie proceeds to tell me the story of a friend of hers who she says believes that mushrooms go back into the ground when the sun comes up.
Other recipes appear: Tart aux Fraise Al’ Alaska; The Three Little Clucks, “I see no reason that humor can’t be eaten,” she says; Crab Meat Mousse; Mock Canard, a leg of lamb made to look like a duck; Charlie’s Gin Fizz. She also has a section with kitchen hints, like putting a slice of raw potato on a burn and the pain goes away immediately.
Aside from her painting, Ellie Bogardus revels in the world of gourmet cooking. She theorizes "I like to cook probably because I flunked chemistry class the second week. It's kind of like a chemistry class (cooking, that is), mixing thing together." She revealed another maxim, "I see no reason why humor caan't be eaten." She offered dishes with names like Crab Meat Mousse and ...Mock Conard.
Ellie’s cookbook also contains recipes for outdoor picnics under “Un Pique-Nique Elegant.” As a matter of fact, there are four such recipes of four different outdoor picnics she has been on with other friends, including a friend she works with on the Charlie Brown animations. For each one they dressed up in period costume and on the third picnic, even hired musicians. These picnic recipes are illustrated with snapshots so one can see how such an elegant affair should be put together, carpets, table settings and all.
And speaking of books Ellie is writing, she pulls out two children’s books, both of which she illustrated. She says she wrote them a number of years ago but hasn’t marketed them yet. One is an alphabet book, each illustrating what she coined, her humor evident: An artistic acrobat, an archangel, an adorable alligator and an amusing anchovy all ate an apple; On Halloween, a happy heiress hid a hippopotamus in a hermit’s house; With vases of violet, a vagabond on vacation voyaged in a vermillion vehicle to visit a volcano.
The next time I went to visit Ellie, she said she wanted to talk in the kitchen. She said she was more comfortable there. It was obviously the kitchen of a gourmet. There were many “kitchen toys”, as she called them, hanging on the wall, utensils I’d never seen before.
We played a guessing game when I asked her to tell me what some of the utensils were for. I was feeling pretty good after I figured out that a certain mallet was for mashed potatoes and figured out a three-legged metal contraption was some type of shredder. But I never id guess the bean stringer correctly.
Amidst all this she was preparing pigs feet for her dinner. She had tried the pigs feet together and put them in boiling water and from time to time threw in herbs, spices and other assorted ingredients.
“Let me tell you something,” she said. “If you are a gourmet chef, it is very rare that people ask you to dinner. It’s not just me. It’s happened to some of my friends, too.”
To one side of the sink, I notice, is a small placard handwritten on it: “Procrastination ins the only spontaneous reorganization of my priorities.”
“You know,” she said, “if you want to do an interview the right way, should ask me what my favorite things are.”
“Okay, what’s your favorite food?”
She rattled off some name of a meat I’d never heard of, perhaps more because meat had not been a large part of my diet than because of its exoticness on might expect of a gourmet. The blank look on my face must have betrayed my ignorance.
“It’s a cross between a Smithfield ham and…” her voice trailed off as she moved from behind the counter to a shelf of cookbooks. “Well, her, let me show you,” she said as she rifled through the books lined on the shelf. “Oh, where is that book,” her voice had a tinge of anguish.
“I keep my mind continually blank,” she remarks distractedly, still looking for the cookbook. “I don’t want to clutter it up.” She hints this has something to do with creativity, allowing ideas to come to her move freely.
“Chicken liver pate is another favorite. I love any kind of pate.”
One of Ellie’s favorite foods to fix is Chinese food. And she likes a North African dish called couscous, a grain, like millet, used like a rice and put in soups.
“I like French food and Italian food.
“I really think a good dish should have as many “things to tantalize the senses as possible. “It should be exciting.”
Ellie uses the example of a steak that many people just savor, saying she would be bored with it after a couple of bites.
“But if you take that steak and slice up mushrooms and a whole bunch of other things, that’s more exciting”
She turns to her pig’s feet, raises the lid and sniffs as the steam rises. “How’s it smell,” she says half to herself. “Something’s missing. Parsley and tosses it in.
“I like to cook probably because I flunked chemistry class the second week. It’s kind of like a chemistry class, mixing things together.”
Back to favorites, she says James Thurber is her favorite author “because he’s funny.” And she like children’s author A.A. Milne, who wrote among others, “Winnie the Pooh.” She likes Milne because “I had a deprived childhood. I discovered him late.
“Read science-fiction if I don’t have anything else, I’m a nut about atlases. I like to travel. I want to go to China. They say if you’re going to travel, go to China now, because in 20 years they’re going to look like the rest of us.”
Ellie again checks the pig’s feet.
“I’d try anything once,” she says. “if you gave me an elephant’s foot I’d taste it just to see what it’s like.”
A little later we got back to talking about her art and painting.
“When I really get into a painting,” she says as she stands before a partially finished canvas, “I can see exactly how it’s going to look, all the colors.” She talks with a little wonder about a book she read, “To Paint is to Love Again,” which had been written by a writer [Henry Miller] who had also written some pretty raunchy sex novels.
“Forget about everything else,” she said about the intensity she feels when she gets going at the canvas. “It’s like a love affair with color. It’s hard to explain. “You have to look at things with humor–or else where are you? You have to laugh at things around you, or you could cry. Life is so grim that if you can’t giggle and find your little niche, you might as well go to San Francisco and get mugged.”
She describes how often she gets angry at her semi-invalid mother who lives next door. Ellie says “the mother” calls and complains about some of the simplest things. Like when her mother’s roof leaked, “the mother” called about what to do. Ellie told her to put a pan to catch the dripping water with newspaper on the bottom to keep the water from splashing. Later when Ellie went over to check out the situation, “the mother” had pulled out an angel food cake pan and put it on the floor. It made Ellie mad, she said, but it was one of those humorous situations.
|Bogardus house on Nottingham Drive|
|Wall mural interpretation|
The wall was drab gray plaster, very unlike the Ellie Bogardus I had been visiting. But that was not without her touch. She had drawn felines in a tree and in a garden.