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I can has culture?

Get to know the Philbrook felines before the 2018 Internet Cat Video Festival

Acer, a Philbrook Garden Cat


Just down the way from the bustling shops and restaurants on Brookside is a grandiose garden tucked behind the 1927 Villa Philbrook—or, as it’s known today, the Philbrook Museum of Art. Built by oil tycoon Waite Phillips and his wife Genevieve, the Italian Renaissance-style estate now holds collections of a stunning variety of work, including 25-acres of pristine, sprawling gardens.

There, you’ll find three cats strutting, slinking, and snoozing. This is their domain.

The first of the Philbrook Garden Cats to approach on a warm Monday morning in mid-July was a black and white, medium-framed fellow.

“Meow,” he said.

“This is Acer,” Philbrook Marketing Coordinator Zack Reeves said, reaching down to pick him up.

Acer, Perilla, and Cleome are the three official cats of the Philbrook. (Their names are botanical: Acer is a scientific name for maple trees, and Perilla and Cleome are flowers.) They even have T-shirts with their faces on sale in the gift shop. Acer is certainly the most social of the three. He didn’t mind our affection.

Closer to the open garage door of the shop, head horticulturist Trevor Gibson offered an open can of gravy-doused meat slices to corral the other felines. We were near the shop—which, in addition to being home base for horticultural operations, is something of a private lair for the Philbrook cats. When they want to vacation away from the gardens, they can enter through a small cat door in the garage. Sometimes they sleep in there. (They sleep everywhere, really.)

PerillaOne of Gibson’s staffers emerged from the shop and handed over Perilla, wrapped in a large flannel shirt. Perilla wasn’t interested in being held at all, so we scurried to a grassy clearing surrounded by trees and brush hoping to find the third and most elusive of the three cats. Cleome was prowling the grounds, hunting for insects and other small critters.

Acer and Perilla are brother and sister from the same litter of kittens. “They fight like brother and sister, too,” Gibson said.

As soon as Reeves and I sat the cats down, Perilla headed straight for the food. After licking the can clean, she got up and moseyed around some trees to get away from us, her tail swishing in the air.

Perilla’s tail looks shorter than it should be for her body. That’s because it is. Among the bountiful animal population in the gardens—owls, squirrels, geese, a spotted eagle—is a skulk of red foxes. They mostly appear during the winter, Gibson said.

One day, the staff found Perilla with about an inch of her tail bone exposed. “We were thinking they were probably on her tail trying to pull her back (at the shop’s cat door),” Gibson said.

After a trip to the vet, Perilla recovered, and the staff was able to fix an area of fence where the foxes were getting in. They still find their way in from time to time, but now they mostly head south to Zink Park, according to Gibson.

“It’s nature out here,” Reeves said. “It’s crazy.”

CleomeAfter about 20 minutes of calling Cleome, we realized she wasn’t just fashionably late to the interview. She had her own schedule, and we weren’t on it.

Though Perilla had already left, the ever-sociable Acer was still hanging around. We didn’t know until we started walking back, but Perilla had relocated approximately 20 feet away from us, a move which seemed like a statement.

Before departing, Reeves pointed out the 25-foot wide, 14-foot tall screen standing west of us, closer to the museum building.

“We play videos on that giant screen,” Reeves said. Philbrook puts on regular movie screenings as part of their Film on the Lawn event. But in August, there’s a screening cat lovers won’t want to miss: The Internet Cat Video Festival 2018.

“This is the debut of the 2018 reel,” Reeves said. “It’s basically 60 minutes of the best cat footage on the Internet.”

The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with activities and food trucks. At dusk, around 8:30 p.m., the video reel will start, and at 9 p.m. the doors close (no reentry). Bring your own blanket or lawn chairs. You can bring your own food as well, but Philbrook asks you don’t bring your pets. They say the three Philbrook Garden Cats are more than enough.

Internet Cat Video Festival 2018
Friday, August 10, 6 p.m.
Philbrook Museum of Art, 2727 S. Rockford Rd.

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