Sunday, 2 February 2014


The mention of bad or rather bizarre taxidermy in the comments of my previous blog posting seems to have triggered a flood of memories, not just from me.
Zhoen kindly directed me to the right source.

Walter Potter was the man who had the skill and imagination to make tiny frilly knickers for tiny dead and stuffed kittens to wear under their wedding clothes as he created his complex, highly detailed scenes of Victorian life.

I remember seeing some of these ( to me) magical creations when I was about eight years old. The images stayed with me, and I yearned to possess a miniature school-room full of tiny rabbits, all with their even tinier slates and chalks.
I wonder now if I realised they were dead, preserved creatures, or if I saw them as wonderful little toys. After all, there were very few toys in Post-War Britain, so these detailed dioramas must have seemed as enchanting then as when they were created in Victorian times.

Looking at them again now I am filled with a different type of wonder. What a leap of imagination to go from stuffing your own pet canary to creating a drinking scene of stuffed rats, a complex kittens' wedding, and a guinea-pigs' cricket match. What an awful awful lot of little deaths it took to create each scene. And how each scene has been appreciated and remembered - in so many different ways.
Once seen, never forgotten, for whatever reasons.
No wonder Damien Hurst wanted to buy the entire collection when it was dispersed.

There's more about Walter Potter's taxidermy here, but note that the exhibition is over.


Jee said...

Remembered after I'd commented that the book was a souvenir brought home by my grandmother after a holiday trip to Lewes - all I could think was South coast but I now see was that the museum was in Sussex. It's connected in my mind with a lovely small book about Queen Mary's Dolls' house that I was given about the same time which is at Windsor Castle. Don't think Granny could have gone to both on the same trip so I wonder where the second book came from!

Relatively Retiring said...

Jee: memory lane - I've got that Dolls' House book. Amazing. Yime for a Dolls' House blog posting?

marigold jam said...

Oh how horrible! I can't bear to think of all those poor dead creatures being stuffed and turned into some sort of peep show! I am sure I'd have had or would have even now nightmares had I seen them. But then I cried and had to be taken out of the cinema when Bambi's mother died!!

Zhoen said...

I read about this museum, and Mr. Potter, in the Fortean Times, #306.

Research to follow…

Jenny Woolf said...

I went to see this exhibition - it was really fascinating, and part of the fascination for me, was the sidelight it cast upon Victorian life, too. Your post reminded me of the trip, and I am pretty sure I will have some photos thatI took too. It's such a shame that the collection was dispersed. At the exhibition, I bought a book about Walter Potter. Oddly , when I saw your last post, I didn't make the connection. In fact, Potter's animals are generally better looking than the one you showed, which is certainly grotesque :)

Relatively Retiring said...

Marigold: I had to be swiftly removed at the death of Bambi's mother too. As a child I think I must have just seen those little creatures as marvellous toys. How perceptions change!

Zhoen: many thanks for setting me straight. I've just ordered a book on Mr. Potter.

Jenny: I doubt that the fox was one of Mr. Potter's, although I think he did some fairly gruesome examples as well. I agree about the awful fascination and the sidelights on Victorian life, and there is a remote connection between my own limited Post-War experiences and those of a child a century earlier.

Peregrina said...

When a child I saw stuffed animals in the museum and particularly remember an elephant and a rhinoceros which, although lacking the cuteness of small furry creatures, seemed most wondrous. I don't think it occurred to me that they had once been alive.

As for the death of Bambi's mother: that completely passed me by, so my mother told me many years later. However, she said, I sobbed unconsolably while most of the audience were laughing when the new-born Bambi, struggling to stand up, kept falling down because his legs weren't yet strong enough to hold him. I must have been very young when I saw the film.

Peregrina said...

Whoops! I meant 'inconsolably'.

Joy said...

oh my... I'm finding the stuffed animals in human-like poses rather creepy. Okay, maybe the guy was just being creative, but now, this seems a rather morbid hobby. Ick! I'm with Marigold Jam! I remember as a child, holding a dried sea horse in my hand and when someone told me it had been alive, it rather disturbed me. Occasionally, I'd have to have a peep at the dead thing and the thought of it once bobbing around in the ocean bothered me.

Relatively Retiring said...

Peregrina: I'm sure I had the same experiences of stuffed animals, with or without clothes. I remember childhood visits to natural history museums when I thought the animals were models rather than corpses.
Did you experience the 'Lassie' films? I had to be removed from those when small, as Lassie often got lost or was hurt and I became over-emotional.'Only acting'is another hard thing for a child.

Joy: the Walter Potter taxidermy is literally extra-ordinary, but it does shed interesting light on Victorian life.
I think it is not possible for children to understand death - it's very difficult for adults to grasp as well, and the whole concept of preserving dead creatures (and people) makes the concept even harder. I saw Lenin in his glass case many years ago, but I believe they have buried him at last.

Frances said...

Yes, as a child I would have been full of wonder, but now I find it quite repellent. But I adore Walter Potter's eccentricity.

Relatively Retiring said...

Frances: I echo your feelings exactly.

Jenny Woolf said...

Yes!!! I spotted a Walter Potter book in the Wellcome and of course immediately thought of you!

Relatively Retiring said...

Jenny: it's lovely to be so closely associated with stuffed rats! My book arrived today, but I've hidden it until the kitten-loving members of the family have returned to their own place.

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