The weird and wonderful world of Walter Potter

Taxidermy kittens having tea, by Walter Potter

While on the subject of macabre taxidermy I would be amiss without at least a cursory mention of the ridiculously interesting Walter Potter (1835-1918), king of bizarre anthropomorphic delights. A favourite among contemporary connoisseurs of the curious, Potter was a self-taught Victorian taxidermist from Bramber, West Sussex who created whimsical dioramas of (crudely) stuffed animals acting out scenes of human life and leisure. Rabbits learning lessons from tiny slates in a schoolhouse, guinea pigs playing a cricket match while cheered on by a guinea pig brass band, kittens having a summer tea party, squirrels playing cards…these are just a small taste of the of the imaginative tableaux Potter dreamed up and brought to life (har har).

Taxidermied guinea pigs playing little instruments at a cricket match, by Walter Potter.Taxidermy rabbits with little school slates, by Walter Potter.In addition to preserving and posing each creature he used, Potter also painstakingly crafted each little implement and prop from old wooden cigar boxes, and placed them against painted back drops often reminiscent of the local area.Two headed kitten preserved by Walter Potter.

Although originally made for his own amusement, his macabre scenes quickly grew in popularity and he was encouraged to open his own museum in 1861, in the summer-house of the pub his family owned. His collection of anthropomorphic taxidermy grew over the years, supplemented by examples of physically deformed animals that he collected from local farmers.Four legged chick and duck preserved by Walter Potter.

Eventually his curious menagerie expanded into a full museum known as “Mr Potter’s Museum of Curiosities”, a must-see attraction which turned the village of Bramber into a thriving tourist destination for many years. When Walter Potter died in 1918 the museum supposedly contained 10,000 specimens, but the fashion for such morbid curiosities had already begun to wane. Remarkably, however, the museum didn’t close until the 1970s, when it was sold by his heirs and moved to various locations in Britain until it ended up at the Jamaica Inn in Cornwall. There it stayed until 2003, when the contents were auctioned off to individual collectors around the world, sadly separating the strange collection for good. Damien Hirst, himself a dabbler in the dark arts of taxidermy, notoriously offered £1 million to keep Potter’s collection together at the time, but his bid was apparently rejected by the auction house.

Despite the scattering of his collection, interest in Walter Potter and his remarkable anthropomorphic dioramas has certainly not faded. The internet has helped govern a revival in interest in curious collections and sensibilities by exposing new audiences to these sorts of obscure artifacts and hidden histories. The internet also enables individuals to view many of Potter’s creations in one place, helping it to retain some semblance of a cohesive collection. Most recently, a significant number of Potter’s works were even reunited from private collections in an exhibition curated by Sir Peter Blake at the Museum of Everything in London in 2010.

Pat Morris, a scholar on the history of taxidermy, has observed that Potter’s taxidermy has now become an internationally famous icon of Victorian whimsy. This, I think, is a key reason why Potter’s collections have inspired such a renewed sense of curiosity in recent years. Although his created world where kittens play croquet and squirrels drink port is indeed a bizarre sight, to contemporary eyes the truly curious thing about it is that this was once an acceptable form of museum display, a respectable pastime, and a delightful tourist destination. In an age of the slick, white-walled, politically-correct, ethically-meticulous, compulsively-edifying modern museum, it is the anachronistic sensibility of the bizarre dioramas that is so compelling to a contemporary audience.

Do you find Walter Potter’s taxidermied animals delightful or disturbing? Are you nostalgic for this type of whimsical, offbeat museum or happy to move on in history?

Taxidermy squirrels playing cards around a card table, by Walter Potter.Taxidermy kittens during a marriage ceremony, by Walter Potter.// Click on pictures for image sources.

Elsewhere on The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things:

The Idiots, 'Geologische Vondst II', 2012.

About these ads

19 thoughts on “The weird and wonderful world of Walter Potter

  1. I’m not sure exactly why but this blog is
    loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is
    it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later and see
    if the problem still exists.

  2. First offf I wouldd like to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind.
    I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing.
    I have had a difficult time clearing my mind in
    getting my ideas out there. I truly do take pleasure in
    writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted just trying
    to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints?
    Thank you!

  3. Appreciating the time and effort you put into your
    site and detailed information you provide. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the
    same outdated rehashed information. Fantastic read!
    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS
    feeds to my Google account.

  4. Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa?
    My website discusses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other.

    If you’re interested feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Superb blog by the way!

  5. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on
    other sites? I have a blog centered on the same information you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my visitors would appreciate your work.
    If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send
    me an email.

  6. Amazing! I’m truly enjoying the layout of your web site. Are you using a customized template or is this readily available to all individuals? If you really don’t want to say the name of it out in the general public, please make sure
    to contact me at: kellee_hutchens@gmx.de. I’d really enjoy to get my hands on this theme! Thanks a lot.

  7. This will help in keeping your home warm by preventing the hot air from escaping through the windows.
    Each occupant can have his or her individual room temperature.

    However, many people do not really take care of their house”.

  8. I’m starting a online blog directory and was wanting to know if I can submit your site? I’m hoping to increase my directory gradually by
    hand so that it retains quality. I’ll make sure and put your website in the best category and I’ll additionally use, “The weird and wonderful world of Walter Potter | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things” as
    your anchor text. Make sure you let me know if this is okay with
    you by contacting me at: maritzaseiler@gmail.com.
    Bless you

  9. Pingback: Katzenklavier: The Cat-Piano | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  10. Pingback: Eternity clocks by Alicia Eggert and Mike Fleming | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  11. Pingback: Birds in little sweaters: Annette Messager’s “Le Repos des Pensionnaires” | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  12. Pingback: Jane Howarth’s beautiful bird guts and a rant about lousy artist statements | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  13. Pingback: A cluster of rats | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  14. Pingback: Opulent taxidermy made by Idiots | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  15. Pingback: Hicken’s Fur-Bearing Trout | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  16. I saw this collection when I stopped off at the jamaica in and I found it macabre probably like alot of other people, but fascinating at the same time. Its a shame to see that it was auctioned off and i don’t think it should have been. Great blog you have here.
    Ben

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s