The Victorian era’s obsession with the natural world had a tremendous impact on 19th century society, with natural history influencing everything from scholarly pursuits and hobbies to literature, fashion, and interior design. One offshoot of this craze was the rise of taxidermy as an art, as private specimen collections including mounted animals became popular additions to home décor. Particularly unique to the Victorian era was anthropomorphic taxidermy, peculiar tableaux of animals dressed and posed to engage in human activities.
Of these anthropomorphic taxidermists, one has been back on the receiving end of popular attention lately with a book published last year by Dr. Pat Morris and Joanna Ebenstein of Morbid Anatomy: 19th century taxidermist and curator Walter Potter of Sussex, England. A self-taught taxidermist, Potter created elaborate dioramas of everyday life: rabbits who went to school and struggled with arithmetic, kittens in lace getting married, gambling rats in a den getting raided by the coppers. His creations were so popular that Potter maintained them in a museum holding over 10,000 specimens by the time of his death in 1918. Although the contents of the museum were auctioned off in 2003, you can see the museum in all its morbid quirkiness in the 1965 film strip below.
In addition to the book by Morris and Ebenstein, Ronni Thomas, creator and director of The Midnight Archive, has partnered with Morbid Anatomy to create a documentary on Potter, including footage of rare pieces and interviews with collectors. Although the documentary appears to be fundraising to finish the film, they recently released a trailer that certainly looks fascinating.