Where Kittens Wed and Birds Lament: Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy

Taxidermy tableau by Walter Potter from Walter Potter's Curious World of Taxidermy by Pat Morris and Joanna Ebenstein

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.

You can buy Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy here or find out more on the book blog, and stay tuned to The Midnight Archive for updates on  documentary.

Related Posts:

– Bring out the Coffin, Let the Mourners Come: Vintage Coin-Operated Mortuary

– I Got a Bad Desire: 13 Unique Gifts for Horror Lovers

– Fast Asleep for 100 Years: Vintage Wax Anatomical Models

Categories: Oddities

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11 replies

  1. This is pretty impressive. If those rabbits were better at math….

  2. Creepy taxidermy has also been highlighted frequently on the Bates Motel series. 🙂

  3. I just can’t….. stuffed animals (like the toy ones) creep me out

  4. i love it. i wonder if the documentary will shed light on how he came across so many dead kittens.

    • I read somewhere that the museum got so much hate mail that they put out some information that the animals were all roadkill-type acquisitions. I kind of find that hard to believe – it was a pretty different time when it comes to what was ethical in the treatment of animals.

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