Walter Potter

The Guinea Pigs’ Cricket Match

Looking through this months Harper’s magazine I saw in the corner of a page an image of two gerbils holding writing slates, one peeking over the other’s shoulder in the ubiquitous classroom scene.  The caption introduced me to the name of this tableau’s creator and informed me of a book which is being published this month: Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy (Blue Rider Press).  Mr. Potter was an English taxidermist who lived from 1835-1918.  He began his career in taxidermy at the age of 19 and over the years made countless dioramas out of the creatures he had taxidermied, and these became the most exciting pieces at the museum which he created to display his work in.  In the dioramas one finds animals “acting” like people; playing, drinking, having a wedding ceremony or a funeral.  The detail in their poses and the painstaking lengths that Mr. Potter must have went to in order to assemble them in immediately recognizable situations and cloth them (when necessary) is certainly impressive, but add to that the environments in which they are situated and you have a body of work that is single-minded, confident, and appears to be made in a spirit of fun and education.  In the days of “Victorian whimsy”, stuffed animals must have been quite a sight as Mr. Potter’s museum was very popular during his lifetime and even stayed open 50 years after his death.  I was only just introduced to the work of Walter Potter this morning but I can tell that his dioramas are intricately crafted wonders that I will be coming back to for a long time (I wish the museum was still in tact…oh well).  With the museum closed  and, as of 2003, the collection sold at auction piece by piece, I am hoping that the upcoming volume presents a large portion of Mr. Potter’s work in photographic form.  Whether one finds taxidermy in good taste or not, Mr. Potter’s vocation has proven to be sound as these dioramas are still in excellent shape more than 100 years after his death and, like much art, I feel moved by these dioramas…not necessarily emotionally, but moved by the dedication of the man who so long ago made dead animals his medium and created some truly awe-inspiring work with them.

Detail of the band from The Guinea Pigs’ Cricket Match
The Original Death and Burial of Cock Robin
The Kittens’ Wedding

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