- Hardcover: 128 pages
- Publisher: Constable & Robinson; UK ed. edition (September 19, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1472109503
- ISBN-13: 978-1472109507
- Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,520,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Walter Potter's Curious World of Taxidermy Hardcover – September 19, 2013
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Walter Potter's Curious World of Taxidermy is one of the most important books I've read on Victorian taxidermy in months. It's like Jude the Obscure, but with squirrels. -- Gary Shteyngart * The New York Times * Dr Pat Morris, who is the greatest authority in Britain on historical taxidermy and owns at least one Potter masterpiece, mourns the loss of this unique ensemble. His meticulously researched text, together with Joanna Ebenstein's pellucid photographs and details, give it a worthy memorial. * Country Life * Potter [had] instant celebrity status among his peers and a cult status that lives on... At once macabre and inexplicably compelling. It's little wonder his present-day fans include Peter Blake, Damien Hirst and David Bailey. * House & Garden * Nostalgically enjoying new book on Walter Potter's weird taxidermy. Museum was part of my childhood. * Derren Brown's Twitter feed (1.7M followers) * Beautiful new photographs... nothing short of stunning. * Bizarre Magazine * This handsomely photographed guide to Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter's stuffed animal tableaux is a delight.... A fascinating story, sumptuously illustrated by detailed photographs of the tableaux: taxidermy experts Dr Pat Morris and Joanna Ebenstein have brought the weird and wonderful world of Walter Potter alive for a whole new generation. * The Observer *
About the Author
PAT MORRIS was Senior Lecturer in Zoology at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is a DEFRA inspector for assessing the age and authenticity of antique taxidermy and has self-published seven illustrated books. His vast personal collection includes The Death & Burial of Cock Robin, Potter's largest and most important piece. JOANNA EBENSTEIN, a New York-based artist, curator, blogger and graphic designer, runs the Morbid Anatomy Library.
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and thought provoking concepts. Not for everyone but a great book about an artist.
Those with an interest in the morbid, the weird, and the sinister side of Victoriana will still enjoy this book, but the book itself, like Potter's mounts, is more of a clumsily-executed albeit charming oddity than a well-crafted work of art. A positive is that the images of the tableaux are in full color and of better quality than in the previous book, and there are more of them. I appreciated that there were pictures of the cases in full, as they appeared in the museum.
Potter sought, from boyhood, to teach himself how to dramatize nature surrounding him in rural West Sussex. London-based taxidermy expert Pat Morris and Brooklyn curator of The Morbid Anatomy Library and Museum, Joanna Ebenstein, present an illustrated compendium of her photos and his brisk text to explain what we know now about Potter.
First of all, born in 1835 and dying in 1918, this naturalist was no relation to Beatrix Potter. Her own renderings of animals resemble strongly the real ones Walter gutted, stuffed, and wired, but the authors surmise that since Beatrix's first book did not appear until 1902, any supposed influence was from him to her, and not vice versa. As a lad, he "tamed jackdaws and taught pet starlings to speak". In his village of Bramble, he began to collect the critters who comprised a tourist attraction, aided by a local brewery who saw such marvels as "The Athletic Toads" as a draw for consumers of their ales.
How did Walter create his displays? He began with cardboard models "until suitable animals became available" as Morris and Ebenstein diplomatically phrase the reality. While a fiction that all the little creatures died peacefully was perpetrated by the museum curators who succeeded Potter, the facts prove that the beasts and birds arrived in less placid ways. Visitors brought in birds killed by cats or found on roads. Surplus kittens from farm litters were put to death. Stillborn rabbits and, at Potter's own self-taught hand, rats and toads contributed to the skin and fur out of which he made art.
Nearly fifty rabbits crowd a village school, with classes on needlepoint, math, sewing, and writing. "The Death and Burial of Cock Robin" (as pop art pioneer Peter Blake comments upon in a preface) represents one of Potter's most ambitious efforts. It took him seven years of spare time to build up all the birds needed to play out this nursery rhyme's plot. Croquet and tea, squirrels at cards and rats at gambling, kingfishers within their underground lair, "The Babes in the Wood", "The House that Jack Built", and, fittingly or ironically, ferrets hunted by miniature figurines fill out the tableaux depicted.
Part two of this short book reveals the details of these tableaux. Unlike the one at the V+A, where the minutiae of the crowded ceremony could not be seen from a distance and under glass, the vivid color and captions help the reader envision Potter's meticulous attention better than a museum display may. For instance, the authors point out one blue-clad fellow. "This male cat looks disgruntled at the matrimonial proceedings. He once held a book open at the wrong page and glued to the stumps of his paws, but it is now lost." This passage verifies the next lesson of this book: the fate of this collection.
As part three tells, the museum at Bramber was sold in 1970. Moved first to nearby Brighton and then Arundel, next to faraway Cornwall, after 150 years the collection, having been turned down by the National Trust, was auctioned off. No purchaser summoned up the funds to keep it all intact. A few postcards, many showing the "freaks of nature" that also engrossed past audiences more than present, flesh out these curious contents of Walter Potter's now-scattered world, attesting to its eccentricities.