Saturday, 17 September 2011

Victorian Taxidemy

I'm off today with my little girl and may well take her to a museum or exhibition. My parents used to take me to London a couple of times of year when I was small and I was always fascinated by the Ancient Egyptian exhibits at the London museum. The mummies amazed me, the fact that they were still preserved after so long really intrigued my young brain.

Off to see an exhibition and feed our brains
This love of visiting museums and exhibitions has stayed with me and wherever I go I like to check out whatever local museum or gallery space I can. This has led to me seeing some quite odd and random things (the Pencil Museum in the Lakes and a bizarre wax museum in Dublin where all the celebrities looked vaguely deformed were to be honest low points) and it was this slightly nerdy past time which led to me seeing possibly the strangest thing Ive ever encountered.
About fifteen years ago me  and Mister Bee visited a tiny museum in Cornwall called Mr Potter's Museum of Curiosities. It was named  after the self-taught taxidermist, Walter Potter, who stuffed animals in the 1800s and created quite surreal tableaux featuring them

The kittens tea party
We were expecting a slightly dull museum about smuggling and Jamaica Inn  and stumbled on something so surreal neither of us ever forgot it. It was almost like a dream. So unexpected and so odd.
The exhibition which only filled a few rooms featured tiny stuffed animals wearing suits, frilly knickers, monocles, smoking pipes and all staged in little "everyday" scenes.
Ssquirrel's were shown smoking and drinking, a rats den played out a  "raid" by rat police, there was a tiny village school with  forty eight little rabbits writing on miniature slates and a kittens tea party. All jostling for position as the most bizarre and creepy things we had ever seen. 

The rabbit class room
We couldn't stop laughing but it was nervous, vaguely hysterical laughter and Ive never forgotten it.I even have a postcard of the kitten wedding scene somewhere and considered using as my wedding invite years ago but decided it was too weird even for me.
The museum doesn't exist any more. The collection was sold off a few years ago and created quite a stir with the likes of David Bailey, Peter Blake and Damien Hirst all apparently interested in buying pieces, It was reported at the time that Damien Hirst bid a million pounds for "Who Killed Cock Robin" which was the display which had taken Potter years and is considered his finest work.

My step father is an artist and did some taxidermy for school exhibitions to make ends meet when we were children  so I appreciate how skilled Mr Potter was but I think its fair to say he must have been quite bonkers.

The Kitten Wedding

Obviously the animal lover in me would be very upset if something like this was created now but as at the time of creation they were sending children up chimneys I have put this aside and just salute it for sheer weirdness-Mr Potter, you are "special"
Whats the strangest exhibition or museum piece you have ever seen?


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