Walter Potter, Victorian eccentric and taxidermist extraordinaire has found himself back in the spotlight recently. His famously infamous collection of taxidermy tableaux (having been broken up and sold off a few years ago) now find itself –along with the man himself- the subject of a recently released book.
Although I’m sure the PR and Marketing Department responsible for the publication have done a fine job, I’m sure, the book is not how Walter Potter and his brilliantly bonkers work came to my attention.
A while ago, I asked the people of Twitter which museum they missed the most and the answer came roaring back:
WALTER POTTER’S MUSEUM OF CURIOSITIES.
It seems dear readers, that quite a few of you out there are big fans of stuffed anthropomorphised animals.
If all of this is sounding a bit familiar, it’s because Walter Potter has already inspired this intrepid Museum Adventurer to embark on one adventure already, in which I returned to Potter’s home town of Bramber in search of his legacy.
When I was doing the research for that last adventure, I stumbled upon some interesting information. It seems that although Walter’s works have been sold off to the highest bidder (despite the best efforts of artist Damien Hirst– of pickled animals fame- to keep it all together) one small fragment has found itself back in Sussex, Steyning specifically, a stone’s throw away from Potter’s home.
Steyning Museum had hoped to save more of Walter Potter’s taxidermy, but the price of some of the pieces was far too high for this small volunteer-run museum to afford. They were able to save one small piece, and return it to its home. Well, almost. Withing spitting distance of its home.
So, to Steyning I travelled. To the Steyning Museum I went, to see some of this famous taxidermy in the well-preserved flesh.
Are you ready? Here it is!
This canary, we are told, belonged to the mother of one Gwen Buchanan, a local resident. The bird died in 1900 and naturally [the museum’s word there, folks!] she went to Walter to stuff it.
The ‘naturally’ bit of that last sentence intrigues me. It raises so many questions!
Was taking your pets to Mr Potter something that the local community did at the time? Or perhaps Gwen and her mother were friends of the Potters? Was the animal’s corpse a donation to the museum, to be used in another tableau? It is so very different to his other work from around this time that it makes me wonder all the more…
Perhaps I’m placing too much attention to the wording here, but the museum’s use of ‘naturally’ is really interesting here. I would have asked the curator, but alas, it was his day off. The volunteers on duty were both long-term residents of Steyning and both remembered Walter Potter’s Museum. One found the whole concept a bit weird and creepy (I could see her point), but still, what a fascinating slice of history to have on your doorstep.
I wish Damien Hirst had managed to keep Walter Potter’s collection together. Just imagine what he could have done with it.
You can see the Kitten Wedding immortalised in badge form over at the Museum of Museum Badges.