Walter Potter’s Curious Victorian Taxidermy

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In 1850, Walter Potter was 15 years old when he first began experimenting with taxidermy. By the age of 19, Potter had already created his best-known taxidermy tableaux, “The Death and Burial of Cock Robin” which was displayed, along with his other work, at a pub his family owned in Bramber, West Sussex. Potter’s taxidermy dioramas feature anthropomorphized animals acting out Victorian life scenes. During the Victorian era, taxidermy was a popular practice, and in 1880, a dedicated museum building was opened because the tableaux at the pub had created quite a scene. Over time, the interest in taxidermy declined, and the museum was moved before closing down.

Though Potter’s dioramas could be considered morbid, especially by modern standards, there’s something Beatrix Potteresque (no relation) about his work, mostly in its strange and whimsical Victorianism. “Kittens’ Wedding” was Potter’s last tableaux before his death in 1890; this piece was auctioned at Bonham’s (along with most of the collection) in 2003 for £21,150 (around $35,500). Among those present at the auction were artists Peter Blake, David Bailey, and Damien Hirst, who reportedly bid £1 million (almost $1.7) for Potter’s entire collection, but it was rejected by the auctioneers. This caused the owners of the collection to sue Bonham’s because they believed such an offer should have been immediately accepted in order to keep the collection in tact. In 2007, Hirst told The Guardian that “Kittens’ Wedding” was one of his favorites of Potter’s work: “All these kittens dressed up in costumes, even wearing jewellery. The kittens don’t look much like kittens, but that’s not the point.”

The Telegraph notes, “To a modern eye [...]these ‘freaks of nature’ appear eerily macabre. Indeed, some Victorian viewers were outraged by the grotesquery and criticised Potter for abuse of animals, despite a museum disclaimer stating that no animals had been deliberately killed for the collection.”  But then they later explain that not all of Potter’s tableaux were sourced ethically. Before neutering was commonplace, freely roaming farm kittens would often be killed off. Potter had an agreement with a local farmer who provided the kittens; this would explain the high number of participants in his tableaux.

The accompanying images are sourced from Dr. Pat Morris and Joanna Ebenstein’s book about Potter and his work, “Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy,” released earlier this year. Ebenstein says that she’s interested in “the context that creates these things, and why certain things come to be seen as bizarre to us, when obviously they weren’t at the time.” (via telegraph)

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Dr. Seuss’s “Unorthodox Taxidermy” Brings Magical Creatures To Life

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In the late 1930s, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) brought his imaginary creatures to life, sculpting them out of wood, mounting them on the wall, and imbuing them with a haunting realism by incorporating real animal parts. The remains of deceased animals came from his father’s workplace, the Forest Park Zoo.

After their construction, the creatures, bearing delightful names like the “Andulovian Grackler” and the “Two Horned Drouberhannis,” were sold as a collection under the title “Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy.” After living in a child’s bedroom, the pieces were retired to an old barn and resold in 2004. The Chase Group later made resin copies of many of the works. Some of these pieces are available for sale on eBay.

Each sculpture stays true to Seuss’s touchingly earnest connection with the imaginative realm of childhood. The animals, though mounted on a wall, maintain a poignant emotive ability; the marriage of raised brows and mellow smiles with the antlers of genuine beasts makes the works magically vital, communicative— and somehow— real.

The profound soulfulness of the work is only enhanced by its hints of morbidity. In what is perhaps a critique of taxidermy practices, the prolific artist chose to present these fantastical creatures within the context of human domination, forcing viewers to reconcile our desire to believe in magic with the knowledge of environmental destruction. In this way, the aging of the works has not detracted from their potency but has serendipitously heightened it; years after the prolific author’s death, we are asked to search these faded faces for indicators of bestial personalities and traces of the beloved artist’s hand. Take a look. (via This is Colossal and the world’s best ever)
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Kar­ley Feaver’s Stuffed Birds With Bizarre Haircuts

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New Zealand-based artist Kar­ley Feaver creates assemblages that involve a mix­ture of stuffed birds and various costume-like adornment ( human hair, gold plated metal, wood, and more). The artist claims that the animals she uses are ethically sourced and have died of natural causes.

Through her grotesque yet beautiful sculptures, the artist explores the idea of trans­for­ma­tion and adorn­ment, as her cur­rent inter­ests rest in nature’s abil­ity to sur­vive in dif­fer­ent forms by adapt­ing, adjust­ing, and mutat­ing into an increas­ingly man-made environment.

She intends to make these birds look other-worldly. Interestingly enough, she is successful at doing this by using materials that we are very familiar with (human hair, gold, and wood). She makes an interesting juxtaposition between the natural and the unnatural, the familiar and the unfamiliar- specifically to make a point about the unnatural efforts animals (in general) have to make in order to survive in a man-made environment.

Through the ages peo­ple have made beau­ti­ful things for them­selves and oth­ers by using mate­ri­als from their nearby envi­ron­ment. Birds are known to do the same, espe­cially when seek­ing to attract a mate. Feaver’s new works bring the image of beauty almost to the edge of absur­dity, their appear­ance is both bizarre and extra­or­di­nary, unlike any other crea­ture on earth.

(via Brown Paper Bag)

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Deborah Simon’s Incredibly Realistic Sculptures Reveal Internal Systems Of Bears

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Deborah Simon sculpts anatomically correct bears out of polymer clay, faux fur, linen, embroidery floss, acrylic paint, glass, wire and foam. Aside from their size (around 22″ high), Simon’s bears are realistically detailed and meticulously fabricated. Her inside-out bears tread the boundaries of taxidermy, toy, and sculpture.

“Evolution has always held a particular fascination for me, informing how I create and group the animals in my work. As I’ve read and dug through museum collections to research my pieces, western science’s mania for labeling, codifying and collecting has stood out. Most of this categorizing bears little resemblance to how animals and plants exist out in the natural world and I find this disconnect fascinating.” (via design boom)

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Natalie Ryan’s Mysterious Blue Velvet Taxidermy

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Animal sculptures by Australian artist Natalie Ryan are inspired by taxidermy. While conventional taxidermy practices dictate that she preserve the skin/fur of the animal she is preparing, Ryan instead uses synthetic materials to cover casts of squirrels, bears, and monkeys. Her current portfolio cloaks these animals entirely in blue velvet.

While Ryan’s web presence is limited, her gallery representation, Dianne Tanzer Gallery in Melbourne writes about Ryan’s latest exhibition, Evanescere, stating:

Continuing to explore notions of the cadaver as a secondary form, a shadow of it’s living self, these works depict the internals of animals stripped of their dermis and identifying features. Evanescere looks at the body in a suspended state of disappearing. In conjunction with this, these works also explore the idea of the animal cadaver on display and museology as a resting place. These works combine bodies and elements of the landscape that reference the paradigm of Natural History Museum displays. They seek to question the role the body plays in the Museum and the loss of the individual as it becomes a subject to represent an entire species.

Ryan’s decision to color her work bright blue introduces a contemporary aesthetic to taxidermy. It references the trends of home decor over the past few years, in which loud, unnatural colors are applied to natural objects. When thinking about traditional taxidermy and how it uses real feathers and fur, the artist makes a statement about craft and preservation. The prevailing attitude of culture champions innovation and exploration of the new. Ryan is stripping this practice of its ritual, simply using foam casts and not real animals. She’s chosen a color and material that’s more en vogue. We are drawn to this work because it’s a twist on an old practice. She makes taxidermy fresh rather than just feeling old.

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Taxidermy And Furniture Blend As Disturbing Comment On Consumer Culture

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Designer Armin Blasbichler‘s work is often jarring.  His series ORSON, I’m Home strikes a special chord, though.  The series is composed of three “dining sculptures” created primarily from the bodies of various farm animals.  While we may be more accustomed to farm animals adorning plates on the furniture, seeing them as taxidermy furniture makes for a surreal juxtaposition.  The furniture confronts its users with the consumption it usually facilitates.  Interestingly, for the series Blasbichler features a quote from professor and writer Don Slater: “In talking of modern society as a consumer culture, people are not referring simply to a particular pattern of needs and objects […] but to a culture of consumption.”
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C. Owen’s Stunning Portraits Of Taxidermied Animals

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C. Owen Lavoie’s (better know as C. Owen) series of photographs entitled Trophies captures the emergence of exotic creatures out of darkness. Because they are shrouded in so much darkness, these portraits at first seem to be taken in close proximity to live animals, but Lavoie is able to get so close to these beasts because they are taxidermied. This creates a haunting and mysterious effect that reflects on ideas about preservation, death, and hunting. The lens captures the preserved expressions of the creatures’ vulnerability, creating a sort of double preservation of the dead animal that stares right back at us. Lavoie says that she considers the series “a way of bringing the animals back to life for the public eye. It’s sort of like a third generation; first the animal was born, then hunted and handed over to a taxidermist so it can be displayed and finally in the end, modified by my lens.”

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Sculptures Of Humans With Taxidermied Animal Faces Will Make You Do A Double Take

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Much of the work of Brandon Vickerd carries an uneasy quality about it.  They often feel as if a situation is suddenly shifting from normal to worst-case-scenario.  Vickerd’s work reveals the death and disaster hidden beneath the mundane we take for granted.  For these pieces, The Passenger and The Passenger II, Vickerd creates life like sculpture from previously living material.  Taxidermied animals appear to make up the body of a person that is otherwise waiting.  The sculptures were installed in public areas wearing normal clothing.

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