It was only 10 years ago when the bizarre collection of the Victorian taxidermist, Walter Potter (1835-1918), was auctioned off from a small museum in Cornwall. Damien Hirst tried to buy it, stating in The Guardian that:
“Mr Potter… was a self-taught taxidermist. You can see he knew very little about anatomy and musculature, because some of the taxidermy is terrible – there’s a kingfisher that looks nothing like a kingfisher. But there’s some great stuff in there, too – two-headed goats, a rhino’s head, a mummified human hand. As an ensemble, it’s just mad.”
Like Potter, the people interested in taxidermy today are mostly hobbyists and the appreciation for the bizarre craft has resurfaced with him as a leader. And what better icon for the masses of those wanting to learn?
Potter, being a self-taught ‘amateur’, was unlike most of the professional Victorian taxidermists at the time who stuffed animals as natural history specimens, as trophies or for personal collections. Potter’s work was made purely for enjoyment, as spectacles, hand crafted with detail and care, and inspired by fairy tales. Wedding kittens, bunnies at school, rat police raids. All of these expressed a fascination with nature in a twisted anthropomorphic perspective (see acaseofcuriosities.com for images). Potter found himself falling away from the technical nature of taxidermy and brought to life something incredibly different.
A new culture
Being something that was previously very unpopular in the late 20th century, taxidermy has made a complete come back, with a new purpose for those involved.
As human beings, we love to create new and innovative things. Taxidermy is very hands-on and making dead mice into caricatures of humans might just be a light-hearted way of viewing death, similar to the Victorians. There are very technical skills involved, but these days it is not about perfection or anatomically correct figures. People want to make taxidermy for themselves. They want to come to the course, create something and take home a finished project to appreciate. It has become very persona.
In this modern culture of sitting at a computer desk all day in a stuffy office (no pun intended), what better way to get your hands dirty and exercise those manual skills than skinning and stuffing a tiny rodent?
Offering an easily accessible course to the public will hopefully continue to create a revived culture of taxidermy and taxidermists, and the work will hopefully draw similar attention to that which Walter Potter’s anthropomorphic scenes gained.
Megan McClimont, taxidermy enthusiast, said: “I mostly love it because I’m an overgrown child with an over-active imagination. In particular I have a tendency towards anthropomorphising everything around me. I have the odd bit of taxidermy around the house, and each piece has a name and a character. My shabby old squirrel, Earl, has had a hard after-life, and just needs a home where we can be appreciated for the tired, earless little guy he is. Little Helicopter, my stuffed budgerigar, surprised me with his judgemental expression. I had to move him out of the bedroom because he appeared to disapprove of my shenanigans. I know it sounds a little peculiar, but I like the idea of learning to create these characters from nature’s leftovers. To take what is essentially a scrap of flesh, skin and bone, and give it new life. I’m sure that, with time and skill, even the most broken things can be made beautiful.”
Check out the courses for anthropomorphic mouse classes book at A Field Guide.