Take a Virtual Tour of One Man's Strange World of Stuffed Animals - Atlas Obscura
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Take a Virtual Tour of One Man’s Strange World of Stuffed Animals

Walter Potter, Victorian taxidermist, transformed a preservation profession into peculiar art.

Have you ever wanted to attend a grand banquet with kittens or have a drink with squirrels at a club? In this 1965 clip archived by British Pathé, dolled-up dead animals are brought back to life in these human scenes.

British Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter dreamed up these scenarios at his incredible and bizarre museum of animal fantasy. He stuffed deceased little creatures, dressed them in miniature human suits and dresses, and positioned them in elaborate dioramas. Highlights include a kitten wedding party, a school of 48 rabbits, and cricket match between guinea pigs.

Potter began as a traditional taxidermist, preserving cherished pets. Largely inspired by nursery rhymes, he completed a seven-year masterpiece “The Death and Burial of Cock Robin” at the age of 19, which gained so much popularity in 1861 that he opened Walter Potter’s Museum of Curiosities in Bramber, Sussex, England. At the 1:38-mark in the video above, you can view the countryside funeral scene, and spot 98 species of birds—the blue coffin of the deceased robin riding on the back of two other stuffed birds.  

Potter was most known for his work with squirrels, as, of all the animals he worked with, their proportions are closest to human anatomy, reports Vanity Fair. The men’s squirrel club (seen at 1:18) is one of Potter’s most celebrated dioramas. The stuffed animals have tiny cigars hanging from their lips and even sit around a table for a game of poker.

“As an artist he suffered simply because there was no one to compare him with,” the narrator says in the video.

Unfortunately, Potter’s Museum of Curiosities has since shut its doors, and the collection of over 10,000 amphibians, birds, cats, rodents, and other specimens were auctioned off in 2003. This 1965 clip gives us a rare glimpse of Potter’s original fantastical world in all its glory.

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