Sunday, 22 September 2013

Stuffed Freaks and a Private Tour of "Potter's Museum of Curiosity": Guest Post by Annabel de Vetten-Peterson

In 1998 I came across Mr. Potter's wonderful works while researching my degree pieces for my BA in Fine Art Sculpture at Wolverhampton University. I was making conjoined taxidermy pheasants and was reading up on all sorts of things about sideshows, freaks of nature, general natural oddities and unusual taxidermy.
Not having ready use of the Internet in those days, I had to rely on books, museum visits and conversations with like minded people. A friend told me about Mr. Potter's Museum of Curiosity and I booked a trip there straight away.

We stayed at the Jamaica Inn next door, and were hoping for some ghostly activity as an added bonus, but alas, there was none. The following day was one of pure amazement and wonder. I spent hours in the museum, reading, sketching and photographing everything. I was in curiosity heaven! When I finally emerged, the staff commented on me being in there for so long and asked if I was having a good time, having noticed me on the security camera. I explained and told them about my university project and they immediately offered a special, private, guided tour by the current taxidermist, Mr Mike Grace. He had done some of the contemporary conjoined pieces and maintained and restored a lot of the other pieces there. I jumped at the chance to meet him! We met the following morning and the tour began, just me and him. He told me all about Mr Potter’s works, where and when he started, where all the animals came from, the stories behind the tableaux. All (and more) of which is contained in Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy. It was a delight to read about everything again in so much detail. 

Mr Grace then showed me one of the pieces he did, a two headed calf. It was from a local farm, and had died in the early stages of labour. The farmer gave it to Mr Grace to prepare for the museum. It looks like a 'regular' two-headed calf, but Mr Grace explained it actually had an extra anus, right in the middle of it's back. He said he felt he needed to sew this up for display purposes..

Needless to say it was an invaluable trip and of great use to my research. I was going to give my finished pieces to the museum, but I didn't get a chance to go back for a while. I'm glad I didn't though. Unfortunately I didn't hear about the fact the museum being closed down and the pieces sold until after the fact. I would have loved to have bought something small from there, as a memento. Last year I was driving past there and stopped to see how everything looked now. It was depressing. Like the museum had never existed. A few framed pictures, hanging crooked in the hallway by the Jamaica Inn's restaurant public toilets. An insult to a truly marvelous, place filled with wonderful curiosities.

Guest post by Annabel de Vetten-Peterson