WATCH | "The Kittens' Wedding," a 1890 tableau by Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter, at the "Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality" exhibit at Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y. on September 1. The piece will be on display until November 6.
Walter Potter was a self-taught taxidermist in the 19th century, who gained fame for creating anthropomorphic tableaux with an impeccable attention to detail.
(Photo: Potter aged about 80 holding a fox he stuffed, courtesy of Joanna Ebenstein)
Auctioned off and scattered
His museum in Sussex, England housed hundreds of his taxidermy pieces for more than a century before closing in the 1970s. In the 2000s, many pieces were auctioned off and scattered all over the world.
So when Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy Museum's co-founder and creative director, first tried to get a Potter piece for the museum two years ago, she quickly realized it was almost impossible.
But with the help of J.D. Powe and Sabrina Hansen -- former and current proprietors, respectively -- Ebenstein was able to obtain the piece for the museum, becoming the host of the first formal Potter exhibit in the United States.
'Holy Grail of Walter Potter pieces'
"It's the first time the kittens have been on display in many years," J.D. Powe said.
Powe, a collector, purchased the piece at an auction earlier this year for about $120,000. The piece was eventually sold again to Sabrina Hansen , a founder of a cat sanctuary in upstate New York.
"I chased it for five years," Hansen said. "I thought I'd never find the piece, it's like the Holy Grail of Walter Potter pieces. It had garnered worldwide attention."
No animals were killed specifically to make art with.
According to Ebenstein, who also co-authored the book "Walter Potter's Curious World of Taxidermy" with Pat Morris, modern ideas about animal rights were not exactly the same in the 19th century, especially when animals were not spayed or neutered.
Unwanted puppies and kittens were often killed to curb the growing population. This was also when taxidermy was prevalent in Victorian homes.
"It's very disruptive and jarring in a way to see animals engaged in the past that we believe are uniquely human," J.D. Powe said. "So I think that's what makes it resonate more than a hundred years later."
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