TIME movies

PHOTOS: Bonkers Victorian Taxidermy, Now Getting the Documentary Treatment

Proof that meme-worthy animals pre-date the Internet: a classroom full of taxidermic bunnies

The human drive to anthropomorphize animals is alive and well in today’s Doge and Grumpy Cat memes — but at least one earlier expression of that urge was a lot more extreme.

Walter Potter was a taxidermist working in Victorian England who took a unique (to say the least) approach to the art. His pieces positioned animals in human scenes, with results that are half-cute, half-macabre. As a result, though few would argue that his works were the highest quality specimens, he was able to gain fame during his lifetime with a small museum that held his work. When his museum closed, his collection was dispersed; that diaspora made it hard for the collection to be studied, but perhaps easier for it to become popular all over the world. His fame has persisted, with fans including David Sedaris and Damien Hirst.

Now, he’s getting the documentary treatment: the short doc by filmmaker Ronni Thomas, Walter Potter: The Man Who Married Kittens, will premiere at New York’s Morbid Anatomy Museum on June 6. (And yes, as you can see in the photo here, he did make a taxidermy tableau of a kitten wedding.) The movie looks at the Victorian context that gave rise to the oddness of his work, and at the collectors who desire his pieces today. Thomas first started the project as a book trailer for the book Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy, by Pat Morris and Joanna Ebenstein; Ebenstein ended up producing the film — and taking the photos in the gallery below — when it turned out there was more than a trailer’s worth of material. As Thomas says in his director’s statement, “a mythical figure began to emerge from a simple man with questionable talents.”

Take a look at the photos and it will be easy to see why he felt that way.

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