If you haven’t yet visited the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Gowanus, the exhibit “Walter Potter’s Kitten Taxidermy Wedding” may just be the ticket to get you in the door of this quirky museum. The Kitten Wedding, on display until November 6th, is part of a larger exhibit, Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality, curated by J.D. Powe in the main portion of the two-room exhibition space. Powe is a collector who has lent items to the Morbid Anatomy Museum in the past and sits on the board of directors of the museum.
Within the context of the taxidermy exhibit, the kittens are the showcase of a long tradition and practice of preserving animals, which goes back to Ancient Egypt. But the Victorian Era really brought the hobby to the fore, and the Kitten Wedding is the final work of Walter Potter, a self-taught country taxidermist in England. The Morbid Anatomy Museum describes the piece, completed in the early 1890s, as “equal parts perverse and adorable, and utterly spellbinding, The Kittens’ Wedding transcends kitsch through its tenderness and sensitive attention to detail.”
Potter was known for the detailed anthropomorphic displays, which used not only kittens but also animals such as rabbits and squirrels all doing ostensibly human activities. There are twenty kittens in the wedding scene, placed within a large glass case. They are all adorned in Victorian garb made of elegant fabrics like brocade and velvet, and even have undergarments that you can’t see. Accessories are plentiful – bowties, pearl jewelry, floral baskets. The bride wears a long veil and lace dress. The groom wears a suit and puts a ring on the finger of his bride. The parson is dressed according to his position and carries a prayer book open to the page “Marriage Service.”
There are six bridesmaids, numerous guests, and a notably angry male with a scowl, which the museum writes, “seems to indicate that he thinks the wrong ‘man’ is standing beside the Bride!”
Rest assured that Potter was one of the more “moral” of the taxidermists in the Victorian era, deliberately noting that no animals were killed in order to make the works. The Kittens Wedding has had a high-profile career since it was first shown, and more recently displayed at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2001. Damien Hirst was so enamored of Potters’ work that he put up a million British pounds to keep the collection intact, when it went up for sale in 2003.
Nonetheless, the Kittens Wedding has been separated from its companions and was purchased by curator J.D. Powe in 2016, then sold to a cat sanctuary owner in Catskill, New York.
Next, check out the Secrets of the Gowanus Canal just nearby.