As a species, we've almost always been in the business of luring the attentions of tourists. In the late 1800s, the British town of Bramber was home to a particularly bizarre tourist trap: a very small museum dedicated to the taxidermy arts of a man named Walter Potter. Potter transformed the corpses of small animals into displays representing daily life in the British countryside, beloved poems, or other miniature scenes. Most of the time, Potter anthropomorphized the taxidermied animals, standing them on their hind legs and dressing them in tiny clothes. Sometimes, the animals are in classrooms, writing exercises in their little workbooks. It's such a weird thing to imagine now, but at the time, Potter's work was something of a local sensation, and his craftsmanship was of high enough quality to ensure that most of it has survived to today.
Walter Potter's Curious World of Taxidermy is an upcoming art book describing the history of Potter's work and showing fine details of many of his displays. These are weird and (if you're the right kind of person) wonderful sights: Kittens playing croquet as other kittens look on with bored expressions; a chest retelling the "Babes in the Wood" poem with a pair of creepy dolls; and two rooms full of gambling rodents, with squirrels playing cards in a lush casino room and rats playing dominoes in a scuzzy hideout that is on the verge of being raided by the police.
The text in the book, written by Dr. Pat Morris and Joanna Ebenstein, explains the how of Potter's taxidermy, but there really can't be any suitable definition of the why. They explain how much work went into each piece, they contextualize the Bramber Museum in its time, and they clearly state how changing attitudes on taxidermy affected the way the public approached the Museum pieces through the years. The squeamish will not enjoy this book, but anyone interested in how balls-out weird people can get will enjoy the hell out of it. It's a chipper—and very British—look at a curiosity that has for the most part long been forgotten.