Sunday, July 10, 2016

June 20

  1. Original Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin drawings
  2. Learning about Beatrix Potter's early life
  3. Cats and Coffee!
All the Details:
Blythe House

Original drawings of Peter Rabbit
Monday began with a class visit to Blythe House to see the Beatrix Potter Archives. We met with the archivist, Emma Laws, and Andrew Wiltshire, from the Beatrix Potter Society, who shared with us their knowledge about the collection. Ms. Laws explained that both the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum use Blythe House to store materials and archives. However, the building will most likely be sold soon, which would mean moving a huge amount of materials from both museums. The Beatrix Potter Collection consists of donations, gifts, and materials on loan. A large part of the donations come from Leslie Linder, a close neighbor of Beatrix Potter. Much of the material would actually be too expensive for the museum to purchase themselves, so loans and gifts are a very important part of the archive.

We were given some basic information about Beatrix Potter’s life growing up in London and receiving an education. She was very close to her younger brother, who was sent to boarding school while Beatrix was educated at home. Her family spent summers in Scotland, where Beatrix’s love for nature grew. We were able to see one of her earliest sketch books from when she was eight years old. This book shows that her deep interest in both science and art started at a very young age. One of the sketches was of various caterpillars with detailed descriptions on the opposite page. We also saw a drawing, done when Beatrix was eleven, of a dead bird. The attention to detail and anatomy was evident in every piece.

Beatrix received art training in pencil and watercolor, pen and ink, and oil painting. As an unmarried woman, she would have lived at home with her parents and art would have been a skill to learn in order to find a husband. She drew mostly plants and animals and would even kill animals in order to examine their anatomy in details. Ms. Laws showed us a drawing of a bat which corresponded with letters between Beatrix and her brother regarding the poor health of the captive creature. Her brother suggested killing the bat in order to avoid its suffering, and based on the accuracy of the drawing we can assume this is what she did. We also saw some uncharacteristic artwork which included drawings of fungi done with the aid of a microscope and still life works for art school. All of the work we had seen up until this point revealed how Beatrix Potter came to be the illustrator and author that we all know and recognize. 
Original drawings from Squirrel Nutkin
Beatrix Potter’s first published works were Christmas card designs, but her famous works starting with Peter Rabbit did not appear until later, with much encouragement from her friends and family. Beatrix became close friends with one of her governesses, Annie Moor, who married and had many children. Peter Rabbit, based on her actual pet rabbit began as a letter to Annie Moor’s oldest son when he was sick. My favorite pieces to look at in the collection were the sketches that show how Beatrix Potter studied her animal subjects, like Peter, from every possible angle. Although the original letters were written for fun, these other detailed examinations show her dedication to drawing accurate representations of the animals. Another remarkable piece in the collection is the original letter of Squirrel Nutkin accompanied by the ‘dummy manuscript’ used to lay out the text and illustrations for the published book. I loved seeing how something as simple as a letter to a child could become such an iconic piece of children’s literature around the world. A somewhat disappointing fact that we learned was that when Beatrix married at age 47 and finally moved out of her parents’ house, she almost completely stopped writing and illustrating. This halt in her artistic work shows that it was a hobby rather than a specific career choice. This information sets her apart from many writers and artists who choose this lifestyle because they thrive outside of usual social circles. Beatrix spent her time writing and illustrating until she could fully be a part of the accepted social circles of married women. This visit was particularly eye-opening because it allowed us to look at a specific author/illustrator that we think we know and learn about what shaped their life and work.

Later in the afternoon, Megan and I celebrated her last day in London with a trip to a cat café! It was definitely a unique experience! Once we arrived we were taken to our table in the two story café and ordered coffee and cake. The walls of the room were covered with platforms for cats to climb, and there were various types of cat beds, toys, and fun places to explore. We immediately found many cats napping in the sunlight in the café window and one (Wookie) asleep in a hammock! Next we spotted a small black and white kitten named Peter. He was sweet and playful, and even spent some time sitting on people’s laps and tables. Downstairs there was a huge wooden tree that lined the walls and provided a fun place for the cats to climb. There was also a wheel that they could exercise on. Both the cats and the staff were very friendly, and it was fun to pet and play with the cats while enjoying our snacks. It did make me miss my cats at home a lot though.
Peter the kitten
Cat climbing tree

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