A review of
The Death and Burial of Cock Robin
by Walter Potter
By the time of his death, in 1918, Walter Potter had stuffed more than ten thousand specimens for his museum, but his greatest taxidermy tableau remains his first, The Death and Burial of Cock Robin. The work, begun when Potter was only nineteen, reenacts the funeral from the nursery rhyme of the same name, which poses a series of questions such as "Who killed Cock Robin?" ("'I,' said the sparrow, 'with my little bow and arrow'") and "Who'll dig his grave?" ("'I,' said the owl, 'with my spade and shovel'").
Nursery rhymes often contain morbid imagery: sightless mice being chased with a butcher knife ("Three Blind Mice") and birds being methodically dismembered ("Alouette"), to name two that involve animal cruelty. Just as these verses take their unsettling power from their ability to soothe the macabre (horrific death!) into the quotidian (memorable ditty!), Potter's work gains depth by casting dead animals as civilized humans: a frog shaves another frog, two guinea pigs play cricket, seventeen ginger tabby and white kittens partake in colorful pastries at a tea party. So it is in The Death and Burial of Cock Robin: Avian mourners perch on a leafless tree while others line up in pairs behind the coffin, heads lowered; several shed glass tears.
We hope you enjoy this excerpt.To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.