Morbid Curiosities in Brooklyn’s industrial Gowanus district.

My

My interest in all things morbid started at a young age. I remember being strangely fascinated with watching my father slaughter and butcher our farm animals, which would eventually end up on our dinner table. I was also a taphophile (someone who loves cemeteries) before I even knew what the word meant.

Turns out

Joanna Ebenstein, founder and Creative Director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum located in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood, had similar experiences growing up in Concord, CA.

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From collecting black widow spiders as a child to skinning a great horned owl when she was 16 years old, Joanna’s morbid curiosity continued into adulthood.

started out as an art project, a photo exhibition about anatomical museums. This led to the Morbid Anatomy blog.

It all started in 2007 with “Morbid Anatomy,” a photography ex­hi­bi­tion about med­ical mu­se­ums around the world.

tens of thousands of photographs.

After collecting tens of thousands of photographs, Joanna began her Morbid Anatomy Blog, as a tool to help organize her research for the exhibition. It immediately had a following.

In 2008, I founded the Morbid Anatomy Library at Proteus Gowanus, a gallery and reading room in response to queries on the blog about books in my bibliography.

Soon her private collection of more than 2,000 books on medical history, death rituals, the human body and esoterica found a home in a tiny rented space at Proteus Gowanus Gallery, an arts incubator tucked away in an alley near the Gowanus Canal. The Morbid Anatomy Library started hosting lectures and workshops and began attracting a vibrant community of artists and collectors, including identical twins, Tracy and Tonya.

Tracy Martin

Tracy Hurley Martin, wife of Vince Clarke (English synth-pop star and founding member of Depeche Mode and half of the band Erasure) and sister Tonya Hurley, a bestselling author, attended a talk that Joanna was giving about the cult of Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, at a bookstore in Brooklyn in 2013. It was there that the idea for a larger museum space was formed.

The three-story, 4,200-square-foot museum — painted black, of course, and designed by the architects Robert Kirkbride and Anthony Cohn — will have not just exhibition spaces, but an expansive library, a lecture and events space, a gift shop and a cafe

The new three-story, 4,200-square-foot museum opened in 2014. Tracy Hurley Martin is now the CEO of the museum, while her sister is on the board of directors.

The ground-floor includes a cafe and gift shop...

The ground-floor includes a cafe and gift shop

..

…where you can grab a mourning cookie and a copy of Joanna’s book “The Morbid Anatomy Anthology”-edited by Joanna and Colin Dickey, author of Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius. The 500 page, lavishly illustrated, hardbound and full color book features 28 essays based on some of the most memorable lectures hosted by Morbid Anatomy between 2008 and 2014.

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Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality Featuring Walter Potter’s Kittens’ Wedding

I’m a big fan of taxidermy, so I was really excited to get a chance to see the current exhibit: Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality Featuring Walter Potter’s Kittens’ Wedding, currently showing in the third floor exhibition space.

includes over 100 artfully preserved animals, many of which are antique pieces.

It includes over 100 artfully preserved animals, many of which are antique pieces.

Walter Potter (2 July 1835 – 21 May 1918) was an English taxidermist noted for his anthropomorphic dioramas featuring mounted animals mimicking human life, which he displayed at his museum in Bramber, Sussex, England.

Walter Potter (2 July 1835 – 21 May 1918) was an English taxidermist noted for his anthropomorphic dioramas featuring mounted animals mimicking human life, which he displayed at his Museum of Curiosities in Bramber, Sussex, England.

The exhibition was a well-known and popular example of "Victorian whimsy" for many years, even after Potter's death; however enthusiasm for such entertainments waned in the twentieth century, and his collection was finally dispersed in 2003.

On display for nearly 150 years, the exhibition was a well-known and popular example of “Victorian whimsy” and contained approximately 10,000 specimens.

 however enthusiasm for such entertainments waned in the twentieth century, and his collection was finally dispersed in 2003. These works were exhibited for nearly 150 years until the museum he founded was divided at auction in 2003. The pieces then moved the homes of private collectors around the world, most of them never shown since.

The Victorian enthusiasm for stuffed animals had waned by the museum’s later days, and it deflected claims of animal cruelty by displaying notices stating that all the animals had died naturally and that “in any case, they were all over 100 years old.”

the museum he founded was divided at auction in 2003. The pieces then moved the homes of private collectors around the world, most of them never shown since.

In 2003, the museum he founded was divided at auction and placed in the hands of private collectors.

Curated by J. D. Powe

During my visit I had the opportunity to meet both Joanna Ebenstein, founder and Creative Director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum and J. D. Powe, curator of: Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality Featuring Walter Potter’s Kittens’ Wedding.

The highlight of the exhibit's anthropomorphic section, which features animals dressed up like humans and consists mostly of pieces from the Victorian era, is an elaborate wedding scene titled "The Kittens' Wedding" created by British taxidermist Walter Potter. The tableau created by British taxidermist Walter Potter in 1890, features about 20 kittens fully dressed in Victorian-era attire including jewelry and boutonnieres.

The highlight of the exhibit’s anthropomorphic section, is an elaborate wedding scene titled “The Kittens’ Wedding.” Created by Walter Potter in 1890, it features about 20 kittens fully dressed in Victorian-era attire including jewelry and boutonnieres.

It's the first time the kittens have been on display in many years,

This was the first time the kittens have been on display in many years. Powe, who’s also a collector, purchased the piece at an auction earlier this year for about $120,000. The piece was eventually sold again to Sabrina Hansen , a founder of a cat sanctuary in upstate New York.

A section titled "Freaks of Nature" showcases peculiar animals, such as taxidermy of a four-tusk walrus, a cow with two heads and a co-joined calf.

A section titled “Freaks of Nature” showcases peculiar animals, such as taxidermy of a four-tusk walrus and a co-joined calf.

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Whether Potter’s work is regarded as eccentric or distasteful to the contemporary eye, it is worth taking into account that during the nineteenth century the art of taxidermy was a popular practice and very much ingrained within daily life. Whether it is viewed as controversial or with intrigue, Walter Potter’s curious world certainly provokes conversation.

Whether Potter’s work is regarded as eccentric or distasteful to the contemporary eye, it is worth taking into account that during the nineteenth century the art of taxidermy was a popular practice and very much ingrained within daily life.

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Wax moulage from a class taught by future Morbid Anatomy Museum artist-in-residence Eleanor Crook. Moulages are wax models taken from casts of diseased body parts that are then colored to look realistic. They are used in medical education, and exist in most medical collections in the US and Europe.

A wax moulage from the Morbid Anatomy Library. Moulages are wax models taken from casts of diseased body parts that are then colored to look realistic. They are used in medical education, and exist in most medical collections in the US and Europe.

Another piece from the library.

Another piece from the Morbid Anatomy Library

MORBID ANATOMY MUSEUM 424A Third Avenue, at Seventh Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn.

The Morbid Anatomy Museum is located at 424-A 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215. Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality Featuring Walter Potter’s Kittens’ Wedding runs through November 6, 2016.