Beatrix Potter (July 28, 1866 – December 22, 1943)
Hygrocybe Coccinea, 1897
Armitt Museum and Library, Ambleside, Cumbria, United Kingdom
But Rabbits Can’t Eat Mushrooms?
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
The beloved mischievous bunny, Peter Rabbit did not just have to outwit Farmer Mc Gregor he had to be carful of what he was stealing from his garden; rabbits can’t eat mushrooms. Peter Rabbit’s creator Beatrix Potter did not just illustrate lovely children’s books but also used the medium of watercolor paintings to document her study of botany and mycology.
Beatrix Potter was born July 28, 1866, at 2 Bolton Gardens, South Kensington, a suburb of London, England, to her parents Rupert and Helen Potter. She was the older of two children, Walter Bertram was six years her junior, to whom she was very close. As was the custom among the Victorian wealthly, Beatrix was reared by three different governesses, who educated her and nurtured her developing creative talents. As children Beatrix and Walter were very curious about nature, which was heighten during holidays to the Lake District, an area of the United Kingdom that borders England and Scotland. Beatrix and her dear brother kept many wildlife critters as pets, to study and for Beatrix to use as a muse for her creativity. At the age of fourteen Beatrix started keeping a watercolor painting and written journal of her curiosities and findings regarding wildlife and nature. Her journaling continued until 1898, highlighting her fascination with various species of ingenuous fungi. Her journals showed an increasing passion for documenting fungi from 1888 to 1898 morphing into a full study of mycology.
Beatrix became a consultant on mycology for botanists at Kew Gardens, in 1895, focusing on germinate spores and her theories of hybridisation. During this time, because of being a female and lacking formal education, the director at Kew Gardens rebuffed her theories. Beatrix rebutted her neigh-sayer in 1897 in a paper titled On the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricineae, which she submitted to the Linnean Society, but because of being a female Beatrix could not attend the reading and discussions regarding her paper.
Beatrix promptly withdrew her paper in protest. Eventually Beatrix’s paper was rediscovered, along with her watercolor paintings, and was properly acknowledged by scholars publicly. During Beatrix’s later years she donated her mycological watercolor paintings to the Armitt Museum and Library in Ambleside, Cumbria, United Kingdom, where her paintings and research are still studied by scientists. The Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Perth, Scotland also houses some of Beatrix Potter’s watercolor paintings of fungi. In 1967 Beatrix’s dream of her scientific works being published was fulfilled when mycologist W. P. K. Findlay used selected watercolor paintings of Beatrix’s illustrations in his book Wayside & Woodland Fungi. The Linnean Society offered a posthumous apology to Beatrix Potter for their sexism in 1997. As Peter Rabbit’s naughty legacy has lived in my in hearts of children for generations, Beatrix’s wonderment of nature continues to educate both novice and research botanists and mycologists.
“ I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations”
~ Beatrix Potter
—Barbara Anne Doucette
Barbara Anne Doucette is a mixed media artist and crafter currently living in Western New York.