Victorians And Nature

The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.

If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or to share your memory or get an answer to your question.

Last week featured the Fenton family baby carriage as a way Victorian-era people embraced nature. Besides going outside, Victorians brought nature into their homes. Greenhouses provided flowers and plants year round. Conservatories built in or added to the house brought the room full of greenhouse plants and flowers into the house. Taxidermy was another popular way of bringing nature into the Victorian home.

Looking on the Internet under Victorian taxidermy can produce a variety of images. These include animal hooves employed in many ways and for many uses. Elephant leg umbrella stands can be found and so can animal skins adorning various objects. One amazing find is the work of Walter Potter who, using small animals, such as kittens and baby rabbits, produced dioramas that mimicked human life. One was the “Kitten Tea Party” and another was the “Kitten Wedding.”

Many places, including the drawing room at the Fenton History Center, have “under glass” a display of small and colorful songbirds sitting on branches of a tree. This was a common accessory in Victorian parlors. To be “one with nature,” Victorian ladies sometimes incorporated feathers into the bodice of a dress. Or real stuffed birds could adorn hats, while small bugs and even small birds could be incorporated into jewelry.

Two other items in the collection of the Fenton History Center are examples of an everyday object that provided the Victorian lady with a visible and practical expression of bringing nature to the indoors. These items are two pin cushions. The part in which the pins could be kept was added to the top of an animal paw and part of the leg. The paw was such that it would sit on the shelf or table and the pin cushion was added to the top of the cut off leg. We have not identified the animals which sacrificed themselves for these two pin cushions. The pin cushions are topped with velvet-one is green and the other is red.

How many readers once had a key chain that held a rabbit’s foot for good luck? A key chain is one thing but how about having earrings made from rabbits’ feet or a necklace made from paws of other small animals or heads of birds? The proper Victorian lady could not be squeamish if she was to join the crowd that brought nature into the home and into the lives of the family.

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The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County’s history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.

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If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St. just south of the Washington Street Bridge.