New Exhibit: The Tale of Beatrix Potter
Special Collections’ newest small exhibit, The Tale of Beatrix Potter, commemorates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter. The exhibit, which runs through the end of August, was curated by the Spring/Summer Special Collections interns.
Beatrix Potter was born in 1866 in the United Kingdom. In her earliest years, she proved to be an exceptionally talented child. She was drawing her surroundings by age 9 and by age 15 she started keeping a coded journal (which she continued to keep until she was about 30). As she grew, she developed a keen interest in the natural world. These interests would later manifest themselves in her art and her work as an amateur mycologist. She was also incredibly well read, having read the stories such as Aesop’s Fables, Tales of Uncle Remus, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She even memorized several Shakespearean plays in one summer.
By the time Beatrix was 16, Annie Carter, who was only three years older, became Beatrix’s governess. In her journals, Beatrix notes that Annie was her favorite governess. After three years, Annie got married and had to leave Beatrix as a Governess. However, this separation would not be the end of their friendship. When Beatrix wrote her stories, she would send them in letters to Annie’s children. These letters could be considered the first drafts of many of her children’s books.
As Beatrix continued to improve her artistic techniques, she became friends with Charles Macintosh. Macintosh served as the postman in Scotland where the Potters would often spend holiday. Charles Macintosh was impressed by the young Beatrix’s artistic talent and suggested to her that she start making her drawings more technical. He would also send Beatrix mycological specimens for Beatrix to draw and study. They kept in contact and he continued to support her in her scientific and artistic endeavors.
As she worked with the Frederick and Warne Co. to publish her first books, she made more lasting relationships. One of the more influential was with her editor Norman Warne. They first met in 1901 or 1902. She works very closely with Norman writing him many letters. By the year 1905, after only 2-3 years of knowing each other, Norman and Beatrix were engaged.
However, this engagement lasted only a month due to the rapid decline in Norman’s health and his unexpected passing. However, even after Norman’s death, she continued to write, visit, and stay in contact with many of Norman’s siblings, nieces, and nephews. She sent Norman’s nieces and nephews several pictures and stories in letters, just as she had done with Annie’s children. While she didn’t get to marry her first true love she was able to keep and cultivate many meaningful and long lasting relationship in her life. She even got married to William Heelis in 1913. Most of Beatrix potter’s books are dedicated to the many children that she surrounded herself with in her lifetime. She was a remarkable woman, entrepreneur, and friend.
All the way up until the end of her life Beatrix was doing amazing things. She helped protect and conserve the lake district in England, she became a farmer, and continued to write several more books up until the end of her life.
For more on Beatrix Potter and her books at Special Collections, listen to Prof. Leslee Thorne-Murphy’s interview on BYUradio’s Top of Mind With Julie Rose.