Discovering Beatrix Potter
A visit to friends in England took a detour this summer thanks to two movies and a book about Beatrix Potter.
The animated/live action film Peter Rabbit showed up early this year (2018.) I am a sucker for that rascally rabbit so, despite wondering if I should borrow a child, I held my adult head high and went to the theater. The movie was as much joyful escapism as Peter sneaking under McGregor’s fence.
Soon after, I rented the film Miss Potter starring Renee Zellweger (2006) Ewan McGregor played her publisher Norman Warne. (Too bad he couldn’t play Mr Farmer McGregor.)
Then I discovered a book that changed my impression of dear Beatrix.
I had vastly underestimated our Miss Potter as merely a nice lady who drew cute bunnies. The Art of Beatrix Potter (2016; published for the 150th anniversary of her birth) filled in the missing pieces.
I learned that her art was grounded in a deep understanding and love of nature. (And, naturally, she took Peter’s side over McGregor!) She was a serious botanical illustrator who drew and painted beautifully-executed and precise studies of animals and plants—even fossils—from the countryside around her.
And, it turns out she was an amazingly independent woman in an era when most women weren’t. She used her earnings on all those tiny books to buy her home, Hill Top in the Lake District near Sawney. (By now, those books have sold over 100 million copies in 35 countries.)
She became an expert on Herdwick sheep and became the first female president designate of the Herdwick Sheepbreeders’ Association. She purchased additional properties in the Lake District to protect them from development. At her death in 1943 she left 14 farms, sheep and 4000 acres of land to the National Trust which still manages Hill Top and the lands.
That is how two movies and a book inspired a detour in England’s Lake District to Hill Top Farm and to a new appreciation of a talented artist and liberated woman.
PS: If you want to go, stay in Bowness-on-Windermere. The small town has an easy ferry service for the 15- minute ride across the lake toward Hill Top. The town is walkable and features “The World of Beatrix Potter” too.
BTW: The "Miss Potter" film was not shot at the real Hill Top. Find out how and why that Yew Tree farm in the Lake District became its stand-in.