Helen Beatrix Potter (1866 - 1943) was fortunate enough to be born into a life of privilege. To her credit, she made the most of her opportunities and left us with a legacy rich in writing, illustrations and land preservation. Benefitting from the idyllic childhood she and her brother Walter spent summer holidays in Scotland and in the English Lake District. The children were indulged with numerous small animals and pets, which gave them the opportunity to observe the animals and draw them. Beatrix was educated by a private governess until the age of 18 and also benefited from private art lessons. From these advantages, Potter combined her artistic ability, rich imagination, and natural curiosity to leave us with a legacy of wonderful children’s tales.
Her most famous work, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was written, illustrated and published privately in 1901. It was released publicly a year later as a three-colour illustrated book. The world of children’s literature would be much poorer if she had not moved beyond that first private publication, which was probably for the benefit of her large extended family.
Using the legacy from an aunt and the proceeds from the sales of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter bought the Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey in the English Lake District in 1905. It was the first of several land purchases she would make. Showing naturalist and scientific inclinations, she illustrated insects, fossils and mushrooms. To my personal delight, her scientific interests centered on mycology (mycology = the study of mushrooms). She had access to accomplished botanist and mycological experts and after some brief mentoring she was engaged in her own substantial scientific mycological research. She studied and illustrated the reproduction of fungal spores, drawing microscopic spores for the benefit of the larger community and producing her own thesis on the process of mushroom reproduction.
Beatrix Potter produced over twenty-three books; writing and illustrating (and managing her farms) until failing eyesight made the tasks too difficult. In addition to her talents as an author and land manager, Beatrix Potter showed an entrepreneurial streak and designed spin-off merchandise based on her stories. In her personal life, she was briefly engaged to be married in 1905, but her fiance died suddenly of leukemia. In 1913, at the age of 47, she married William Heelis, a respected solicitor.
Beatrix Potter was born July 28, 1866 and passed away at 77 years of age on December 22, 1943. She left almost all of her land holdings to the National Trust, preserving much of the land that now makes up the Lake District National Park. In addition to producing some great art for our children to enjoy, she seems to have led a life worth their attention as well.