New exhibit at Cobblestone Museum gallery features collection of Victorian mourning art

Photos by Ginny Kropf – Doug Farley, director of the Cobblestone Society Museum, looks at a shadowbox memorial with a stuffed dove, crucifix and wax flowers which is part of Bill Lattin’s collection of Victorian mourning art. Two hundred pieces of his collection are in an exhibit at the Museum’s Upper Gallery, which will open with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on June 24.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 16 June 2022 at 7:14 pm

Bill Lattin, former director of the Cobblestone Society Museum, holds a death mask of Dr. Roswell Park, which is part of Lattin’s collection of Victorian mourning art.

CHILDS – An exhibit showcasing Victorian mourning art prominent in the late 19th century will open June 24 in the Cobblestone Society Museum’s Upper Gallery, next to the Cobblestone Church, with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. The cobblestone Ward House, where a body cooler is displayed, will also be open for viewing.

The exhibit is a collection belonging to Bill Lattin, former director and curator of the Cobblestone Society Museum. He has put together a floor-to-ceiling exhibit of 200 pieces of funeral art and related ephemera.

Lattin said he first became interested in mourning art when he was in college during the mid-1960s. A college professor who taught photography had a collection of antique post mortem pictures from the 19th century and Lattin found them fascinating.

The first piece he purchased was a death mask of Dr. Roswell Park, who was the attending physician when President William McKinley was assassinated. An antique dealer in Brockport sold it to Lattin for $5. He said the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society has one like it, but in a different color.

“From time to time I’d find unusual things and pick them up,” Lattin said. “In the last 25 to 30 years, I became more aggressive about finding things.”

Lattin said the Victorians tried to make death a beautiful thing, as portrayed by the flowers and ornate decorations of many of the items.

Many in his collection are one-of-a-kind (handmade) memorials. Others include manufactured knick-knacks and many memorial prints, as well as art made from hair in shadowboxes. One shadowbox holds a stuffed dove, crucifix  and wax flowers.

Another poignant piece is a framed print of a dog, who appears to be in mourning at a young child’s empty bed. The dog is sitting on his hind legs with his head bowed, as if he knows he has lost his playmate.

Visitors to the exhibit will receive a catalog describing each of the pieces, along with a booklet titled “Life and Death of Rich Mrs. Duck,  A Notorious Glutton,” in exchange for a donation. The booklet would be used to talk to children about death, Farley said.

Lattin said he previously exhibited his collection of Victorian mourning art about 10 years ago in Proctor Room of the Cobblestone Church. He said it attracted more visitors than any other exhibit he did as director of the Cobblestone Museum.

The exhibit will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, or by appointment by calling (585) 589-9013.