Empress Catherine’s courtiers and domestics were mostly comprised of neutants, androgynous characters much like the eunuchs of the Turkish and Chinese courts. Catherine took wayward children, mostly urchins and petty criminals, off the street and had them “neuterized” to become docile neutants.
A juvenile delinquent named Peekle Hannaford was such an incorrigible shoplifter and mugger that his own mother, Old Madam Scragglynose, had her son neuterized—a practice that only Empress Catherine was permitted by law to authorize. Consequently, one of Catherine’s neutants (known only as The Country Boy) executed Scragglynose and Catherine adopted Peekle to be her son.
Peekle lived with Catherine in her palace, the Ciudella. He was coddled by his adoptive mother and treated to the same lavish lifestyle she enjoyed. The boy developed a keen interest in astronomy as well as the performing arts, and regularly attended the opera with Catherine, turning quite a few heads.
Kuhler stated that he had been emotionally abused by his mother throughout his childhood and adolescence, that her words were often sharply critical, condescending, and emasculating. As a result, his mother, he said, had “psychologically neutered” him. Peekle was one of Kuhler’s primary alter egos and favorite illustrations, appearing throughout his diaries and featured on the cover page of the annual tax preparation documents mailed to his accountant.
Inspired by the history of eunuchs, particularly those of the Chinese and Ottoman courts, Kuhler created Peekle and the other neutant characters in the 1970s as part of Empress Catherine’s backstory,. The artist taught himself the craft of scientific illustration for his job at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and such techniques are evident in illustrations like Peekle facing door. In his never-ending quest to perfect the neutant anatomy, Kuhler frequently employed a Xerox machine, carefully altering each photocopy to create the latest iteration.