COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Walking Stick

Origin: America, Michigan, Orion
OL: 34 7/8"
Wood (est. by eye as willow), paint, and metal (est. by eye as lead)
Acc. No. 2010.708.1
A carved, painted, and stained (or varnished) walking stick incorporating naturally occurring deformations of the wood. Some raised, block-style lettering appears on the stick, along with both abstract and naturalistic motifs, the latter including two 3-leafed clovers, two types of small stars, a snake (possibly two), an ax, a flag, and a fish. The star motifs were punched or stamped into the wood, not carved. Abstract decorations include dots, dashes, chevrons, notching, and stippling, some of it painted and some of it carved or incised. Paint colors include black, silver, and green. Some areas of the cane were simply stained (or varnished) and not painted.
Label:Michael “Mike” Cribbins was born in Ireland, immigrating to America via the port of Boston at age thirteen. By 1860, he was living in Kenockee, Michigan, with his family of origin, but soon thereafter he enlisted in the 7th Michigan Infantry, which saw considerable action during the Civil War. Later, he moved to Orion, Michigan, the town most closely associated with him today, thanks to his inclusion of the place name on many of his carved canes, axes and other wooden objects.

Like many men of his generation, Michael Cribbins began carving during his service in the American Civil War. Cribbins was wounded at Fredericksburg in May of 1863 and hospitalized at Point Lookout, Maryland where he began his creative production. Later in life, he was described as still having “a number of the trinkets he whittled during that time, which he cherishes as reminders of the old days.” Most of his post war carvings contain symbolic or text references to his regiment, and several were presented to his fellow veterans. Cribbins attended regimental reunions for the rest of his life, even serving as a representative of his company.

Cribbins whittled many of his canes from diamond willow wood. The term does not refer to a particular species of willow but, rather, to the diamond-shaped cankers, or cavities, that were formed by the growing tree in reaction to an attack by --- it is thought --- a fungus. Such deformations are commonly found in several species of willow, particularly Salix bebbiana (but similar reactions have also been noted in Quaking Aspens). Several diamonds appear in this cane, each artfully incorporated into the overall design. For instance, a large one near the top is encircled by a black snake.

It appears that Cribbins sold some of his canes but made others as gifts for friends. The wording "7th. MICH/ INFT" and "W.M." on this one suggests that it was made for a fellow soldier in his regiment. The text "X. Mayor" may indicate the political activity of the yet unidentified "W.M." as Cribbins frequently incorporated references to the recipient’s occupation into his carvings.

Provenance:Unidentified dealer (see Notes) at the Saline Market, Oakland Co., Mich.; bought by James H. Rutkowski of Beverly Hills, Mich.; bought by Donald R. Walters of Northampton, Mass., who was CWF's source.

Inscription(s):In a rectangular reserve about half-way down the stick, carved in raised block letters covered with silver paint, is: "MIKE". Carved in four separate oval reserves near the ferrule are the lines: "W. . M/ X. MAYOR/ 7th. MICH/ INFT". N. B. Originally an unidentified middle initial was carved between the "W" and the "M" in the first of the lines near the bottom, but at some point the initial was cut out; patination of the wood suggests that the removal was done fairly early in the stick's existence. The clover leaf near the top of the cane seems to have had a small symbol or letter painted or carved into each of its three leaves, but if the markings were intentional, they are no longer legible.