COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Ceremonial Axe

1875-1900
Origin: America, Michigan, Orion
OL: 16"
Wood, paint, and metal
Acc. No. 2010.708.3
A non-functional (ceremonial), decorated axe having lettering on both sides of the handle. One side of the "blade" bears images of a star and a veined maple leaf set below two irregularly-shaped, star-studded shapes; the other side bears images of a laurel-crowned bust of a man in profile and a bear. Stars fill the background around the bear, and a black-painted man's face appears near the ground in front of the bear.
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 is best known for his canes, and this is one of only two axes ascribed to him. (The second is also in the collections of the Folk Art Museum.) The non-functional object is assumed to have been made for ceremonial use, perhaps in a fraternal order such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The meaning of the word "FALL" on one side of the handle is unknown. Could it mean "Autumn" in reference to the maple leaf on the blade? The initials "E. M." punched into one side of the blade are presumed to reference a person, but who is unknown.
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):Carved in raised block-style letters on one side of the handle is: "U. AND. I. MIKE". In similar letters on the other side of the handle is: "FALL. ORION". Stamped into the blade is: "E M."