COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Ceremonial Axe

Origin: America, Michigan, Orion
OL: 19"
Wood, paint, and metal
Acc. No. 2010.708.2
A non-functional (ceremonial) decorated axe having lettering on both sides of the handle. One side of the "blade" bears images of a fish and an oak leaf; the other bears images of a star, a laurel-crowned bust of a man in profile, and a white bear standing adjacent to a star-studded white sphere or ball, only part of which is shown. A staple in the butt end of the handle appears to have been added for display purposes.
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. "H. Knight," named on one side of the handle, has not been fully identified, but several men of that surname served with Cribbins during the Civil War.
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: "YOU. AND. I. MIKE". In similar letters on the other side of the handle is: "H. KNIGHT" (in one reserve) followed by "ORION" (in a second reserve).