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Phoenix Home and Garden
Bone Deep
Author: Shawndrea Corbin
Issue: June, 2015, Page 144
Photography by Garrett Cook

Intricate patterns and an ancient carving
technique give a new face to the desert skull

Famed photographer David Bailey once said “The skull is nature’s sculpture.” For years, Phoenix artists Cyrus and Nona Coron embellished bull and buffalo skulls, typically focusing on the horns—artfully firing, carving and wrapping them in hand-dyed leathers.

During a recent art show, a gallery owner asked the couple if they had ever considered using semiprecious stones or gems to cover the skulls’ faces. The answer was a resounding “no.” It still is. “But his question made us wonder,” says Cyrus. “We began to look for a way of tooling the skulls that would still respect their natural significance to the West.”

Rather than treating the skulls as canvases to be covered, the Corons decided to use the bare bones as their collaborators. Employing a carving technique that they refer to as Southwestern scrimshaw, the artists apply thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, of individually carved circles to a skull’s surface. The effect, which can take 60 to 70 hours to create, is intricately layered, multidirectional patterns that react to and accentuate the bone’s natural contours and slopes.

Each carving is sealed with a cellulose lacquer, and some are washed in India ink for an added intensity. “Bones are the remains of an endeavor, be it hunting, ranching, butchering, whaling, etc. The medium of classic folk art has always been whatever material remains at the end of the day’s work, so all we have to do is accentuate what is already there,” says Cyrus.