As a collector of oddities, I often find myself lost in the online world of the weird. A short while ago, my wanderings led to my stumbling upon Chris, or @the_cornelian, on Instagram – an Ottawa-based oddity collector, artist, educator, and vendor for SkullStore.ca.
Growing up, Chris had always told his father, “I want to be a paleontologist, an archaeologist, an artist” and now, he is a combination of all three – digging up fossils and bones and reassembling them (or disassembling them) into pieces of art, an ode to the natural world from which they came.
Chris began working for SkullStore.ca through a chance encounter with Ben, who is based out of Toronto, on a family trip. Working with skulls and taxidermy as a hobbyist, Chris had contacted Ben about the possibility of viewing his collection and, perhaps, trading some pieces. While in Toronto, Chris took a few hours to go visit Ben and view his collection, bringing along some of his own work. Ben liked his stuff and was impressed by the breadth of his knowledge. One thing led to another and Chris was asked if he would like to run the Ottawa portion of SkullStore.ca.
Since joining the team, Chris has seen all kinds of things. “ I’ve got all kinds of stories, people come into all kinds of neat stuff”. Everything that Chris has in his collection, and everything in the SkullStore.ca collection, has been ethically sourced. SkullStore.ca is, first and foremost, an educational tool and resource for nature lovers and enthusiasts. “I am a huge nerd” says Chris, “I love to teach people about the natural world”. He, along with all those who work for SkullStore.ca, have taught themselves an impressive amount on a vast breadth of topics relating to natural history, biology, history, and the like. You can view the vast amounts of knowledge these folks have, and learn a tremendous amount yourself, by visiting their EMuseum, at Prehistoria.ca.
With a young family and a full-time job, Chris is a busy guy, but this is passion – he eats, sleeps, and breathes his work. Swing by his home and the place is packed full of oddities. His current work in bits and pieces on his work table. “I just finished this today” he says, showing me a Fiji mermaid sculpture he has created out of a collection of other creatures. “I am pretty proud of it. It took me a good two months to complete”.
Early next month, a gallery will be opening in the East end of the city. “The Uncanny”, as it will be called, will showcase some of his collection, as well as a variety of other oddities. Here, Chris will also have a work space, encased in glass, so that you can view his work in progress. Pieces will also be available for purchase at the gallery, for those so inclined to add to their collection.
As well as what is available at SkullStore.ca and, shortly, The Uncanny gallery, you can find pieces of the collection at Highjinx, a store on Somerset that sells all kinds of treasures from times past, with an aim to use those revenues to help those in need in the community. A portion of the sales made from the pieces sold at Highjinx go towards the social causes that the women of Highjinx support. Chris takes this working relationship one step further, occasionally donating what is left from his work barbecues to help feed the “neighbours” on Fridays. “I like what these women are about” says Chris, “and I like being able to help.”