Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky is an award-winning artist whose work includes murals, drawing, illustrations, sculpture, and photography. But for the past 38 years, she has carved herself a reputation as a master of the early American art form of scrimshaw. This year marks her 21st appearance in the Directory of Traditional American Crafts.
Ochonicky graduated with a degree in art, with an emphasis on sculpture, from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri. For Ochonicky, scrimshaw was the perfect medium to combine her love of art and history. Additional graduate studies in a variety of mediums and even horticulture continued to enrich to her work, giving it a distinct, precise style.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s sailors a pocketknife or sail needle to etch intricate pictures on ivory as a way to pass time on long whaling voyages. Today, animal protection laws ban the importation of ivory whale’s teeth, or elephant tusks. Instead, Ochonicky uses recycled antique piano keys, cow bone, deer antlers, fossilized mastodon ivory, and manmade polymers with the look and feel of ivory, achieving recognition as an environmentally conscious artist.
Like the sailors, she uses no patterns, stencils, transfers, or power tools. Each piece is truly hand-done and original. Working from her tiny Stone Hollow Studio deep in the woods near Eureka, Missouri, Ochonicky etches traditional nautical themes along with wildlife and botanicals. Her sculpture-based skills infuse her scrimshaw with a three-dimensional quality, making the images appear alive.
Ochonicky has been invited six times by the National Parks Foundation and the Missouri Governor’s office to design works for the National Christmas Tree ceremony in Washington, D.C., most recently in 2016. Her original art has been commissioned by collectors worldwide, displayed in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, the White House Visitor Center, the Missouri State Capitol, and the Missouri Governor’s Mansion.
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Early American Homes
For Sale in Virginia
Carter’s Tavern. Featured in the June 2014 issue of Early American Life. Original features including wood floors, hand graining, and marbled woodwork. 4 bedrooms, 3 baths. On the
National Register. Price reduced.. $395,000.