Obscura Antiques & Oddities

A chat with Evan Michelson

by Lina Vergara Huilcamán

This is the kind of shop where I would like people to buy my Christmas presents. Some people love to receive perfumes, others prefer a small “second-hand” dental plate to place on the dressing table and to use for taking weird pictures from time to time. Or like Evan, the owner of Obscura together with her husband Mike, who calls herself a materialist, and simply love the aesthetics of things, their beauty, for the pleasure of looking at them, of listening to them, because beauty speaks to her. And I believe her. Small and packed with objects, this shop is a must-see for anyone who visits The Big Apple and wants to find an interesting corner, something different from the shops that you can find in the streets of every town and airport around the world.
Every time I get in a shop like this, where, among skulls and dental plates, you can find anatomical cards, taxidermic works, but also ancient puppets, wooden legs, post mortem photographs, prints, etc... I wonder why. Why does somebody decide one day to open a shop like this? And every time I am surprised by the answers, because I always discover something new. Mike and Evan’s answer was very simple: “We both are collectors, Mike collects cameras and old photographs. I am obsessed with relics instead, especially Catholic ones” Evan answered me, “it is much better than working in an office, better than a boring job... it was a coincidence, an opportunity” added Mike. The shop opened in the early Nineties and Mike and Evan have been running it for around 24 or 25 years now. Moreover, they are the protagonists of a television reality show, Oddities, produced in 2010 for Science Channel, which you can find on YouTube. An opportunity that nevertheless proves to be predestined, like almost everything in our lives. Do the “coincidences” that Mike has mentioned, exist? Or is it just that our life is the result of a love we first met when we were very young and that we pursue till death?
Evan begins by telling me that she has lived in Italy and Germany when she was a little girl, her father was in the army, and after a sad story –a very sad and long story which I’m not going to tell you– she happened to enter an Italian church of which she doesn’t remember the name and was stricken by the reliquaries, the gold and the beauty of the decorations and the church itself. She found a different vision of death, an aesthetic dimension made of beauty and art that fascinated her, heart and soul, and enchants her even now.
Evan’s story is a love story for the objects that she collects and sells, for the world that she has created and that surrounds her. A love that fills her with emotion. She has been at the Catacombs in Palermo, she tells me, talking about the book The Eternal Vigil that I have brought her, and she adds that she has seen photographs of the mummies since she was very young, because it was easy to find prints, and that she knew those mummies very well because she had looked at them so many times, that when she finally found herself in the Capuchins Catacombs and could see them closely, it was like meeting them again. She recognized every single feature of them. It was like meeting some old friends. “I am not a scientific person” she says, “I am emotional”. Her bond is defined by love and fascination. She is obsessed, attracted and seduced by the aesthetics hidden behind death and behind all the objects that surround it. She is fond of Italy, its museums, the treasures hidden in every town: Palermo and its Catacombs, Verbania and the Church of the Dead, Milan and San Bernardino alle Ossa, Firenze and the Specola but above all the Museum of Pathologic Anatomy, Pavia and the Museum of Anatomy, Bologna and Palazzo Poggi Museum, Rome and the Crypt of the Capuchin Friars... all places that she has visited with Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, and that she keeps inside her heart and in the light of her eyes, places where she wants to go back and about which she is going to write. And you? Have you visited all these places that are part of the Italian cultural heritage?

 Obscura Antiques & Oddities
207 Ave A, Manhattan