Sunday, January 22, 2017


These are drawings of skulls I made from the skeleton I have hanging in a room in my apartment. I have named the skeleton "Clarence," after a corpse in a comics story drawn years ago by my friend John T., a musician, artist and cartoonist. The name amused me. I bought the skeleton for the astonishing low price of $300.00 over 30 years ago. I was taking life drawing classes at the Art Students League (in NYC) and I decided I needed to learn the skeletal structure of the body.

(I had already been studying muscular anatomy via George Bridgman's book CONSTRUCTIVE ANATOMY, but I wanted to learn about what lay under the muscles. Later, I had a teacher, Eliot Goldfinger, who took the class to Hunter College downtown to examine a cadaver. First, Eliot lectured while referring to a cadaver hanging free so he could turn it around to show all sides of it. Then, we were invited to put on surgical gloves and manually examine another cadaver laying supine on a gurney. The experience was odd and fascinating.)

I found a small ad on the back pages of the Village Voice, advertising skeletons for sale. The low price was possible because the guy who ran the company--"Ossa Anatomical"--was preparing to purchase new skeletons, and we who ordered from him at this time could get an almost wholesale price. He supplied skeletons to art schools and medical schools and other interested parties. He operated out of a third floor loft on 14th Street, just west of 6th Avenue. All these years later, Clarence still presides over his area of my apartment.


  1. Howdee.

    We appear to share a fascination with skulls.

    When my mother died, her final instructions included the cremation of her remains. Consequently, I learned quite a bit about the cremation process.

    It turns out that at the temperature within the incinerator during cremation, the flesh is primarily converted into gasses, leaving behind the bones. These bones are then ground up, producing the "ashes."

    This germinated the seed of an idea in the back of my mind. I asked the cremation guy, "Is the skeleton left intact after incineration?"

    He gave me a pensive look and replied, "Yes, the heat makes the bones brittle, so some of them are cracked, but yes, the skeleton is mostly intact before it's ground up."

    My brother and sister were at that meeting with me, and they were staring at me with dawning expressions of horror on their faces - they know me well, you see.

    I asked the cremation guy, "What about the skull?"

    He replied, "The brain has a lot of water in it, which turns into steam during incineration, so the brain would have to be evacuated prior to incineration for the skull to come through it intact."

    At this point, my eyes lit up and the cremation guy was becoming increasingly nervous. He was well off of the normal script now, and his clients weren't reacting to the death of their mother in the way he had become accustomed to. My brother and sister, knowing me well enough to see where my mind was going, were saying, "Stop right there, Tom. We're not going to agree to that."

    I asked him if it was possible for the deceased to leave final instructions to have their brain sucked out through an eye socket prior to cremation and then have the skull withheld from the bone-grinding process, coated with clear plastic to improve it's structural integrity given the increased brittleness due to exposure to extreme heat. Then, after the rest of the bones had been ground up, if they could be poured into the skull's brain cavity and all holes leading to that cavity be sealed with epoxy putty. The skull would serve as the urn for the "ashes." seemed pretty neat and elegant to me.

    The cremation guy started to back away slowly with a rather disturbed look on his face and my siblings looked like they were about to tackle me.

    I assured everyone that I wasn't asking for Mom to get that treatment since she didn't specifically request it, I was thinking about requesting that for myself, should I decide on cremation as far as my own earthly remains are concerned when the time came.

    I think it would be a nice thing for one of my heirs to have on the mantelpiece over their fireplace. It would look like what it was. It would have a basic honesty to it.

    It turns out they thought it was morbid and bizarre. Go figure - there we were, in a room with grisly relics on display for sale on the walls, jewelry made out of "ashes" mixed with plastic, glass balls with "ashes" suspended within them, lockets containing "ashes", and fancy urns of every description - and I'm the morbid one?

    I guess I'll never understand the normals.

  2. I must say your idea is highly unusual, but I don't find it so terrible a thing to consider, (though I personally wouldn't). I have a portion of my mother's ashes in my home, as many people do. I'm sure this would have been considered "sick" or bizarre by most Americans 50 or 60 years go. The bulk of her ashes went into the ground in the same spot as my father's ashes--in the front lawn of their church, which is reserved for burial of church members who choose to be cremated--so my parents' ashes are commingled in the earth. Your idea is a little macabre by present standards, but it hardly seems so awful.

    I'm not fascinated by skulls as such, however, except insofar as they are powerful graphic images...hence, their common use as such. I drew these to practice my drawing. They were drawn from the skull of the skeleton I have in my home, which I bought 35 years ago when I was an art student. I thought it would help me with learning anatomy to have an actual skeleton to study, and, at the time, they were still legal to buy and sell in the USA.

  3. Oh, it was only after I posted my reply that I realized you were Tom Weiss! Howdy, Tom, it's nice to hear from you! You probably don't remember me, but I remember you and your brother in Beatty Towers at UF, (as I stated in my comment on your blog).