Property peep show: A bone collector's home in Greenpoint

Take a tour inside Ryan Matthew Cohn’s home, an in-house museum with human skulls, taxidermy, shrunken heads and more

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  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Artist and osteologist Ryan Matthew Cohn, 34, has always been a collector. As a kid, it was baseball cards; now it’s the shrunken heads, mummies and more than 150 human skulls taking over the two-story Greenpoint apartment he shares with his fiancée.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Most of Cohn's collection, 80 percent of which is human, features skulls from the Victorian era. There's also assorted taxidermy, exploded skulls, shrunken heads and "pickled stuff." He estimates having spent tens of thousands of dollars on his collection, and works with auctions, museums and retired physicians to keep it growing. "I’ve had an obsessive collecting disorder for my whole life," he says.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    As a young man, Cohn learned about the relics from books (and later the Internet), and also spent time with an osteologist—which is somewhat fitting, as Cohn was planning on going to school for medical illustration. He detoured and wound up designing jewelry for Ralph Lauren; it was that work with metals that laid down a foundation for working with skulls. The stands that hold the skulls are the result of his own metalsmithing.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Cohn has lived in this apartment for more than six years, using the bottom floor as a studio and the floor above as a living space.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Cohn was "absolutely enamored" the first time he saw an exploded skull, at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. But they can cost as much as $25,000—so he made one himself (pictured, center) with a human skull he purchased from a retired physician.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Shrunken heads like these are "some of the rarest things you can buy," according to Cohn. The practice of shrinking heads stems from the Jivaro people in Ecuador, who used to raid an enemy village, chop off its inhabitants’ heads and dry them out.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    This stuffed canine is one of the first pieces that got Cohn obsessed. "During the Victorian era, it was very common to stuff your household pet," he says. "Animals were considered a member of the family and people wanted to preserve them."

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    This 2,000-year-old male mummy head is from the Greco-Roman period. Cohn bought it from a private collector to resell, but wound up making a stand for it and keeping it.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    This skull in Cohn's living room re-creates an old method for relieving migraines. "Instead of taking a Tylenol, which we didn’t have yet, they would drill a hole into the skull to release the neurospinal fluids, which would relieve pressure," Cohn explains. "It would probably get rid of the headache, but it’s a much more painful way of doing it."

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    The distilled artifacts in Cohn’s collection include a two-faced kitten, a monkey head and a two-bodied pig. He uses isopropyl rubbing alcohol to pickle these curiosities himself.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    About that two-faced kitten: "This woman's cat gave birth, and the kitten didn't live," recalls Cohn. "I don’t know how she found out about me, but she contacted me and said, 'Hey, I have a deformed cat. Are you interested?' She wound up sending it to me in a Star Wars thermos."

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Nearly the entire apartment doubles as a museum for Cohn's wares—except the bedroom, pictured here.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    "My house is filled with a lot of things that could be construed as weird or grotesque," says Cohn, "but I’ve never had anyone get freaked out." In fact, he hosts Thanksgiving dinner every year.

Photograph: Rayon Richards

Artist and osteologist Ryan Matthew Cohn, 34, has always been a collector. As a kid, it was baseball cards; now it’s the shrunken heads, mummies and more than 150 human skulls taking over the two-story Greenpoint apartment he shares with his fiancée.


Users say

1 comments
Harris D
Harris D

I love what you're doing. Great looking place. We ought to meet.

Harris (www.harrisdiamant.com)