Q&A: Ryan Matthew Cohn and Regina Marie Cohn
Ryan Matthew Cohn and Regina Marie Cohn are the founders and operators of Oddities Flea Market. Ryan is known as the host of the television series Oddities (2010-14) and has since expanded her career to fine art commissions and installations. Regina has extensive experience in the fashion industry and is now an executive producer of the market and their many other projects. Weekly Antiques and Arts visited the couple at their home to discuss their career, collection and upcoming events.
How was the Oddities flea market born, which became a movement in the field of antiques?
Regina: It was my idea, on a whim! I had just retired after almost 20 years in the fashion industry, and I was constantly jealous of all the fun Ryan was having.
Ryan: I was traveling the world while Regina was locked in a store, working weekends and holidays.
Regina: I wanted to find a way for us to work together and develop his projects. People were doing smaller scale commissions and deals, but they were from an artist background not a business background, so I was very confident that I could grow this, run it like a business and make it huge.
Ryan: We had a lot of different people that we worked with but we didn’t really have a place to house all of this talent that we collectively knew, and this was a great opportunity to do that.
Regina: In March 2017, I decided to launch the first market in this dive of a building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with three floors of carpeting… a filthy place. We asked all of our friends in the community if they were interested in vending machines and asked Mike and Evan [of Obscura Antiques from Oddities] use their name. It was a huge success; we had to cut the line at 5pm because we didn’t know there would be thousands of people showing up. We had to refuse some. Of course, we had to do it again with a two-day event, and the show only grew from there.
What sets Oddities Flea Market apart from standard antique and art exhibits?
Ryan: Well, we definitely emphasize the quirks! We focus on things that are a little out of the ordinary; natural history, anatomy, science and the like. This could be a jewelry maker, an artist who makes illustrations, or someone who sells antiques. We have it all under one roof.
Regina: We take our time with applications and choose only the best of the best. We also try to inspire them to become more creative, push their limits and create exclusive products for our events. We provide preventive information such as “our followers are mainly women, please keep this in mind when organizing your table”. We want them to succeed.
Ryan: We are like the coaches of the community.
In addition to the market, you also organize and set up exhibitions. Tell us about this process.
Ryan: Just finished one at a really cool mansion in Irvington, NY, the Armour-Stiner Octagon House. One of the owners recognized me during a regular visit and commissioned me to transform an upstairs room into a cabinet of curiosities. We do installations in museums and people’s homes, we even did New York Fashion Week before the pandemic hit.
Regina: We also did a lot with our bar in Brooklyn, House of Wax. It was so much easier for us to organize events in this space, again to promote active people in our community and keep everyone together because the markets were only held once or twice a year .
Do you use your own collection for installations?
Ryan: A bit of both. We always keep something good because I know we’re going to use it for something.
Regina: Many of these museums do not have a big budget, and we want to help them. It’s something Ryan likes to do. I would say 80% is from our personal collection.
As your careers progressed, a new generation of collectors grew up with you. Do you think this bodes well for the future of antiques?
Ryan: I think it’s great! There are a lot more collectors now than when we launched Oddities. Many people didn’t know this genre existed until they watched the show, which also spawned more stores. It is a double-edged sword; it certainly made it harder to find and also drove up the prices, but that’s also a good thing. We also sell occasionally, but most of what we do is to hold spaces and share our collection with the general public.
How has moving from Brooklyn, NY, to Connecticut changed your business?
Ryan: We are kind of at the forefront in the country now! New York used to be great and all, but now we’re in a really old state so we’re closer to antiques. We live in a beautiful Victorian town, and the property sales here are mind-blowing! This doesn’t necessarily mean we find 15th century demonology books, but we have purchased chairs that once belonged to Bunny Williams.
Regina: Ryan is contacted by people in Connecticut and invites him to their house, especially if they are moving or selling something. The storage factor also stopped us in New York.
Ryan: We had eight storage units in and around New York, New Jersey. And it’s really difficult when you want to find something in your collection. The last place we had was a three story brownstone and we moved to a place that was four times its size.
Regina: It was a disaster! When we first moved here, I was overwhelmed with all this space, thinking, “We don’t have kids, I don’t want to clean it up, we’re never going to fill these properties, that’s okay. looking empty…”
Ryan: Do you know who you are married to?
Regina: Then I turned to Ryan yesterday and said, ‘We’ve been here two years, why do I feel like our house is getting too small? I shouldn’t have said that, it’ll give him ideas.
Ryan: I thought it would take us years to fill up. Well, we’re almost at capacity now. When we moved here we were raising a kitten and finally found the right home for her. So now we have a giant room on the third floor that will become a library or Wunderkammer.
Regina: I’m scared because it’s the last free room in our house, so Ryan will run out of plans. I don’t know what’s next!
Ryan: We are lucky because we have a real chapel on the property. Any overflowing merchandise or anything that doesn’t fit in the house usually goes there until we figure out what to do with it. We didn’t touch inside as it’s filled to the brim with antiques at the moment.
Regina: You can’t enter it!
What are your collection criteria?
Ryan: Must be rare, something I don’t already have. I want things that tell a story. I tend to be interested in things that have a dark, mysterious or other history. Even in our book collection we have a lot of esoteric books like early bibles, books on witchcraft and demonology, anatomy and natural history.
Want to share one of your favorite recent finds?
Ryan: I picked up an 18th century cage doll, which I think is Spanish. They are usually Portuguese or Italian. She’s about 2½ or 3 feet tall with a very expressive face, the paint is really good, and she’s distressed in all the right areas. The cage would have been covered with a robe. I’ve never owned a cage doll, but I have many figurines of santos, which are religious dolls that were either used in churches or in personal collections for worship.
What attracts collectors to the strange and unusual?
Ryan: Many people like us strive to discover the history of every object we encounter, and almost everyone is interested in the unknown, or something that may be uncomfortable to learn. And then you have the other sect of people who actually want to own these things. It’s like anyone else in antiques; you could collect thimbles or books on witchcraft. I just think there are more people out there sharing their love for weirdness – more than ever before.
[On sourcing the strange] People are selling it! I will almost always hear that they can’t keep things on the shelves. When we walk into an antique store, I ask for the most expensive things because those are likely to be the most interesting. We still travel in Europe and we are very interested in everything that preceded the 19th century. It’s everywhere there.
Regina: And when he complains about not finding anything here, I remind him that it’s all his fault!
Ryan: Accidentally, yes.
The next Oddities Flea Market: New York will take place on December 10. For information, www.theodditiesfleamarket.com.
Editor’s Note: The Armour-Stiner Octagon House “Myths & Mysteries” facility is viewable until October 31. Atlas Obscura will host a monthly virtual event series, “Antiques and Their Afterlives: Stories From the Collection of Ryan and Regina Cohn,” in early October.