HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

1 July 2014

The mystery of Scrimshaw


The beautiful art of Scrimshaw.

While your visiting the Museum take the time to examine the beautiful examples of Scrimshaw and bone carving on display dating back to the 1800’s.

 Scrimshaw History - still in dispute.
The art of Scrimshaw has been attributed to the early whalers between 1745 to 1759, but examples of bone carving and decoration have been found to date back much earlier and was practiced by the Native American Eskimo  ‘the Inuit's”  perhaps as far back as 6000 years, much conjecture still exists and research is finding more evidence that supports the practice pre dates the early whalers.

A small segment of a bone hand carved casket from the early 1800’s
 The word Scrimshaw
Seems to be a bit of a mystery as well, there are a few theories attached to it's meaning. The general consensus is, it was probably derived from a Dutch or English nautical slang expression meaning  “to waste time”. The practice was carried out by sailors on board when they had nothing to do, scratching and stippling images and scenes into ivory and Horn, using a variety of blades and sailing needles then applying lampblack squid ink and tobacco juice for pigment to embellish the scratching and carving.
An artist who practices scrimshaw is called a “scrimshander”.

An truly amazing example of bone sculpture the detail has to be seen up close to appreciate the craftsmanship involved.
This example dates back to the early 1800’s and was done by a French prisoner of war.

The decline of Scrimshaw.
With significantly smaller whaling fleets and other changes which allowed the ships to operate more efficiently with smaller crews that meant there were fewer whalers/sailors to do Scrimshaw work. By that time the whale’s teeth and bones which in earlier years were tossed aside, now became part of the seas bounty the whaling ships were after because they now had a commercial value.
Also, around the late 1860s and early 1870s the first truly successful center-fire cartridges and rifles were introduced which meant it was no longer necessary to carry a powder horn. These two events occurring almost simultaneously resulted in Scrimshaw nearly becoming a lost art.

1 comment :

  1. Jennifer Backer Awesome! amazing.. crazy craftsmanship on that ship!