Monday, December 5, 2011

Yo, Ho, Yo, Ho, An Artist's Life for Me!

The Art of Scrimshaw began with the New England whaling ships from 1745 to 1759 on the Pacific Ocean, when sailors, between whale hunts, having time on their hands, began carving whale bone in their free time. Whale bone was prevalent and easy to carve.
Though the term's etymology is all but lost, the word derives more from the act of carving than the end result. Sailors were said to be scrimshandering, or fiddling around, or wasting time, from Dutch or English slang.

Depicting scenes of their travels, the ships, sea creatures, mermaids, sweethearts left behind, imaginative musings, all kinds of subject matter was fair game. Usually carved with discarded needles from the sailmaker, or pocket knives, then  lines filled with pitch black, soot, gun powder or ink, if available, though ususally too expensive.  To begin, sailors would remove any imperfections with  a knife, then smooth the surface with sharkskin or pumice, and finally oil the bone with a cloth and bring out a sheen.

Herman Melville writes an account of scrimshaw in his famed sea story, Moby Dick, as " lively scetches of whales and whaling scenes graven by the fishermen themselves..."

New Bedford Maritime Museum in Massachusetts has an extensive collection, and Hull Maritime Museum in Kingston Upon Hull, England has the largest collection of scrimshaw in Europe.

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