Scrimshaw, the art of engraving on ivory or bone. During the 19th Century, whaling voyages were measured in years, not months. A month or more might pass between kills, and in the meantime, there was only so much shipboard work to keep 30 men occupied. Boredom was more than a minor annoyance; it became a fact of life and a major shipboard problem. Under such conditions, it is only logical to expect a variety of pastimes to have emerged. Scrimshaw became the most popular channel for pent-up energy. Whale men would pass the tedious hours they had spent at sea in search of the whale by engraving and carving whale teeth and whale bone.
This art came to be known as Scrimshaw. Pie crimpers, corset busks, swifts, canes, sewing tools, and engraved whales teeth, were popular 19th-century scrimshaw objects produced by the whale man for themselves and their loved ones.
The Artists Behind Scrimshanders
Scrimshaw, a 19th-century maritime art, is still handcrafted today in historic Newport, Rhode Island by resident artist Brian Kiracofe.
Brian established the Newport Scrimshander in 1987; he has been engraving nautical scenes on ancient walrus, prehistoric mammoth, and recycled piano key ivory for over 20 years, specializing in Newport scenes and custom designs.
Originally from Californa, Barbara was raised in Michigan and received her art degree from Rockford College in Illinois. She moved to the east coast the same year and after a museum course in scrimshaw, she began to produce pieces showing her life long love of animals and nature. An eye for detail led her to the stipple technique which she used in her work. Stipple work is an engraving technique that involves the use of fine holes in the ivory to hold the pigment.
Ms. Cullen has been working as a scrimshander for over 35 years and is owner/resident artist of Scrimshanders in Wickford RI. She is a winner of Mystic Seaport Museums prestigious Award of Excellence and was featured in the Wall Street Journal for her founding and hosting of the Scrimshanders National Scrimshaw Competition.
Gary L. Kiracofe
Gary became fascinated with scrimshaw the first time he saw his older brother, Dan, engraving an intricate design on ivory. A former high school teacher, Gary had always enjoyed drawing, and the challenge of creating detailed art within a small space especially appealed to him.
Gary opened his first shop, the Island Scrimshander, on Mackinac Island’s main street in 1979. Fourteen years later, Gary and his family moved to Door County where he established his second location at Green Gables in Ephraim.
Gary’s artwork has a high degree of detail that is achieved without the aid of magnification. He uses a variety of scrimshaw techniques and often works in subtle colors. Most of Gary’s pieces are signed and dated (look closely) and will be collectibles that can be passed down from generation to generation.