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Scrimshaw - An American Folk Art

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.

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