Scrimshaw - An America Folk Art
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. Whalemen would pass the tedious hours they had spent at sea searching for the whale by engraving and carving whale teeth and whalebone.
This art came to be known as Scrimshaw. Pie crimpers, corset busks, swifts, canes, sewing tools, and engraved whale teeth were popular 19th-century scrimshaw objects produced by the whaleman for themselves and their loved ones.
The Artists Behind Scrimshanders
Brian J. Kiracofe
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 40 years, specializing in Newport scenes and custom designs.
Brian Kiracofe was interviewed for a feature writing assignment by local Salve University student Courtney Gagnon.
“In his store Kiracofe takes the time to answer questions, always making himself available to customers. When people come into his store Kiracofe helps them to understand what they are buying and exposes them to the history surrounding his work. He wants customers to recognize the uniqueness of his products…
Moving back to his work desk Kiracofe returns to the piece he was working on earlier. His scribe moves in linear motions to create the faint image of the Newport Bridge stretching across the background of the scene. What could be a more local image than that around here? Looking around it becomes apparent he depicts it in a lot of his pieces. Suddenly the image feels symbolic. Maybe the bridge that connects people with the past of a historical city can also help reconnect people with the lost art of scrimshaw. For now, Kiracofe keeps the American folk art alive with every stroke of his scribe.”
Enjoy the full article here.
Originally from California, 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 45 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.