Thursday, 24 June 2010


Scrimshaw, one of a pair (c. 1850)
© 2008 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I have been fascinated by scrimshaw art for as long as I can remember.

These small pieces of intricately carved ivory with their images of tall ships and beautiful women powerfully evoke the claustrophobia and boredom of the long voyages of the whaling ships. The scrimshanders carved materials at hand: whale teeth, bone and baleen and walrus tusks to escape from the filth and hardships of their separation from civilization into the landscape of their imagination. Some of the items are practical: pocket knives, combs and toys; but others have no function at all and were evidently carved for the sheer pleasure of creating something beautiful.

I peer into the museum cases and wonder every time at the emergence of art from such a soul-destroying world.

There is a fascinating gallery of images at the Scott Polar Research Institute website.


Tomorrow is the last day
of the brief but glorious
2010 Côte d'Ivoire World Cup campaign.
I bow to the silky skills of Brazil.


  1. I saw some carved by French prisoners of war (Napaeolnic) once and the detail was amazing.

  2. There is a very fine collection of scrimshaw at Mystic Seaport I seem to remember.

    Nowadays all the sailors would be been playing on their ipods or XBox's in their spare time and would have nothing to show for it.

  3. Art feeds the soul. Even on a whaling boat the soul needs feeding. Perhaps you should send some art to your team...

  4. Mr M, perhaps it would be better if those on whaling boats spent MORE time on X boxes and such?

  5. AnonymousJune 24, 2010

    or on their mobies ? ;-)

  6. Alice, I too love scrimshaw and indeed only yesterday remarked on it on an old "Antiques Roadshow" which was showing. Thank you for the link, I got to sit and marvel at the photos.....

  7. They're definitely beautiful; a family friend has some similar which (as far as I can tell) have been in his family for ears

    And you never know... the Ivory Coast might get lucky....

  8. Beautiful and so talented :-)

  9. One of the mums at school works at the Scott Polar Institute ...


Thank you! I love reading your comments and even though I don't always have time to reply I am really grateful to every one who joins in the conversation.