Scrimshaw

MEETING NO. : XVII

YEAR OF 2014

With the end of the whaling cycle nearly three decades ago, ivory and whale boneshave become a reference of Azorean whalers who have used this raw material to produce objects with utilitarian and decorative purposes through the art of scrimshaw.

This art form is traditionally linked to the activity of whaling and is the most authentic and best known manifestation of the “whaling art” that dates back to the 19th-century whaling fleets that were initially formed by North American sailors. It is an art made by sailors and intended for them, although the recipients of this kind of art pieces have become diversified with the passage of time, and they have reached a large number of people who appreciate activities and crafts linked to the sea.

The art of scrimshaw corresponded to the occupation ofoff-duty hours on board and to the artists’ expression of longing for their families and homeland. Incision andengraving are the most commonly used techniques, with details being pigmented.
During the 20thcentury, inlaid and sometimes embossed motifs appeared.

Sea horizons, onboard work, boats, and fisherman routines take shape in whale teeth and bones. In addition to engraving, the ivory and bones of sperm whales were also used to create three-dimensional pieces, including the carvingof figures and even of some pieces of jewelry.

Scrimshaw is, therefore, closely related to the old hunting of whales. The teeth of these mammals were the trophy for those who captured the “monster” that populated the oceans.

In the Autonomous Region of the Azores,there are some notable collections of scrimshaw, especially the collections of the Lajes do Pico Whaling Museum, of the Scrimshaw Museum at Peter Café Sport in Horta, and of the Santa Cruz das Flores Museum.