2018-08-02 / Nature

The Art of Scrimshaw


A pair of sperm whale teeth. Only the lower jaw of the animal have these teeth, which they were used by sailors to carve scrimshaw. A pair of sperm whale teeth. Only the lower jaw of the animal have these teeth, which they were used by sailors to carve scrimshaw. Humans have long hunted whales for various reasons. Through the 1850s, nearby New Bedford was the main whaling port in the world. At its peak, more than 300 vessels and 10,000 men shipped from New Bedford annually. It was considered the “The City that Lit the World,” as refined whale blubber was used to light lamps. With the development of the petroleum industry, the use of whale oil declined.

Whaling voyages would average four years, and in their idle time, sailors developed the art of scrimshaw, which are carvings done in bones and ivory of whales, walruses and other animals. Considered along with jazz as the only truly American forms of art, a collection of these works may be seen at the gallery and gift shop, “Scrimshanders,” on Bowen’s Wharf.

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