The bygone era of American whaling led many men on distant voyages in search of the giants of the sea. In spare time whalers carved the teeth, bone and other unused parts of the whale, developing a carving tradition that came to be called scrimshaw.
Scrimshaw: The Art and Craft of the American Whaler celebrates this unique American folk art, created purely for the necessity or enjoyment of its makers, which captures the reality of life at sea. Nearly 100 objects of various types are displayed in this exhibition including tools made for mending clothes and ship sails, cribbage boards and dice for gaming, household articles and toys made for loved ones, and a variety of personal items including tools for shaving, smoking, writing and other daily activities. Whole whale teeth are carved with images of beautiful ladies in fashionable clothing, notorious female pirates, sailing ships of the period and animated scenes of whalers at work. Additionally, the exhibition includes incredible works of carved bone and ivory art produced by late 18th and early 19th century French prisoners-of-war confined on prison ships afloat or in buildings ashore. These small masterpieces include model ships complete with full rigging and cannons, and wonderful mechanical carvings, including working guillotines that lop the heads from miniature figures.