New England whaling ca. 1860:Whale Fishery -- Attacking a Right Whale, by Currier & Ives
Scrimshaw, the art of engraving and carving images into bone or ivory, is a long standing Cape Cod tradition dating back to the whaling days of the 17th and 18th centuries. Great whaling boats, harbored in Nantucket and other New England towns, roamed the seas hunting for whales and their precious oil, and the sailors onboard passed the time away by carving and engraving the bones and teeth of the hunted creatures.
Originally, whaling in the United States was believed to have started in the towns of Long Island around 1650, with Nantucket joining the trade around 1690. And with the whaling trade came the art of scrimshaw. While most current scrimshaw pieces are not carved from real whale bone, antique originals can still be found in the shops of Nantucket, such as the Scrimshander Gallery, owned by Michael Vienneau. Many pieces depict elaborate images of the sea and the ships that were involved in the whaling business, and beautifully romanticize the lives of the sailors and their adventures. These unique pieces of art not only evoke a sense of the sea and it’s history, but also evoke a sense of the Cape and New England that no other art form can quite capture.
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