8 – scrimshaw with shellac

Apply shellac to a sturdy paper with a large brush – create smooth even marks so there are no ridges or drips in the paper. Dry overnight.

Look at examples of scrimshaw on whale teeth and other forms of ivory and talk about the method and why people created these works.


Create an image that shows something about your own experience or the experience of an old relative or family friend.  Whalers and seamen would carve images of sea life and the dangers they faced during their careers – you should create images of scenes that you have experienced – or that family or a friend has experienced.

For example: I would create a scene of the ship my grandfather served on during World War II, the USS George M Bibb, and the naval rescue that he took part in.  His ship took part in one of the largest naval rescue in the Atlantic theater.

Many of the Bibb’s crewmen leapt into the water to assist the nearly frozen survivors, and the cutter Ingham assisted. One of the Ingham’s crew described the scene, a dreadfully common one along the North Atlantic that year:

“I never saw anything like it, wood all over the place and bodies in life jackets … never saw so many dead fellows in my whole life. Saw lots of mail bags, boxes, wood, wood splinters, empty life jackets, oars, upturned boats, empty life rafts, bodies, parts of bodies, clothes, cork, and a million other things that ships have in them. I hope I never see another drowned man as long as I live.”

Although many of the Mallory’s 498 passengers and crew died from hypothermia, the Bibb’s crew pulled 202 survivors from the frigid water, while the Ingham’s crew saved 33. The Bibb rescued 33 more people from the nearby torpedoed freighter S.S. Kalliopi before returning to the convoy.

My image would be of the ship in the ocean with people all around swimming and struggling to stay alive, and people being pulled out to safety.

examples of scrimshaw

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