Welcome to Jennifer's Vintage!

What is scrimshaw?

Scrimshaw is the art of etching or carving into ivory or bone. It is generally considered to be America's only true art form. It was practiced for centuries by the Inuit Indians and other native groups along the Northwest Coast before being adopted by the whalemen in the Pacific in the early 1800's. On year long voyages, many sailors began scrimshawing baleen, whale teeth, and bone to pass the time. The sailors would use lamp black or squid ink and wax to bring out the design. These pieces were often gifts for loved ones at home or sold to the local shopkeepers, and were highly desirable. Designs were generally nautical in nature though they sometimes copied pictures from magazines and ads.


What materials are used?

I work mostly with antique faux ivory piano keys recycled from pianos that are generally fifty to one hundred years old. This is my preferred material as I find it easy to work with, yet durable enough to maintain the intricate details of my designs. The keys themselves vary in color from off white to tannish-brown.

I do make some of my products from the tagua nut, commonly called vegetable ivory. 


What kind of care is needed for scrimshaw artwork?

As with any piece of art, you should be careful with it. Most scrimshanders only use wax on their pieces. I've found that with pieces I've made into jewelry or that may come into contact with any liquid, it is safer to put a sealant on the piece.

Sealant helps to maintain the design, but you still shouldn't put it in the wash, as one of my clients did. Luckily, it only removed the sealant and color, and the design was still there so it was easy to repair!

If you need to clean a piece, gently use a cotton swab lightly moistened, DO NOT SCRUB! Heat also damages faux ivory and can fade the ink. Keep your pieces in a safe, dry place and away from long periods in direct sunlight or extreme temperature changes.
 

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