Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taking a Scratch at Scrimsaw

A while back I'd seen an artist's work that I was really impressed by. She had incorporated real Ivory into her metal work, and I was intrigued. Knowing the ban on Ivory, I wondered how it could be used. I did some research and found all sorts of interesting things. Did you know that while ivory was outlawed in the 1980's, you can use pre-embargo ivory in things?

So, I searched around for ivory, and finally found some old ivory piano keys for sale. I learned in my research that you can tell if a piano has real ivory by looking for two pieces on top of the keys. There's a strip next to the black keys and then a separate one for where you place your fingers. Fake ivory (plastic) covers the entire key top in an "L".

Once I received my piano keys, I ended up shelving them due to lack of time to piddle with them. I recently pulled them out and wondered what to do. I was afraid to do anything for fear of damaging, thus wasting the ivory. My husband, Chris, told me to go ahead and sacrifice a piece; play with it with the intention of "killing" it. That broke my stalemate and allowed me to work with it.

The most obvious thing was to attempt Scrimshaw. Knowing almost zilch about it, I did what I always do, dove into research. I found out all sorts of interesting things about Scrimshaw, too. Did you know that is one of the very few indigenous American crafts? Practiced for centuries by the Inuit and other native groups along the Northwest Coast, it was adopted by the Yankee whalemen of the early 1800's. The name Scrimshaw roughly means "idle time". That's evidently what sailors had a lot of on the ships, and used what they also had a lot of ... Whale bone. They scratched images onto the bone and then applied ink into the scratches to bring out the image. I found that Scrimshaw became popular because President John F. Kennedy was an avid collector. There are all sorts of interesting things to know. Here is a good source to read more about Scrimshaw's history.

I learned that you can use a pin or an old compass to start, and that's just what I did. It turned out that I even had an ancient bottle of ink buried in a box of art supplies. Of course, the first image I'd attempt would be a horse. The end result is TINY as you can see in the photo below. The sacrifice piece was one of the very narrow strips of the piano ivory; one of the key tops that ran next to the black key (which was probably made of Ebony).

Once I make some more pieces, I'll post the photos here. Hopefully, I'll get some things incorporated in to some jewelry to sell on Etsy.

No comments:

Post a Comment