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Scrimshaw depicting two women

Date: 19th century
Dimensions:
Overall: 470 x 96 x 85 mm, 0.78 kg
Medium: Walrus tusk, ink, metal
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw walrus tusk
Object No: 00032480

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    Description
    This walrus tusk is engraved with the image of two women and an Irish harp. The female depicted at the centre has been identified as Maria Alexandrovna (formerly Princess Marie of Hesse) who was the Empress of Russia from 1856-1880. She is depicted with short crimped hair, wearing a pearl necklace and beaded bodice.The portrait appears to have been copied from an image appearing in the Illustrated London news, 19 January 1856.
    A similar portrait appears on a piece of scrimshaw in the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum (1948.30.488).

    SignificanceThis piece of scrimshaw is a fine example of the type of engravings produced on walrus tusks. It is indicative of trade between American whalers and the local Indigenous population.
    Walrus ivory was a favourite material used by whalers working in the Arctic and was obtained through trade with the local Inuit people.

    HistoryAmerican scrimshaw can trace its early roots back to the 18th century whaling industry. It is a craft practised by whale hunters with plenty of spare time on their hands.

    The average whaling expedition lasted anywhere from three to five years. This could bring about unbearable boredom and loneliness for the sailors. Whalers would fill their long hours by crafting presents for their loved ones back home. They carved designs into whale teeth and bone reflecting scenes of everyday life afloat and the sailor's memories of home. Scrimshaw is one of a handful of American folk arts that has maintained its presence in contemporary craft practices.

    Walrus hunting has long been a tradition of the indigenous Inuit people of North America. It still occurs today with the majority of animals being hunted from villages around the Bering Strait, including Gambell, Savoonga and Little Diomede Island.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Scrimshaw depicting two women

    Primary title: Scrimshaw depicting two women

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