Scrimshaw is considered an American art form. The whalers took up this hobby as a way to pass time on the long voyages away from home. The sailors were considered to be "shirking their duties" as a result of this activity. That phrase became the definition of scrimshaw.
On the 3 to 5 year journey at sea, boredom would set in as whales were not always sighted. Months could pass between kills. So the sailors began to take what was at hand (whales teeth, sail needles or a knife, lamp black) and scratch artwork into the ivory.
The preparation time was lengthy as the rough roots of the teeth had to be sanded down and the ivory hand polished before the scratches could be administered. The men who make scrimshaw are called "Scrimshanders".
These scrimshanders produced many beautiful and practical pieces of art for their loved ones at home, using whale bone as well as ivory to make stays for their women folks corsets, along with many other useful items that helped family members to remember their loved ones in their long absences. Boxes, jewelry, games, baskets, sailing tools all were creatively made by common sailors.
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