Bluegreen Resorts’ two comfortable vacation properties in Dennis Port, Massachusetts, are conveniently located close to all the sea, sand, and history that the area can offer. For those who want to explore the area’s past, a good place to start is the Cape Cod Maritime Museum.
In addition to its detailed exhibits on the history of the boatbuilder’s craft, the Cape Cod Maritime Museum maintains the area’s largest collection of scrimshaw, a fascinating folk art from the days of the great American whaling ships. The museum’s collection of scrimshaw, a gift from Ms. Maloura North, is housed in an elegant teakwood cabinet toward the front of the building.
The term “scrimshaw” refers to often-elaborate and fantastical carvings in ivory or bone (the 19th-century crews of whaling ships used whales’ teeth, walrus tusks, or bone) fashioned by seamen who used their imaginations as a way to pass the time at sea. Some carvers used exotic woods and other materials. However, not everyone who practiced the art of scrimshaw was a whaling-man. Some land-lubbing coastal residents also tried their hands at it. The craft reached its zenith during the first half of the 19th century, the era of America’s great whaling and sea-trading days.
After carving their designs with jackknives and sail needles, the artisans highlighted their intricate lines and swirls with lampblack and other darkening substances. A scrimshaw artist might depict any of a number of motifs in his work: ships, frigates, sea battles, whaling expeditions, Masonic and heraldic emblems, images of lost loves, and more. Scrimshaw objects could take useful forms, such as napkin rings, pastry-cutters, pie-crimpers, hole-boring bodkins, and knitting needles.
While scrimshaw became famous through much public attention paid to the work of Anglo-American sailors, the native peoples of Siberia and Alaska have also practiced the intricate and fascinating art.