A Sailor’s Touch


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Chief Meadows Meadows

Many People Believe Scrimshaw America’s Only True Art Form

Many consider scrimshaw to be the only true American art form. The meaning of the word has no real origin, though some claim it comes from a Dutch word meaning “lazy shirker of work.”

It comes from Sailors with too much time on their hands. The worst thing you can have aboard ship are bored Sailors……trust me!

Somewhere a whaling captain gave out Whale teeth and bones to the crew to fashion what ever they wanted. Sailors are many things, and handy with a Jack Knife, or Marlinspike is near the top of the list. Soon all sorts of wonderful useful items were fashioned from the remains of the whaler’s victims: Jagging Wheels for pie making. Spools, bobbins, fids, corset stays, combs, brushes, and boxes.

The tooth of the Sperm whale was a favorite item to engrave and ink. Some like Richard Merik kept a sort of journal of his adventures on the Whale ship SUSAN. Those with no artistic ability used illustrations from magazines to trace onto the teeth. Then with knife, or sailing needle they would etch into the tooth. To fill in the lines the Sailors used soot from the boiling of the blubber, or berry juice, and even tobacco juice.

Today I use pre-banned (before1972) Elephant Ivory, Fossil Mammoth, Fossil Walrus, as well as some horns to make scrimshaw. Some people use types of plastic. The process is the same. Draw your design, etch it and use ink to fill in the lines making them visible. (See statement at right).



I use mostly fossil ivory! Mammoth are extinct! I support all elephant and whale conservation efforts and have donated to each cause. I trust you will understand my use of products from  an animal extinct for 10,000 years! I think these bones — ivory or whatever — that are legal border on being sacred. Their use, I think, is the highest form  of respect for their lives that I can give.

Drift Wood Art

Lighthouse Deck

Kennedy & Scrimshaw

Many people love scrimshaw. Collectors and artists alike become smitten with the rich warm natural canvas, delicate etched lines, and bold colors.

One man can take credit for keeping scrimshaw in the hearts and minds of this and future generation – President John F. Kennedy.

A Navy man, President Kennedy was a passionate collector of scrimshaw and an expert on whaling history. He proudly displayed his collection in the Oval Office. A scrimshawed whale tooth, commissioned by the First Lady, now rests with him in his coffin.

A President and Scrimshaw . . .







 of work

By Chief

D. Clayton


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My dad’s knife

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