To pass the time and entertain themselves the whaling crew sang, played card games, dominoes, wrote letters home and in journals, did wood carvings, needlework, and carved scrimshaw. Scrimshaw is the sailors' art of carving and inking drawings on whale teeth or bone. Usually the subjects of scrimshaw were ships, whales, and women. Sailors used a variety of tools and inks to create scrimshaw, but typically they used their pocketknives to carve the pictures, and then rubbed in ink, tobacco juice, or charcoal to color them.
Questions for Photo 4
1. Examine the scene starting with the large whaling ship, and then observe the picture for details of people, objects, and activities. What can be learned about whaling from this picture? Does this carving help you better understand the whaling experience?
2. Pretend you are one of the whalers depicted on the scrimshaw. Tell the story of this whale hunt from that point of view. Write your answer as a short journal entry.
3. Why was scrimshaw a popular art form with whaling crews?
4. Why do you think they used whale teeth or bone as their medium?
* The photo on this screen has a resolution of 72 dots per inch (dpi), and therefore will print poorly. You can obtain a larger version of Photo 4, but be aware that the file will take as much as 25 seconds to load with a 28.8K modem.