Kenneth Setzer

I Met a Scrimshander

I was lucky enough to meet a very talented man many years back, with interests similar to mine (nautical art & oddities being one of them). He, however, didn’t just buy artwork; he created it:

Scrimshaw whaling scene by Art Weber

This whaling scene on two sperm whale teeth was created decades ago by my wife’s grandfather. I carve, but into wood. That’s pretty easy — wood is giving, and forgiving. But teeth are almost as hard as rocks. And sperm whale teeth are as rare as, well, sperm whale teeth.

I love this scene in particular because it celebrates the strength of the cetacean as it upsets the whale boat. These very intelligent fellows were known to fight back (see one of my absolute favorite books, In the Heart of the Sea, here). I cheer for the whale, root for the bull, love when the bronco bucks the cowboy off. These teeth are a good 4 – 5 inches long, which are put to good use in this, currently the world’s largest toothed animal (odontocete, i.e. toothed whale). After all, one of its favorite foods is architeuthis, the giant squid. Can you imagine this toothed behemoth thrashing it out with the powerful and writhing eight arms and two feeding tentacles of a pissed off squid the size of a schoolbus a thousand feet in the blackest ocean? It gives me shivers to think this is going on now, somewhere in the deepest ocean trenches.

Nautical scenes and patriotic imagery are common scrimshaw themes.

In case you’re wondering, these teeth are very old, and were purchased legally long before the ban on whale parts came into law (1973, I believe). Fortunately, it can be done on fossilized ivory, or even on synthetic materials, so nothing needs to die.

Raw tooth before sanding and preparation for engraving

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