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Scrimshaw: scratching the surface

19 February - 17 July 2022

Free entry

Scrimshaw is an everyday art born from the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Sailors, whalers, soldiers, and prisoners scratched the surface of eggshells, teeth, and horns to create elaborate illustrations and patterns. When carbon and whale oil, tea, or berries were rubbed into the marks, the work became what is known as ‘scrimshaw’.

In this exhibition you can see an ostrich egg from 1775 illustrating Dutch East India Company ships traversing Cape Good Hope, a sperm whale tooth decorated with symbolism from the second American war with England in 1812, and an array of bullock horns depicting tangata whenua and a variety of colonial scenes from the 1860s.

For this exhibition we have brought together scrimshaw from Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, MTG Hawkes Bay Tai Ahuriri, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato.

Scrimshaw: scratching the surface offers a rare opportunity to view the wide range of styles associated with scrimshaw, as well as providing a unique window into the symbolism used by Europeans in the 1800s.



Live action scrimshaw

1pm Saturday 4 June

Watch as printmaker Gemma Reid applies a mix of traditional and contemporary techniques to an ostrich egg and designs a modern-day scrimshaw.

Thank you to Hamilton Zoo for supplying the ostrich eggs for this demonstration.