The exhibition includes a rare early example of scrimshaw: an ostrich egg from 1775, decorated with ships traversing South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Photo / Supplied
Everyday art scratched into eggshells, whale teeth, and bullock horns is the focus of a new exhibition which opens Saturday, February 19 at Hamilton’s Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato.
The exhibition, titled Scrimshaw: scratching the surface, showcases elaborately illustrated objects handcrafted by sailors, whalers, and prisoners throughout the 19th century.
A work of scrimshaw is made by hand-etching and inking designs into bone or shell, a common practice for people at the time wanting to share the sights of their travels.
The exhibition includes a rare early example of scrimshaw: an ostrich egg from 1775, decorated with ships traversing South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.
Developed by Waikato Museum curator Dr Nadia Gush, Scrimshaw: scratching the surface features nearly 30 scrimshaw objects brought together from Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, MTG Hawke’s Bay Tai Ahuriri, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and the collection of Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato.
“Scrimshaw is an everyday art born from the most extraordinary of circumstances,” says Gush.
“Travelling for months by sea or settling in a distant country, the usual artistic materials just weren’t an option. Carving into the surface of commonplace, durable items like shells and horns was the solution. They would make their own ink by mixing carbon with whale oil, or tea, or berries, or even squid ink.”
A scrimshaw wasn’t a piece of fine art intended to be hung in a gallery – it was a memento or keepsake, made by an everyday person, rarely a professional artist.
“Each scrimshaw tells a story – about an experience or a location, or even about the scrimhander themselves.”
Waikato Museum director Liz Cotton welcomes the opportunity to shine a spotlight on this overlooked historical art form.
“It has been a pleasure to collaborate with museums across the motu to show these scrimshaw works as a group,” says Cotton.
“It demonstrates how the objects in our collection here at Waikato Museum are an important part of the history of Aotearoa New Zealand as a nation and the connections we can make through collections.”
Scrimshaw: scratching the surface is at Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato until Sunday, June 26, daily from 10am to 5pm. Entry is free.
Also at Waikato museum, a handcrafted silk artwork has captured hearts and won the prestigious Campbell Smith Memorial People’s Choice Award for the National Contemporary Art Award 2021.
Hope is the Thing with Feathers 2 is a work by artist Rozana Lee, made from wax drawings using tjanting (a traditional pen-like tool for applying hot wax) on hand-dyed fuchsia pink silk, draped over a wooden standing frame.
Mixing Oriental or Islamic scroll patterning, Chinese silk satin, and exotic timber, Lee’s work draws on ideas around cross-cultural mobility, identity, and displacement.
“Wow, this is such a wonderful news!” says Lee, who is of Indonesian-Chinese heritage and has been based in Auckland since 2010.
“I am so honored that my work is the recipient of this award. Thank you to everyone who voted and thank you to the family of Campbell Smith.”
The Campbell Smith Memorial People’s Choice Award is sponsored by the family of Campbell Smith (1925-2015), an artist, poet, playwright and former Waikato Museum Director. It includes a cash prize of $250.
“Rozana Lee’s beautiful work is a worthy winner of this prestigious prize,” says Cotton.
The National Contemporary Art Award exhibition closing date has been extended to Sunday, February 20. Entry is free.