Saturday, April 9, 2016

Harry Apodruk: Native Inupiaq Scrimshaw Art

Harry Apodruk


Harry Apodruk


Harry Apodruk


Harry Apodruk


Harry Apodruk


Harry Apodruk


Harry Apodruk


Harry Apodruk


Harry Apodruk


These pieces are original scrimshaw artworks by the listed Inupiaq Eskimo artist, Harry Apodruk (1929-1988), of the White Mountain community. Apodruk was hired by Porter and Jensen Jewelers in Seattle in the 1960s to make artwork for their collections. Examples of his work can be found in the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.

Scrimshaw is Fine Art, and as such, the drawing has value for its own sake. However, unlike painting, scrimshaw is done on a unique "ground" of ivory or whale baleen, materials that are usually more valuable than any foundation of stretched cloth or linen. The handcrafting of scrimshaw is part of American heritage. It is said by some to be the oldest of all North American art forms. To its fans, no other art form in America is said to have a longer history. For them no other expression of art has had more significance or influence on the American spirit.

"Scrimshaw" is a word whose origins are caught up in controversy. Many say it comes from an old English nautical slang expression meaning "to waste time." But others have supported origins for the word that range from America to China. While the word’s origin may always be debated, it is a style of art and craft generally described as the incising, engraving, carving, or fashioning of primarily ivory and bone (but may also include other natural and man-made materials) into works of art or other decorative or useful articles.

A scrimshander is the person who creates works of scrimshaw.

Archeologists in Eastern North America have found works of art comparable to scrimshaw made by native peoples from land and marine ivory and bone that date back as far as 100-200 AD, but it was really the Yankee whalers of the 1800s who are most often credited with creating, popularizing, and naming the art form -- making it a traditionally American art form.

With long periods of time on their hands between one whale and the next on what could be as much as three years or more at sea, Yankee sailors took up the art form as a way to pass the time. But at sea, the only ivory and bone available to them were from the whales they hunted. This nautical expression of the art form was quickly passed from ship to ship, and it wasn’t long before scrimshaw was introduced to coastal Native cultures in Alaska, who immediately embraced the art form. It was also welcomed and practiced by whalers and sailors from countries around the globe.

As a result, scrimshaw has been characterized as an art form started and practiced by whalemen, sailors, or others associated with nautical pursuits. Unfortunately, this is an lamentable slight to the Eastern North American cultures who are also credited, however grudgingly at times, with working in the art form.




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