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“It’s pretty tiring and pretty tedious,” Stothart said.

Stothart said whaling scenes on whale’s teeth take him a week to do. He just finished a large walrus tusk with a civil war scene on it.

Originally, scrimshaw only used nautical scenes like whales, ships and sailors and was done mainly in black and white, Stothart said.

Opening book after book, Stothart points out the historical realities of whaling ships and the Eskimos who began scrimshaw. Opening a file cabinet stuffed with papers, he pulls out a book of the history of whaling.

“The reason whaling began was oil for lamps,” Stothart said, pointing out the graphic photos and drawings of powerless sea giants floating in their own blood. Sailors would kill the whales and melt down their blubber on the ships and store it in massive barrels.

Stothart said sailors would use needles to carve designs on whale’s teeth and then give the teeth to family and friends as gifts.

“Sperm whale teeth is where the art form originally started from,” Stothart said, reaching into a cupboard and bringing out a 6-inch tooth not yet touched by a knife. Glossy white and resembling something that Tarzan might have hung above his fireplace, this massive tooth weighs about 374 grams and is worth about $200.

“One of those whales has about 60 teeth in their jaw and each tooth can weigh up to eight pounds,” Stothart said, placing the tooth onto a cherrywood stand. “I enjoy working on the whale’s teeth because they are amazing objects."

Stothart said whaling is strictly prohibited except in Japan and Norway.

“Strictly for scientific purposes supposedly,” Stothart said, letting out a nervous chuckle as he rubs his eyebrows.

Stothart said the ivory supply in Washington is very limited.

“I can buy these teeth and sell them only in Washington,” Stothart said, “but they’re tightly regulated, unless you have a license to sell them interstate,” Stothart said.

So what happens when all of the raw ivory in North America is gone?

“I don’t believe it would affect me personally, in my lifetime,” Stothart said.

Stothart said he could always use epoxy polymer material, a product that is similar to ivory in weight, color and texture.

Stothart’s favorite type of ivory is the fossil walrus tusk. He opens the cupboard again and pulls out a shiny, 6-inch, smooth, flat piece of a walrus tusk that looks like an old bruised banana. He places it sideways onto a dark wood stand.


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copyright 1998 Klipsun Magazine
Western Washington University
http://www.wcug.wwu.edu/~klipsun/April99/scrimshaw2.html