After moving to New Mexico in 1990, I began to collect shed deer and elk antlers found on our frequent hikes into the forest. (Not all people know antlers are shed and regrown every year. Rest assured this work is completely environmentally and animal friendly.) Pure chance led me to an article about scrimshaw in a book entitled “Back to Basics”. I actually acquired this book for its articles about gardening and preserving food but also included was an article outlining the history of and how scrimshaw is done. Most of this I knew except for one sentence: “Because of the shortage and unavailability of ivory, many scrimshanders are now using shell, bone and antler.” That one word, antler, stuck in my mind and finally I had to cut one up to see what I would find. I completed by first scrimshaw in 1992.
After cutting an antler into sections, the pieces are sanded and shaped. Then they are finely polished so that the only scratches will be the ones I make. Because antler is more porous than ivory, it must be sealed. Next, the piece is blackened with ink so that the engraving can be more easily seen. A design is worked out and the engraving begins. I use sewing needles in a pin vise for this purpose. Once the crosshatching and stippling is complete, the entire piece is inked again. This time the ink goes into the lines and dots. Now the piece is gently sanded with fine sandpaper to remove all the surface ink and leave the engraved design. A jeweler’s buffing wheel polishes it to a glossy finish and a final coat of sealant is applied. It is a time consuming process but each one is an original, one-of-a-kind.
Wildlife scenes are my specialty. In 1999, I won first place in the black and white wildlife category and second place in the open category at the Hawaiian International Scrimshaw Competition and an Honorable Mention in the Wyoming Western and Wildlife Show. In 2000, my scrimshaw won a 2nd place award in a miniature show in Colorado Springs. I have also begun working on Mammoth ivory which has been preserved for 5,000 to 10,000 years in the Alaskan tundra. Mammoths are long extinct and their ivory may contain cracks and stains from exposure to the outdoors. Once inside, it will keep its lovely grain and color. The process is the same. It makes a wonderful new canvas for my work and just knowing it belonged to a creature from another eon is awe inspiring.