Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Toilers of the Sea

It's officially summer and my thoughts wandered to sunny days on the beach. As thoughts will go, my mind then remembered a summer of travel and a trip to a maritime museum.

The museum was a wonderful experience. I learned so much. One thing I recalled was the beautiful crafts that the sailors made while at sea. Using available materials, intricate and imaginative crafts were made from shells, whalebone, rope and canvas.

Most of these objects were of small size in order to store them in a cramped space on board. Some items were made to give to loved ones. Others were made to sell to visitors on excursions. Whatever the purpose, the sailors used crafts to fill the time.

These sailors were mostly self-taught. They sewed torn sails, knotted rope cables worked yarn they bought in ports or observed natives. The crafts are extensive - inlaid boxes, rope mats, ships in bottles - and so the list continues. Below are images of some of the works.

These are embroidery examples of "sailors woolies" made in the 19th century by English sailors:

The hexagons below were made mostly from shells and were known as "Sailor Valentines:"

Possibly the best known sailors' art was scrimshaw. Although they etched mainly on the bones or ivory of mammals, on the right is an image of scrimshaw made from sword bill fish.

Do you have a fond memory of a summer trip to a museum?


  1. First, I really like the sailor art. I knew about scrimshaw but not the others. Second, my favorite museum when I was a kid was the Natural History Museum in L. A. I thought the dioramas were amazing... and my Mom let me and a friend go by ourselves. Independence!Jen

  2. When I was a child, I knew a burley man with big hands. His wife had taught him to knit so that while he was "waiting" in Viet Nam to do his soldiering, he had something to do. He also made beautiful things.

  3. Hi Elaine, Your comment made me think of Rosie Grier, the football player. Big guy who did needlepoint and didn't mind the ribbing he got at all. R.

  4. I have (somewhere) viewed sailor's art before tho it's been eons. One has to
    remember that some of these sailors - if not most of them - were men of
    different professions who got kidnapped/hijacked into sea duty. You have to
    wonder what other art forms they did that never were discovered? (ok,
    besides tattooing and wood-carving :>)

  5. I knew about the scrimshaw but not the seashell work and painting. Wonderful. MAR