Monday, May 25, 2009

Ishmael and Ahab's Wish List: Michael Cohen's Scrimshaw

Who watches Antiques Roadshow on PBS, because I must confess that I watch every week. Maybe once a month, a nice piece of scrimshaw appears.  For those who are not hip to 1800 sailor slang, scrimshaw is bone, teeth, ivory, shell, etc., etched by hand and then colored by rubbing has ink into the depressions. It is generally considered craft as it was historically done by sailors/whalers while on voyages during moments of idleness and sobriety (which may explain why there aren't tons of these things floating around).

As it turns out, scrimshaw is still alive and well and Artist Michael Cohen is generating some really marvelous versions. First of all, I just gotta say, it has to be very hard to create such fine detail and shading. Just looking at older examples from history, it is clear that Cohen's work is leaps and bounds above your average deck hand. As for subject matter, there are some departures but I would argue that its intent is still the same.  Maybe there weren't pin-up vixens on early mariners' pieces, as it wasn't socially appropriate to show full bloomers and exposed bustle just anywhere (luckily now you can pay a fortune to have Christian Lassen paint a babe snuggling with a tiger and a stallion on top of your Camaro). It's expected that tastes will shift over time and even the oldest of art forms will take on new subjects. What isn't expended is to see someone with all the skill that Michael Cohen has, really elevating a historical craft-form to fine art.

Pick one up for the man in your life:

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