On the Water

Scrimshaw Panbone

This panbone, or section of the back of a sperm whale’s jaw, served as the canvas for a whaleman’s freehand drawing of a busy whale hunt off the coast of the volcanic island of Ternate, one of the Spice Islands in Indonesia and the world’s main source of cloves until the 18th century.

In the lower left, a woman reaches out for her whaleman, who symbolically stands across the sea with one hand over his heart and a harpoon in the other. In her background is a tranquil domestic scene, probably their home. In the center, a fenced precinct labels the main scene. Above, on the right are the named whalers Margaret of London and Sophia of Nantucket. The remainder of the lively scene portrays seven whaleboats chasing a pod of six whales.

The artist has managed to convey loneliness between loved ones, great distance from home, an exotic and remote tropical locale, and a busy whale hunt on a single stretch of whalebone.

ID Number:
whale bone
39 3/4 x 15 x 5 in.; 100.965 x 38.1 x 12.7 cm
Gift of Joseph B. Bloss

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