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Scrimshaw Takes Over the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Summer Exhibitions

The New Bedford Whaling Museum holds the world’s most extensive collection of “scrimshaw,” objects carved by whalers on the byproducts of marine mammals. Scrimshaw is commonly associated with White, male New England makers.

The museum aims to challenge this notion with two new summer exhibitions, The Wider World & Scrimshaw and BREACH: Logbook 24 | SCRIMSHAW. The shows explore how oceans and the spaces within and between them are sites of exchange and circulation — of goods, people, animals, materials, currents, and cultures.

Opening June 14, The Wider World & Scrimshaw showcases over 300 objects, the majority of which are carved decorative arts from the Pacific world made between 1700 and today. It demonstrates how scrimshaw was influenced by and, in turn, influenced other Arctic and Oceanic carvings.

This sweeping exhibition, organized in consultation with a diverse advisory board of artists, scholars, and culture bearers, explores the rich cultural traditions, carving forms, and material exchanges that emerged across the Pacific world. The legacies of colonialism explored in this show prevail today; climate change and natural resource extraction disproportionately affect island nations and Indigenous communities.

Also opening June 14, Shinnecock artist Courtney M. Leonard’s BREACH: Logbook 24 | SCRIMSHAW explores the historical and contemporary ties between place, community, whales, and the maritime environment.

Leonard’s works conjure the remains of whales, waterfront industrial infrastructure, and oyster shells, evoking community ties to water, Shinnecock scientific knowledge, and current practices for mitigating coastal erosion and water contamination. The artist’s works hope to enact healing and celebrate resiliency and joy on unceded lands and waters.

The Wider World & Scrimshaw and BREACH: Logbook 24 | SCRIMSHAW exhibitions are on view June 14–November 3 at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, located at 18 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford, Massachusetts. Visit the museum’s website to view upcoming programming.

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