Michelle Tapia Designs

Scrimshaw is created by painstaking etching, or scratching on ivory or bone and using ink to hold the image.  Practiced for centuries by the Inuit and other native groups along the Northwest coast, it was adopted by the Yankee whalemen of the early 1800’s.  Two-five year voyages quickly became monotonous, so the whalemen turned to working with baleen, whale teeth, and jawbones, all of which were in abundant supply- in fact, on many ships whale teeth were part of the pay, and were often traded to shopkeepers in port for goods and services.  The origin of the work is obscure.  One interesting etymologyis is a Dutch phrase meaning “to waste ones time.”  The term “scrimshaw” also applies to carved or pierced bone or ivory, since much of the whalemen’s work was carved rather than etched.I learned scrimshaw, along with silver and goldsmithing, lapidary and finishing work from Denise Wallace and her husband Samuel. I worked with them for about 8 years. Denise is Aleut from Cordova Alaska, and most of her designs are Alaskan.  When I started to create my own pieces, I continued to use the art of scrimshaw on fossilized ivory, and at times I use Tagua Nut, and elk antler.  I prefer to work with the fossilized ivory, because it polishes up better, and has much more color and less cracks.  The ivory I use is around 20,000 year old walrus tusk, and is considered legal ivory. I never use fresh ivory, or elephant ivory.  People who are familiar with scrimshaw are often times confused that a Spanish girl from New Mexico is working on fossilized walrus tusk.  My designs are all from my heart and my culture.  My love of animals and anything of beauty influence me most.Many of my images are images I created as a child, drawing, or painting on rocks.  I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to learn from one of the countries best artists/jewelers, and love being able to share it with other people.  Scrimshaw is a lost art, and although my technique and style is different than any other, it is a wonderful feeling to be able to share what I have learned, and meeting people who connect with my work. Care must be taken not to get the pieces wet, or leave them in the sun too long.A soft dry cloth can be used to clean the piece if needed. Rings that are worn on a daily bases may fade after time, and there is not charge to have a piece re-inked.
For ordering information, please contact Michelle at kittyhope@aol.com or 505-670-9803