Scrimshander's etches on display in Annapolis


March 26, 2001|By Douglas Lamborne | Douglas Lamborne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HER BUSINESS CARD reads "Jane Tukarski, Scrimshander." Scrimshander? The word requires a trip to a dictionary, a large dictionary. A scrimshander is someone who works on scrimshaw. Scrimshaw? It's something engraved, usually very small, on ivory or similar surface.

The origins of scrimshaw, Tukarski said, are uniquely American. "It's the oldest solely indigenous American folk art, except for Native American art," she said.

"It dates back to the Yankee whaling period, to 18th- and 19th-century New England, places like Nantucket. It started on whaling ships as something sailors did in their spare time. They worked using the byproducts of their industry, whale bone and teeth."

The process back then went something like this: "Sailors would smooth raw tooth or bone with shark skin, then inscribe lines using needles and jackknives. They would then rub lamp black or whole blood into the lines," said Tukarski.

The process today is not much different. She first covers an object with India ink to blacken the surface. "When I'm engraving, I'm essentially looking at a photo negative," she said.

She then etches using a hand-held metal engraving tool with a carbide tip - no machinery. She re-inks, to fill the etched lines, and then wipes the surface clean. Voila!

Her work is on display at the League of Maryland Craftsmen shop on Main Street in Annapolis. One can find nifty little boats, skipjacks and bugeyes, the Pride of Baltimore II, a blue heron, a crab and, perhaps inevitably, the awfully popular Thomas Point Light.

She said she gets a fair amount of commission work. One job has her etching a C-130 aircraft as a memorial piece for a deceased Coast Guard member.

She no longer can work on material from endangered species, such as whales or elephants.

"For obvious reasons, there is no longer any trade in whale teeth," she said. "Mostly I use woolly mammoth ivory. There are no laws governing it."

Woolly mammoth ivory? Yes, and mastodon tusks. They are, of course, no longer endangered.

"I get it from Alaska, and some from Siberia," she said. "It's pretty hard to get."

She insisted she will never think of engraving on plastic, should it come to that.

Tukarski, who described herself as "an Army brat," earned a degree in textile design at the University of California-Davis. She works in a studio in her home in Crofton. She is the mother of four: Lara, Nina, Eva and Lydia. Eva will enter the Naval Academy this summer.

Tukarski's work will be on display at Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival on May 4, 5, 6 in Annapolis. She will be in the company of other artists and will, when asked, explain how a scrimshander scrims.

Scrims? "Scrim," she said, "comes from an old Dutch word `to spend time idly.'"

Hot stuff

Civic associations representing the neighborhoods of Admiral Heights and Germantown-Homewood tied for best in the Community Associations of Annapolis fifth Citywide Chili Tasting Contest on Thursday.

The winning cooks were Dick Coss of Admiral Heights, who won a luncheon for two at Chevys, and Judy Dein of Germantown-Homewood, who earned a seafood platter from O'Leary's Seafood Restaurant for her next membership meeting.

Stan Newquist of President's Hill was runner-up, earning a newsletter printing job at Freestate Press.

Bill Smith of Wardour won as cook of the hottest pot and earned a platter from Graul's Market. Meg Moffatt of Eastport was runner-up and got a case of paper for her association's newsletter.

The judges included Republican Mayor Dean L. Johnson and four Democrats running against him: Al Hopkins, Sylvanus Jones, Maureen Lamb and Ellen Moyer. Other competitors were Kernan Zazzali of Admiral Heights, Mike Miron of Eastport, Van Nield of Fairfax Road, John Clemens of President's Hill, Todd Lamb of Ward One, Liz McWethy of Weems Creek, and Phyllis and Doug Richardson of West Annapolis.

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