Scrimshaw artist carves her niche at Annapolis Art Walk

Jane Tukarski's bone carvings to be featured during event

August 14, 2010|By Kate Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Ask gallery owner Kelly Richard how she chose scrimshaw artist Jane Tukarski's work to be featured, and her answer is simple.

"Jane's absolutely excellent — the best at what she does. Why wouldn't I?"

This month, her carvings of images into bone are being featured at Richard's gallery, the American Craftwork Collection, in Annapolis. Her showcase will continue during the 20th annual Annapolis Art Walk on Thursday.

More than 20 galleries in downtown Annapolis, including Richard's, will be hosting new exhibits for the event and local musicians will be performing. Tukarski's scrimshaw will be on display and available for purchase.

Tukarski's pieces, priced from $125 to $4,000, have been a "best-seller," Richard says. Tukarski is the only crimshawer to approach Richard about having her work in the gallery.

Scrimshaw is the art of decorating ancient materials such as woolly mammoth bone and preserved ivory with nautical images such as ships and sea life. The process of creating the image is "rewarding but time-consuming," according to Tukarski, and can take several weeks. Tukarski, who considers herself a purist, hand-engraves all her pieces.

Tukarski began her artistic career in her years after college while in Seattle. Working as an apprentice under a local artist, she was exposed to the "endangered art" of scrimshaw.

"I was immediately captivated," Turkarski said. "I just couldn't believe the detail."

Tukarski has since returned to Annapolis, where she has her studio and does a majority of her work.

"It's physically demanding," Tukarski said. "You have to have a very steady hand — you can never take it for granted."

Because of the taxing nature of the work, Tukarski believes she is one of the few women who have excelled in the field.

"I take great pride in that," she said.

The materials Tukarski uses can be considered art by themselves. Obtained by a supplier in Alaska, the bone can be dated back 10,000 to 80,000 years. With time, the items have picked up subtle streaks of brown and blue hues to complement the original off-white.

The nature of the materials makes the work unforgiving — mistakes are difficult to counter when engraving ancient media. While Tukarski has never had to completely give up on any piece, she has had to change her design to remedy errors. On one piece, a woman had to be turned into a pirate when her eye was beyond repair and had to be converted to an eye patch.

Tukarski said she uses only legally obtained materials, such as antique ivory.

Common themes in Tukarski's work include traditional ships, wildlife and faces, but she also works on commission and has had some interesting requests.

"Someone once asked me to do their Harley-Davidson," said. "It was really difficult — I had no idea what I was looking at."

Though not the traditional scrimshaw medium, her best-seller has been vintage billiard balls made of ivory. Using the same techniques, she turns them into intricately designed globes with a wide range of themes, including historically accurate ships and antique maps. From start to finish, these pieces can take weeks and are "very difficult," she said.

Tukarski said scrimshaw is an "endangered art" because even though it sells well, there are few artists still practicing. However, Tukarski's daughter, Lara, has become an engraver. The two hope to "revive and preserve the unique maritime folk art of scrimshaw."

20th Annual Annapolis Art Walk

The event will be from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 19. Twenty downtown galleries will be featuring new artwork and artists will demonstrate their skills in various media. Light refreshments will be served in galleries, and local musicians will perform at various spots downtown.

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