Custom Scrimshaw by Mark Thogerson
An ancient craft on natural materials

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About the Artist

I taught myself scrimshaw at age 13 amid the rolling hills of northeast Iowa, and have been doing it ever since – nearly 40 years. I first saw scrimshaw in a gift shop on a family trip to New England, and did my first pieces on whale ivory purchased during the trip.  I have developed many of my own techniques over the years, but have tried to stay true to the origins of the craft by using simple tools and natural materials. I also produce the antler and wood objects I sell and use for scrimshaw. I have been exhibiting my work at art fairs since 1975, and in Michigan art fairs since 1981.  I have been a naturalist, a park ranger, a database analyst and a "professional student".  I am a biology professor at a regional university and do contract work for The Nature Conservancy and a regional land trust as a field ecologist.  In addition to scrimshaw, I also enjoy nature photography, backpacking, canoeing, gardening and woodworking.

I specialize in hand-etched scrimshaw on natural materials such as  mammoth ivory, walrus teeth, piano-key ivory and shed antler. Nautical, wildflower and wildlife themes are favorites, but I have done everything from old fire engines and tractors to corporate logos (with permission). I make everything from jewelry to cribbage boards and Nantucket baskets.  I also make many of the accessory items and objects on which the scrimshaw is mounted: hand mirrors, jewelry and music boxes, desk accessories and more.  I have over 40 years in scrimshaw and ivory work.

I do not use a machine engraver for my scrimshaw; instead, it is etched with a steel tool and the color is hand-rubbed into the fine lines and dots. Nineteenth-century scrimshanders used the point of a knife or a sharpened sail needle, with a combination of lampblack and whale oil, sepia (squid ink), tobacco "juice", and various fruit juices for color. I try to emulate the spirit of the old scrimshanders while adding my own unique styles and more stable modern pigments.

I am one of the featured artists in the book pictured at the right, "Scrimshaw: A complete illustrated manual" (2nd ed.) by Steve Paskiewicz and Roger Schroeder, Fox Chapel Publishing.

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