Creative carvings

Scrimshaw artist Hutchings
has the right touch

The Crestwood resident will appear
at The 1887 Corner Store in March

Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(March 2007) – Richard Hutchings remembers seeing six whale teeth on President John F. Kennedy’s desk when he was a child. A form of scrimshaw artwork, Hutchings never dreamed he would one day create the exquisite, finely detailed work that graced a former U.S. president’s workspace.

Richard Hutchings

Photo courtesy of Mike Carter

Richard “Hutch” Hutchings has honed
his talent since being encouraged
by fellow scrimshaw artists.

Always artistic, Hutchings grew up colorblind and took to pen-and-ink drawing as his choice of medium. “Scrimshaw is a step past pen and ink,” said this former commercial artist. His style is a combination of different pen and ink techniques made to work on ivory.
Hutchings, 53, of Crestwood, Ky., on March 24 will demonstrate the art of scrimshaw at The 1887 Corner Store in downtown La Grange. He will appear at the store from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. amd display his unique pieces of jewelry, knife handles, cigar holders, belt buckles, pistol grips, daggers and bolo ties.
The Inuit and other native groups along the Northwest Coast practiced scrimshaw for centuries. It was adopted by Yankee sailors aboard whaling ships on the Pacific Ocean around 1817 to 1824. It began as a leisure activity for these whalers who were often away from home on monotonous two to five year voyages.
Whalers used scrimshaw to create common tools. The result was a functional object made from the by-products of harvesting marine mammals, as whalebone, baleen and jawbones were in abundant supply. Whale teeth were even part of a whaler’s pay, which in turn could be used for trading goods and services.
Whalers scratched patterns or pictures into the surface of whalebone or whale teeth with a knife or sail needle. Next they would rub lampblack over the scratches and an image would appear.

Damascus & Mammoth Pipe Tamps

Photos provided

Samples of Richard Hutchings’
include Damascus and
Mammoth pipe tamps (above) and
an 1890 whale tooth (below).

1890 Whale Tooth

Relying on this centuries old art form, Hutchings crafts knife handles and blades. It is an art form encouraged by Gil Hibben, a La Grange-based knife maker who has sold his work to top-name Hollywood stars. Fourteen years ago, Hibben suggested Hutchings give scrimshaw a chance, and Hibben has been the one to “keep me going,” said Hutchings. Thinking that Hutchings was quite an artist and had never tried scrimshaw, Hibben knew he would succeed at it.
“It takes a real artist to make it look like a photo,” said Hibben of Hutchings’ work. He said Hutchings has the initiative and desire to transfer what he sees onto the ivory and make it lifelike.
Hutchings also does reverse scrimshaw, usually on buffalo horn from India and Thailand. The result is a black and glossy background, with the design sketched in white ink, said Hibben, who has collaborated on many projects with Hutchings.
Through experience Hutchings has refined his skill to produce outstanding works that are functional as well as decorative. He produces many customized cigar cutter handles and knives sold all over the world at premium cigar shops.
His choice of material is mammoth ivory, pre-embargo elephant and water buffalo horn. His work is beautifully detailed with scrimshaw carvings of grizzly bears, jumping bass and antlered elk, sci-fi characters, playing cards and historical figures.
For many of his pieces, Hutchings often uses mammoth ivory, which is found in the Artic and Siberian permafrost. Ivory diggers locate and sell these fossil remains of the Wooly Mammoth that died during the last Ice Age.
The outside of the mammoth ivory is called bark mammoth. The inner layer is a creamy tan color known as clear-cut. This inner layer is similar to elephant ivory.
Hutchings began using the excess mammoth bark from his knives to create jewelry when he realized it would make attractive pendants and earrings. Some of his jewelry is embellished with scrimshaw artwork.
Mammoth ivory “is expensive, but available,” said Hutchings. Since elephant ivory cannot cross international boarders, he uses mammoth ivory because there are no trade embargoes on it. The cost of using mammoth ivory is reflected in the prices of his work, but customers get their money’s worth when they purchase an item from Hutchings.
When people view his work for the first time, “I get a mixed reaction,” he said. His daughter, Katherine, often accompanies him to exhibits and said guests are amazed at “how you can get so much detail into one piece.”
All work is done by hand without the use of machines. “There is such great detail that it looks like a picture,” said Katherine.
Using flawless handpicked ivory, Hutchings said, “different pieces hold ink better than others.” Color is added by rubbing a Q-tip over a piece, wiping of the excess ink, and what is left will settle into the scrimshaw etchings, said Katherine.
Hutchings said his wife, Julie, and his daughter are supportive of his career. Katherine said: “I’m really proud of him.”
“A lot of people do scrimshaw,” said Hutchings, “But most don’t craft the material they scrimshaw on.” Hutchings also crafts leather sheaths for his knives.
“The ones who become interested in my work become collectors,” said Hutchings. “It’s fun finding the next collector.”

• Richard Hutchings accepts custom orders and can be contacted at (502) 241-2871 or via email at: baron1@bellsouth.net.

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