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Peter’s Museum

   
  The Museum "Technique" Artists

Peter's Scrimshaw Museum started in 1986 and is now a place that those who travel to Faial must visit. In the Azores, scrimshaw was not born on board, but on land through the hands of regional craftsmen. The best scrimshaw artists who worked on the islands are represented in the collections of the Museum.

Although whaling is traditional and usual along the coasts of Norway and other northern countries, Basque fishermen were, nevertheless, the first to extensively and systematically exploit whaling as an industry. There is evidence of this activity since the 10th century in regions as far away as Iceland. The voyages of discovery in the 16th brought to the attention the large number whales of the Arctic, with the Dutch and the British being the first to take advantage of them.

 

 

And whaling also brought scrimshaw. The word "scrimshaw" has two meanings; on the one hand, in a general sense, it refers to an art form and, on the other hand, in a stricter sense, it applies to the different products of this art. Born on board New England whaling ships as a way to occupy time during the long leisure hours on board, this form of craft developed through a process of engraving and carving whale bones and teeth, covering a wide range of objects both usable in everyday life and ornamental, which are usually made as souvenirs for family members. The origin of scrimshaw is one of the unsolved mysteries of the present. The explanatory theories vary widely and range from authors who trace it to the influence of Eskimo culture on New England whalers to those who consider it as a maritime and Native American art, with others still emphasize the influence of the islanders from the South Seas on American whalemen. The explanation of Edouard A. Stackpole is more plausible, considering scrimshaw simply as the development at sea of the ancient art of carving ivory, as it had been practiced for five centuries. This was the contribution of American whalemen for this established art form. Thus, scrimshaw, as a popular art form, was no more than an adaptation by American whalemen of an ancient craft and not an activity that has sprung from whaling.

The name scrimshaw itself has an uncertain origin. It is thought that it derives from older words, namely "skimshander," "scrimshonter" and "scrimshorn." One of the earliest references made by whalemen can be found in an 1826 entry of the logbook of the Dartmouth whaler By Chance, which makes reference to "scrimshonting." On the other hand, one of the earliest printed references appears in Cheever’s 1850 book The Whale and His Captors, where the phrase "skimshander articles" appears.

As far as we know, this word seems to come from the Dutch "skrimshander," which means one who does not do much or a "lazy guy." ... Thus, a word that could be easily transferred to a ship\’s atmosphere (as this is the characteristic that soldiers attached to the sailors' way of working) and that quickly became the name for the type of work that whalemen did to occupy their leisure time during the long hours at sea.

From all sailing vessels of the world, it was on whalers that “on board handicrafts” developed. The excitement of the chase and capture of a whale was quickly followed by long periods of routine and monotony on board. In this context, scrimshaw plays an important role: to alleviate the terrible boredom of sea and sky, of scrubbing the deck, of applying tar to the hull, of the long hours of paddling in pursuit of whales that escaped upwind. In the logbooks of American whalers, there is no shortage of references to the monotony and boredom on board: "The lookouts in the crow's nest are all asleep reading old letters to find something new; there is nothing to do but look at each other," or "Oh my God, how long is this still going to last?,” or "I saw nothing but the ocean, the ship, and my shipmates whales, no whales, no whales, no conversation; there is no good in thinking." So Captain William Reynard, from the Abigail of New Bedford, said: "Idle head is the workshop of the Devil. Employed scrimshaw."

Sitting on the forecastle with the light of an oil lamp shining directly on a scrimshaw piece, or on the deck under brilliant sunlight, or even in the crow\'s nest during their turn on watch, whalemen continued their work, painstakingly developing it through the processes established over the years.

Whaling in the Azores was always near the coast and the boats were only harnessed after a whale was spotted, so on the islands scrimshaw was not born on board, but on land and through the hands of craftsmen who were not necessarily whalemen. However, not many Azoreans manned American whaling vessels, which not only brought a countless number of pieces but mainly the manufacturing techniques that have been transmitted from one generation to another.

Another part of the sperm whale widely used in scrimshaw was the bone of the lower jaw. These huge and very heavy pieces were cleaned, cut and sawn to make walking sticks, bats and all kinds of accessories, with the surface of the flat parts being used to engrave drawings. Using these pieces to their maximum potential, craftsmen manufactured a multitude of objects either for their own use, or for sale, or to offer as a gift. These objects included needle boxes, whips, tool handles, cutlery, rolling pins, stamps, distaffs, knitting needles, frames for paintings and mirrors, brooches, earrings, pins, combs, rosaries, necklaces and even fans.

The Café Sport has sold handicrafts made from whale bone and teeth since its early days. Also from early on (with Henrique Azevedo), some of the best scrimshaw pieces have been saved, but it was with José Azevedo (aka Peter) that the collection really started developing.

 

The Café Sport has sold handicrafts made from whale bone and teeth since its early days. Also from early on (with Henrique Azevedo), some of the best scrimshaw pieces have been saved, but it was with José Azevedo (aka Peter) that the collection really started developing. It was the scrimshaw work of Fátima Madruga Gomes, who worked for the coffee house since a young age supplying items for sale, especially human faces, which strongly impressed and amazed José Azevedo leading him to start saving some of them. The growth in the number of items from various artists which he started saving, the development of his own admiration for this form of artistic expression, and finally the maturation of the idea that, with the announced end of whaling (and consequently of the supply of raw material for scrimshaw), he could open a space to illustrate, through artifacts, an important economic activity of the islands, all of this led José Azevedo and his son José Henrique to open Peter's Scrimshaw Museum.

At that time, artist Carlos Machado was already working for the Café as a craftsman. He played an important role in the design and assembly of the Museum. When it opened, it already had most of the items which are on display today and which number about a thousand pieces made from the bones and teeth of sperm whales.

The best scrimshaw artists that worked on these islands are represented in the collections of the Museum. Fátima M. Gomes, Carlos Machado, Gualter M. Barreto, João Fernandes Leal, Othon Silveira, António Manuel Machado, Rui Dias, Juvenal Castro, João Garcia, Manuel Garcia da Silva, Carlos Gomes, José Botelho Morais, Manuel D. Fagundes, Carlos Alberto Nunes Roberto, Família Luz, Dimas José A. Soares, Rui Oliveira and John Opstal are the artists whose work is represented in this Museum, with its value being incalculable, because the items exhibited are primarily a means of preserving and keeping alive the history and testimonial of this great "adventure" that was whaling in the Azores.

 
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Video

Discover the Museum
4 minutes

 

 

"Peter Café Sport é o símbolo do andar dos homens livres pelo mundo formoso e sem fronteiras de raças nem de costumes"

Jacinto Viladomier, “Azul Profundo”
1990

 

Schedule:

  10h-12h | 14h-16h
* Except sundays

Ticket: 2,50€

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