Scrimshaw Art

Scrimshaw art was originally the idea of American whalers during the early 19th century. Sailors utilized sharp tools and carved different designs into baleen, whale teeth, and ivory coming from walruses. After creating the designs, they added soot or ink into the engravings to give life to their designs.

The Scrimshaw Container, however, originates from a land animal’s horn and not from a marine creature. It was mainly created to serve a function and purely for decoration. Its base is composed of wood that has a name “M. Mackay” and “Fort York” engraved into it.

The York Factory, which is presently in northern Manitoba, was also known as Fort York. The container’s design proposes that it originated from the Hudson Bay instead of the 1812 historical fortification, which is now called Toronto.

After a search was done through the HBC archives, it was discovered that a man from Inverness, Scotland teamed with HBC and became part of York Factory just before he moved to Vancouver the year next. The man was known as Malcolm Mackay.

So, the question remains: Did Mackay create the design himself? Or did he commission the design to someone else? What was the function in mind when this container was created? Compared to other several artifacts from the HBC museum, this archive leaves us with a lot of questions.

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