The Art of the Sailor – Exhibit for 2016

Mosaic article- May 2016 — reprinted with permission

written by Wendy Tomlinson, Curator and Manager

Art of the Sailor logo

The Community Waterfront Heritage Centre’s fascinating 2016 summer exhibit, The Art of the Sailor celebrates the timeless techniques of the sailors’ traditional folk arts – tattoos, scrimshaw, and knot tying, through an entertaining blend of artefacts, archival photos, and interactive elements. Share the story of your tattoo, design your own ‘flash art’, and try you luck at the ‘6 Knot Challenge’.

Discover the link between today’s vibrant tattoo culture and the maritime history that influenced it. For sailors, tattoos were a method of making something permanent in an otherwise unpredictable lifestyle and to document their own histories- receiving certain tattoos for crossing the Equator or the International Date Line. Certain images were believed to be good luck talismans and would save them in a shipwreck.

Like tattoo art, scrimshaw requires highly skilled artisans and the use of pigment, but instead of skin, images are etched on whalebone, whale teeth and ivory. First practiced by 19th and early 20th century whalemen, traditional scrimshaw pieces of this rare art form depict maritime life and whaling.

Ropes and knots are among the most ancient technologies ever developed by man, and were an essential part of life onboard a sailing vessel. Fancy knotting on a sailor’s ‘ditty bag’ would serve as his résumé. The ditty would have been the first test of an apprentice seaman: before he could be trusted with the fabrication of a sail. Likewise, on a vessel, fancy knot work is something akin to “boat jewelry”. Generally made during idle hours, fancywork is a visible token of pride and respect for the ship.

The Art of the Sailor will be at the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre, from May 29, 2016 until October 10, 2016.

Community Waterfront Heritage Centre celebrates and preserves the marine, rail and industrial history of the City and surrounding communities. For more details visit, like us on FaceBook, call 519-371-3333 or email Community Waterfront Heritage Centre is located at 1155 1st Ave West, Owen Sound and is open daily from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving, or by appointment.