Folk Art and The Whalers

The Case Study

Hull Museum Education have developed a new learning resource that is adaptable for post 16 and Key Stage 4, art and design courses. Our key aim is to provide students with first – hand experience in museums and, of art and craft objects. This resource is inspired by the curious collection of Scrimshaw – the art of the Whaler. Hull’s Maritime Museum holds the largest collection in Europe, and second in the world!


The learning resource entitled, ‘Folk Art and The Whalers’ offers a local historical context and theme which can be explored across a time and place. It promotes investigations into the differences in the production of, and attitudes towards art and craft across a different time and culture. The resource holds four key questionnaires; these focus on the social, political and theoretical background, to the techniques used in the creation of Scrimshaw.


As A Level students from Wyke Sixth Form College, Hull, discovered - it is inspirational, and readily becomes an integral part of the contexts that inform student practical work. In addition, it is an excellent resource for students to develop effective museum collection research skills – vital for the creative growth of young artists and designers.


What did the students do?

The objects within the Scrimshaw collection present a snapshot of the life and times of the whaler. It reminds us of the prolific whaling period of the early nineteenth century, and is insightful of Hull’s industrial past.


Students from Wyke Sixth Form College, Hull, aided by this learning resource, explored the historical and social context in which Scrimshaw was created, using the Museum artefacts. They recorded the variety of messages found on the Scrimshaw and used drawing to communicate research information.


The students evaluated and presented their research, leading to discussions on the ethics of whaling today. This encouraged them to identify a range of historical references which informed their ideas.

The students continued to work individually to develop and record their ideas back at the college. From the initial visit to Hull’s Maritime Museum, each student uncovered a question which they wanted to explore. This question became a pinnacle for the development of their creative work.


The empathy for the Whalers became one of the key themes – what was it like to be on board a ship in the Artic without heating or means of immediate communication for months or even years? What were their anxieties and myths? These themes are developed visually through stitch, couture, embroidery and assemblage. The differences in technology today, and the communication means used by the Whalers were explored. The students combined this theme with personal experiences in the form of colour – coded stitched patchwork, and assemblage. How do I leave my messages today? What kind of message do I want to leave?


The Stay-busk made by the whaler from whale jawbone, inscribed with love messages for his sweetheart and worn next to her heart, demonstrates to us the differences in communication, time and place. The idea of absent love, of sweethearts waiting or love lost against a backdrop of the deep sea, became apparent within the colour, texture and composition of final pieces.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Hull Maritime Museum | 
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