Richard "HutcH" Hutchings
HutcH has gained quite a reputation as a fine scrimshaw artist over the
last several years. By the way, HutcH is not a typo, it is the way he signs his
work with a a capital H on each end so that is the way I will refer to him. His
excellent artwork can be seen on custom knives, cigar cutters, mammoth ivory
tusks, belt buckles and jewelry.
For those of you who are not familiar with scrimshaw, it is the art of
creating drawings by cutting or scribing fine lines into materials such as ivory
or bone and then filling those scribed lines with ink to make them show up. It
is an art form believed to have originated from sailors on whaling ships who
would scratch images into whale bones and teeth using the pointed rope picks
that were commonly found on ships as a tool for helping to untie knots in wet
ropes. Modern scrimshaw artists work with a wide variety of materials and often
use colored inks for photo-realistic artwork. Another variation is reverse
scrimshaw which is a popular application for black buffalo horn because the
inscribed lines naturally show up as white and a negative images is created.
Scrimshaw has long been a popular method for decorating knife and gun handles,
powder horns, belt buckles, jewelry and stand alone art pieces such as whales
teeth and elephant tusks. HutcH recently has been doing a lot of work using
10,000 year old fossilized wooly mammoth tusk ivory. (Note: The import of
African elephant ivory into the U.S. was banned in 1989. Ivory imported before
the ban can be legally sold and traded within the U.S. There are no restrictions
on the trade of mammoth ivory.) A scrimshaw artist is known as a "scrimshander"
and the artwork itself is often referred to as "scrim".
HutcH has been doing pen and ink artwork most of his life and has sold many
of his wildlife drawings over the years. He remembers noticing that President
Kennedy had several scrimshawed whales teeth on his desk in the oval office and
he became interested in the art form at an early age. In his youth, HuctH
discovered that he was color blind and scrimshaw is an art form that came easily
to him since it is primarily black and white artwork. In fact, he feels that his
color blindness may even be an asset in this type of art because he feels that
he sees shades of gray perhaps better than most people.
At the urging of some well known knifemakers such as Gil Hibben and Ed
Wallace, about 12 years ago HutcH began doing scrim on the handles of custom
knives and has since gained quite a following of knifemakers and knife
collectors who send him their knives to be adorned with his scrimshaw art. He
has "scrimmed" about seventy or eighty highly collectable Randall Made knives
over the years as well as many custom handmade knifes worth thousands of
dollars. HutcH also scrims some of his own knives that he makes in his home
HutcH has also found other niche markets for his work.
As a cigar afianado, HutcH met Xikar, the makers of cigar cutters. He made few custom cutters and
couple of knives for them and they proved to be very popular. He has since made
hundreds of pieces for Xikar and his work has been featured in numerous
magazines. He typically uses mammoth ivory on the cutters and scrims cave art
images into it. "It's been really a lot of fun to get recognized outside of the
knife industry" Hutch says.
In 2005, on a whim, HutcH started making scrimshaw jewelry from smaller
pieces of ivory he had laying around. "I had seen a movie with Pierce Brosnan, I
can't even remember the name of it, but he had a whale pendant, that looked like
carved ivory to me, so I immediately came home after seeing that movie and made
up a few pendants. Then people started saying it would be nice if you had ear
rings to match the pendants so I started taking the ivory that I couldn't use
for knife handles and cigar cutters and started making earrings, pendants and
necklaces." Hutch took $6000 worth of his jewelry to a show and sold out
before the end of the second day. HutcH says "I never imagined that it would go
like that." This year HutcH is expanding his line of jewelry to include more
pieces for both men and women with the hope that it leads to more people
appreciating the scrimshaw art form. HutcH says, "I'm fifty two years old and by
the time I die, I hope if nothing else, I have accomplished being able to make
scrimshaw something that just about everybody knows and make it an accepted
main-line art form. If I have it my way, there will be so many scrimshanders out
there that everybody will appreciate scrimshaw. I want more people to scrim."
I asked HutcH if scrimshaw is a hard art form to learn and if he ever teaches
people to scrimshaw and he replied, "I have taught scrimshaw on an individual
basis. The main thing about scrimshaw is that you can teach somebody the basics,
how to accomplish the scrim, how to prepare the surface, and after that, it's
how that person develops their individual technique." HutcH say that he can
often identify various scrimshaw artist's work just by their technique, even
before seeing the signature. "Gary Williams, who signs all his work Garbo, I can
tell his work above anyone else's. He is the one that I aspire to someday be as
good as. But I will never be able to match the amount of color that he does,
being color blind. I always use color incidentally, I don't use it as a major
form. But, I also create better values being color blind because I see more
black and white gradients."
HutcH generally does not work by tracing or drawing his images on the
scrimshaw material before starting to inscribe. He usually works by looking at a
photo and drawing what he sees, or his interpretation of it. He sometimes traces
a basic outline to define the areas he wants to work on or sometimes tapes a
paper guide to the piece to help him with keeping words in a straight line and
the letters properly spaced.
HutcH tells me that people often do not understand or appreciate the amount
time and and preparation that goes into scrimshaw, particularly when doing
photo-realistic work. He says, "That's the number one thing that I think most
people don't realize with scrimshaw, is the amount of research that you have to
do to find the proper artwork to work from, to take three or four pictures and
compose a piece of art for it. Every time you do a piece of scrim, you are
actually doing a commissioned piece of art and that requires all of the prep and
everything that someone would do for a painting. You've got to have it right or
else there's no point in doing it. When you have someone that walks up and says
"All I know is that I want a mermaid on that piece of ivory, but I don't know
whether I want a realistic looking one or a fantasy one or I don't don't know if
I want it to be erotic or what." Scrimshaw is the art of putting the artwork on
the handle (material). It is not the art of reading somebody's mind and the
biggest thing that you get into is accumulating something for that person to see
before you start scratching on their ivory."
HutcH is currently working on a project to scrim a depiction of the Vietnam
War Memorial onto the handles of a limited edition commemorative set of fifty
Randall Made knives. Hutch collaborated with Richard Schuchmann of SCAR Custom
Knives to come up with the design and get the project off the ground. He is
using the reverse scrimshaw technique on the black buffalo horn knife handles
and works from photographs to inscribe an image of the three soldiers in the War
Memorial statue behind some of the names inscribed on the Memorial wall. The
reverse side of the handle is scrimmed with the words "Remember Vietnam" and has
more names from the memorial wall scrimmed above and below in a lighter
inscription. HutcH said "Richard (Schuchmann) is a Vietnam vet, I have cousins
who are Vietnam veterans, and I have the deepest respect for them. I hope that
this is something that pleases them and it is meant as an expression of
appreciation more than anything else."
HutcH also makes and sells custom pipe tamps of ivory and Damascus steel.
HutcH frequently shows and sells his scrimshaw art at knife shows and cigar
shows. His custom Xikar cigar cutters can be ordered through the Xikar web site
at www.xikar.com. You can contact HutcH by
email at email@example.com .