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Time Honored and Tradition
The Scrimshaw Artistry of Darrel Morris

By Olivia Cameron

Darrel Morris translates his widespread artistic inspiration and appreciation for local history into the traditional artform of scrimshaw. Darrel has worked in scrimshaw since 1987, after he saw his first piece in a cutlery shop and recognized the stippling technique he loved. “I thought, well that’s really cool, I can do that, so I bought some scrap ivory and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Two years ago, Darrel moved from California to the Island at the suggestion of his longtime collaborator Reuben Cronig, owner of Vineyard Time shop and gallery in Vineyard Haven. Taking over from the late Tom DeMont, Darrel engraves their scrimshaw watches, as well as custom work. “It’s nice to be in a place that understands scrimshaw,” says Darrel, noting that buyers tend to be people with “a feel for history.” His own outlook is slightly different. “My inspiration comes more from the great Renaissance artists, the Pre Raphaelites, and the Romantic movement of the 19th century rather than the whaling industry.”

Darrel sneaks time in between commissions for more personal projects, including stippled ink drawings. “I like to create from the beginning, I don’t mind collaborating with a client on the creation, but I’m not a service that just takes your vision and puts it on a piece of material. I’m an artist that creates my own thing.”

He tries to highlight local history, including honoring whaling captains of color. “When I’m doing portraits, I really want to try to capture who that person was,” Darrel says. This year his focus is Captain William Martin, and Martin’s grandmother Nancy Michael. After being freed from slavery, Nancy sold good-luck charms to sailors, and cursed those who refused to buy. She was also known for kindness to children. “You’ve got to try to do an image that takes that into account and shows those sides of her. That kind of stuff is where I’m really enjoying my work.”

Darrel works at his bench in the Vineyard Time storefront in Vineyard Haven, where his finished drawings and works-in-progress are on display. “I’m here all the time, year-round, and I love it when people come in to visit.”