Wider World & Scrimshaw - New Bedford Whaling Museum

The Wider World & Scrimshaw

Iñupiaq makers once known (Inuit nunaat), possibly Port Clarence Mission School, Iñupiaq men holding cultural belongings, ca. 1890. Pencil and ink on paper, 3 1/2 x 7 7/8 in., New Bedford Whaling Museum, 1914.35.4.

The Wider World & Scrimshaw

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Wattles Gallery

June 14 – November 11, 2024

The Wider World & Scrimshaw


The Wider World & Scrimshaw takes the Museum’s scrimshaw collection (objects carved by whalers on the byproducts of marine mammals) and places it in conversation with carved decorative arts and material culture made by Indigenous community members from across the Pacific and Arctic. Native communities across Oceania, the Pacific, and Arctic have cosmologies related to whales, distinctive maritime traditions involving marine mammals, and vibrant carving styles. They were also impacted by commercial whaling ventures in the 1800s and the external pressures of colonialism and Western empire-building.

This interdisciplinary, community-driven, and collections-focused project engages questions about identity, place, and material, and considers how exploration and whaling impacted the production of material culture in this diverse region between 1700 and today. The exhibition showcases over three hundred objects, paying particular attention to ones that indicate cultural and material exchanges. How did whaling (internal or external) impact these different communities and their unique art forms – from New Bedford to Aotearoa to Utqiaġvik? In what ways do these legacies continue within contemporary art, communities, and cultures?

The exhibition considers different cultural products from Oceanic material culture and Arctic carvings to engraved sperm whale teeth, and explores issues related to trade, markets, taste, and patterns of popular consumption; assumptions about materials (coconut shells, whale teeth, walrus ivory, human hair), their circulation, and animal agency; differences between cultural and commercial value systems; disciplinary hierarchies related to craft traditions, folk-art, anthropology, and “fine” art; and gender roles, for making and consumption.

The exhibition considers different cultural products from Oceanic material culture and Arctic carvings to engraved sperm whale teeth. Organized in consultation with a diverse advisory board of artists, scholars, and culture bearers and in partnership with NBWM curators, this sweeping exhibition explores the rich cultural traditions, carving forms, and material exchanges that emerged in cultural contact zones across the Pacific world and continue to shape artistic practice and communities today.


Tuesday, June 11, 2024, 5:30-6:30pm
Local History Guild FREE Virtual Program

Ymelda Rivera Laxton and Cora-Allan Lafaiki Twiss, “Hiapo and links between New Bedford and Niue”

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Friday, June 14, 2024, 5:30-7pm
Exhibition Opening Reception

Members and Invitees only
RSVP required


Saturday, June 15 – June 24
Members’ Trip to Alaska

Learn more here


Thursday, July 11, 2024, 5:00-7:00pm
AHA! Night Family program

Learn more here


Thursday, August 1, 2024, 6:00pm
One with the Whale, A Documentary Film

Learn more here


Friday, September 6, 2024, 6:00pm

Learn more here


Friday, October 4, 2024, 5:00-7:00pm
“Wider World” First Friday Public Program
Conversation with artist Courtney M. Leonard

Learn more here


Wednesday, November 6, 2024, 6:00pm

Learn more here


Saturday & Sunday, November 9-10, 2024
Closing Weekend: Last Chance!


Use this guide to facilitate conversations in your classroom before a museum tour, on self-guided visits, or in lieu of a physical visit.

Flip through the slideshow below to look closely at the images included in the activities. (Right click on the images to download.)


Hear from artists, curators, and exhibition organizers as they guide you through the exhibition and discuss the context and themes surrounding the objects on view.

coming soon

Selected Images

Advisory Board Members

  • Ratu Jone Balenaivalu, Fiji Museum
  • Dawn Biddison, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center
  • Alison Bremner, Tlingit artist
  • Bobby Brower, Iñupiaq fashion artist and furrier
  • Maggie Cao, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
  • Erin Ggaadimits Ivalu Gingrich, Iñupiaq artist
  • Michael Harrison, Nantucket Historical Association
  • Ishmael Hope, Tlingit and Iñupiaq author, scholar, and poet
  • Elizabeth Hutchinson, Barnard College
  • Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi (Alutiiq), The Ciri Foundation
  • Jamie L. Jones, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Ryan Tucker Jones, University of Oregon
  • Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Alaskan multi-disciplinary artist
  • Courtney M. Leonard (Shinnecock), St. Olaf College
  • Billie Lythberg, University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • Edward D. Melillo, Amherst college
  • Maia Nuku (Māori (Ngai Tai) and English), Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Kailani Polzak, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Bart Pushaw, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
  • Joshua L. Reid (Snohomish), University of Washington
  • Nancy Shoemaker, University of Connecticut
  • Cora-Allan Lafaiki Twiss, Māori (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) and Niuean artist
  • Jennifer Wagelie, California State University Sacramento
  • Angela Wanhalla (Māori (Kāi Tahu)), University of Otago, New Zealand

The Wider World & Scrimshaw is organized by the New Bedford Whaling Museum


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Major sponsors:



Generous sponsors: