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House: Tuesday – Sunday 12  – 5pm

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In collaboration with the University of Cambridge Museums, Artist: Unknown brings together works of art from across the University’s collections. A podcast series has been produced to run alongside the exhibition, and we will be taking a closer look at some of the objects discussed. 

In the fifth Artist: Unknown podcast, Charlotte Connelly, curator of The Polar Museum, gives a short introduction to the recognition sketches of the coast of Spitsbergen and the scrimshaw included in the exhibition here at Kettle’s Yard. The recognition sketches come from a series of 14 sketches of the coast of Spitsbergen, made by whalers during a whaling voyage in 1814. What makes these sketches so unique is that they are done using a sailor’s-eye view of the coastline, as opposed to the traditional bird’s-eye view.

Recognition sketches, The Scott Polar Museum. Artist: Unknown, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, 2019.

Whalers were expert navigators in the Arctic waters. One whaler who became well known was William Scorseby. After his whaling days, he refashioned himself as a natural philosopher. Whilst he could never quite shake the prejudice attached to his whaling past, he did influence the Royal Navy’s decision to carry out extensive exploration of the Arctic in 1818.

There were thousands of other whalers whose knowledge and expertise were never recognised, despite their contributions to mapping coastline. This was because whaling was traditionally thought of as an industrial activity, very physical and quite messy!

Also included in the exhibition is a piece of scrimshaw. Scrimshaw was whale bone or teeth engraved with an artwork. It was often done in the whaler’s free time and similarly tended to be unsigned.

However, as Charlotte notes:

“Some of these are absolutely exquisite artworks.”

So does it therefore matter that we don’t know who made them? Find out more by listening to the podcast here, and visiting the exhibition.

Listen to the podcasts here.