Frank ’70 Receives New England Book Prize

Stuart Frank '70

Stuart Frank ’70 (Photo by Mary Malloy)

Stuart Frank ’70, has been awarded the Historic New England Book Prize for 2013, for Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved: Scrimshaw in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, published in Boston by David R. Godine. The award was formally presented on Nov. 3 at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The book is also the recipient of the Boston Bookmakers Prize for the year’s best work in the pictorial category.

Book by Stuart Frank '70

Book by Stuart Frank ’70

Frank’s book brings his expert’s eye to the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s intriguing collection. By the middle of the 19th century, the New England port of New Bedford was among the five richest cities in America, and it derived its wealth from whale oil, the “fossil fuel” of the early Industrial Revolution. The New Bedford whaling fleet was the most numerous, adventurous, and far-ranging in the world, taking long voyages as far as the Antarctic and Siberia.

In their spare time, some whalemen carved materials harvested from the whales themselves: the teeth and bones of sperm whales, baleen from right and bowhead whales, and walrus tusks acquired by barter from Native people in the Arctic. These resulting practical and decorative objects made from ivory and bone were often intricately carved and carefully crafted and served as mementos and treasured souvenirs to take back home. The objects included not only decorated sperm whale teeth that the word “scrimshaw” ordinarily brings to mind, but also crimpers and canes, umbrellas, and swifts.

Stuart Frank '70 and photographer Richard Donnelly examine a whale bone banjo which was displayed earlier this year at the New Bedford Whaling Musuem.

Stuart Frank ’70 (right) and photographer Richard Donnelly examine a whale bone banjo which was displayed earlier this year at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
(Photo by Arthur Motta)

The collection at the New Bedford Whaling Museum is the largest, most varied, and most representative in the world. Frank, who is senior curator at the museum, covers every possible permutation of these whalemen’s fancies. The comprehensive survey has 700 detailed and dramatic photographs by Richard Donnelly with compelling stories behind the objects themselves.

Frank, who earned master’s degrees at Yale and Brown and a Ph.D. in American civilization at Brown, is director emeritus of the Kendall Whaling Museum, and founder/director of the Scrimshaw Forensics Laboratory®. His previous books include Herman Melville’s Picture Gallery (awarded the John Lyman Book Award of the North American Society for Oceanic History), Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists (also received the John Lyman Book Award), More Scrimshaw Artists, The Book of Pirate Songs, Jolly Sailors Bold: Ballads and Songs of the American Sailor (expanded from his doctoral dissertation), The New Book of Pirate Songs, and Scrimshaw and Provenance (published this year by Mystic Seaport).

With his wife, Mary Malloy, he has performed concert tours on four continents, presenting traditional sailors’ songs and ballads excavated from shipboard manuscripts in the New Bedford Whaling Museum collection.

David Low

David Low '76 writes about arts and culture for the Wesleyan magazine and Wesleyan Connection. He is associate director of publications in the Office of University Communications. He is also a published fiction writer. E-mail: