Artist 'connects the dots' in Greencastle

August 08, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

GREENCASTLE, PA. - Joe Bowser says he "connects the dots" to make the artistic scrimshaw pictures he displayed Saturday at Old Home Week activities at the Tayamentasachta Environmental Center.

He explained that after taping a pattern onto a piece of ivory or antler, he pokes fine holes to make the lines of the design, applies ink and is left with dots.

"I just connect the dots and add the shading and contours," he said. He then puts drafting ink or oil paints onto the picture and wipes them off.


A mechanical design engineer who works as a technical education assistant at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School, Bowser has been creating scrimshaw for 25 years.

On Bowser's table in front of the raised-bed herb-and-vegetable garden were two finely detailed pictures of his daughter on elephant ivory.

"You could buy it legally then," he said, adding that he no longer uses ivory.

Bowser uses a drafting compass point in a retractable holder to etch the fine lines on stag horn from India, moose antler, whitetailed-deer antler, cow horn and ivory nuts from South America. The colors are at or below surface level, he said; "they're not painted on."

A depiction of the Last Supper has taken Bowser 300 hours so far, and "it needs another 300," he said.

Besides being an art form, scrimshaw had some practical uses in history.

"Civil War soldiers used to scrimshaw battlefield maps onto their powder horns in case they got lost during the battle," Bowser said. "If taken prisoner, they sometimes sold the maps so they could buy rations."

Bowser also creates the designs for the afghans his wife, Joan, crochets. A large afghan with the same Last Supper design as his scrimshaw took 200 hours to design and color code on graph paper, Joan Bower said. It took her 220 hours to crochet, and contains 2 1/2 miles of yarn and 37,227 stitches, Joan Bowser said.

"I told him not to make it so complicated," she said.

Nearby, Mercersburg, Pa., resident Sandi Johnson, an employee of Wolf's Bakery in Greencastle, had rolls rising in iron pans. Rising was slow because of the cool weather, she said. Johnson baked corn muffins and several types of bread in a beehive oven, which was heated by a wood fire started the night before.

"People like the flavor of the bread, it's so different," she said. "It picks up the hardwood flavor."

Johnson's daughter, Grace, 12, churned cream in a glass churn to make butter, which her sister, Meredith, 15, spread the butter on the fresh bread and served it to visitors. Meredith is the Franklin County Dairy Ambassador.

Amber Dean, 9, and Evan Dean, 5, of McConnellsburg, Pa., sampled the baked goods. When asked how he liked the treat, Evan was too busy eating it to answer.

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