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Woolly Mammoth Scrimshaw

By Maggie Kimberl |

Louisville scrimshaw artist Rick Hutchings makes beautiful works of art from 10,000-year-old woolly mammoth ivory.

Louisville resident Rick "Hutch" Hutchings has been a pen-and-ink artist all his life, but didn't take up the art of scrimshaw until 1994, at the behest of a local knife maker Gil Hibben.


"I was 40 years old before I found my true art form," Hutchings says.

Scrimshaw is the art of painstakingly scratching away the surface of natural or artificial material to create an image. The art form was popularized by whalers in the 1700s when they would carve designs into bones and teeth in their downtime out at sea, and it survives today in the hands of artisans like Hutchings.


Although instead of whale bones, Hutchings' material of choice is quite a bit older — 10,000-year-old woolly mammoth tusks.




Hutchings partnered with Hibben to make scrimshawed knife grips, and their work was featured multiple times in Blade magazine. Eventually the duo began making props for movies. They made the bowie knife used by Dolph Lundgren in The Expendables, and the two separately made many other props for the series of movies, including scrimshawed pistol grips.


Hutchings made a special scrimshawed Xikar cigar cutter for Sylvester Stallone as a wrap present for the first movie, which was featured in the second movie. He made and immediately sold out of a limited run of them.


Today Hutchings makes 400 special scrimshawed cutters for Xikar every year, which are sold in their stores around the world. They are also available locally at Oxmoor Smoke Shoppe and Riverside Cigars in Louisville.




The most popular one he ever made is still the Stallone Skull, but he also makes designs with Winston Churchill, Abe Lincoln, and Ernest Hemingway, among others. His woolly mammoth ivory cutters are considered by many to be the most coveted cutter available.


Hutchings sources the fossilized woolly mammoth ivory from Alaska and Siberia, where muckers harvest it as it rises through soil turned up by layers of ice building beneath the surface. Each bit of ivory has its own unique characteristics, and Hutchings can usually tell what trace elements it came in contact with by its color; blue-black, for example, means it was close to gold underground.


After Hutchings chooses his material and scratches away the image, he then fills in the design with ink or acrylic paint to add detail and bring his creation to life.


In addition to scrimshawed ivory from both woolly mammoths and water buffalo, Hutchings also works with Micarta, a synthetic material originally designed for electrical use. These pieces come in a wide variety of shapes and colors.




Hutchings, who is also employed full-time at Ford, spends about 20 hours a week working in his shop in the Highlands neighborhood of Louisville making cutters, matching fountain pens and other projects.


He's also active in a local cigar club called the "Single Barrel Cigar Society," where members get together about once a month to drink bourbon and smoke cigars.


To learn more or inquire about a custom project, visit


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