The president’s collection

The films are narrated by Mr. Reginald B. Hegarty, great uncle of Mr. Tardif

The president’s scrimshander

By PEGGI MEDEIROS | Published: NOVEMBER 1, 2013 | Leave a comment

Milton K. Delano

Milton K. Delano

It arrived in New Bedford at some point in 1818. It was discovered in an old New Bedford house by a master artist. According to the New York Times on October 20, 1973, it was a bull whale. It took two hundred forty hours of etching, coloring and polishing to create a masterpiece. It measured a massive nine-and-a-half inches and on it was the Presidential Seal. It was Jacqueline Kennedy’s Christmas gift to JFK in 1962. It will never be seen again. Milton K. Delano of Fairhaven was that artist.

The Presidential piece was actually JFK’s second piece by Mr. Delano. In 1962 Delano gave JFK a tooth etched with the President’s portrait. Knowing how to recognize major work, Mrs. Kennedy commissioned a second tooth. It was delivered by Mr. Delano to Jacqueline Kennedy at her Hyannis Port summer house and hidden away until Christmas morning.

Claire Barnes, Jr. writes in her book, John F. Kennedy Scrimshaw Collector:

“The President was absolutely enchanted with his present on Christmas morning in 1962. He treasured it not only as a beautiful work of scrimshaw, but for the thoughtful and loving interest that prompted the gift. From that day, the huge tooth held the place of honor on the right-hand corner of his desk. Understandably, it always meant more to him than any other piece in his scrimshaw collection.”

Fifty years ago this month the tooth was buried with President Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 2007, the Fairhaven Historical Society presented a comprehensive exhibition of Milton K. Delano’s work. Virginia Delano, Mr. Delano’s widow donated a collection of 12 pieces of her husband’s work. The exhibition contained scrimshaw, paintings and drawings. My friend, Chuck Hauck, has informed me that Mr. Delano studied at Swain School and later was a member of the college’s board of directors

Every sorcerer must have an apprentice and in the case of Milton K. Delano, it was M.L. Baron. M.L. is known for his legendary work as a weather spotter. He was however an important area historian and a master scrimshaw artist.

Former staff writer Jack Stewardson profiled him in The Standard-Times on Feb.15, 1998. In the interview, M.L. describes the influence of his grandfather, George Fredette in giving him a passion for history.

“It also didn’t hurt that the late Milton K. Delano, a noted scrimshander commissioned by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to produce a presidential seal for President John F. Kennedy, lived only a couple of blocks away.”

“He would see my work and give me tips,” Mr. Baron said. “I always encouraged constructive criticism.”

M.L. has posted on his West Island website video of a 1964 Dateline Boston program on New Bedford Whaling Days. In the video Milton Delano demonstrates his scrimshaw technique and discusses his work for President Kennedy. Watching him explain the labor and artisanry needed for great scrimshaw is mesmerizing.

Stephen Sondheim in Sunday in the Park with George famously wrote, “Art isn’t easy.” When it is done by a master like Milton K. Delano it becomes part of history.

Part 2


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