BALEEN IN MUSEUM COLLECTIONS: ITS SOURCES, USES, AND IDENTIFICATION
JULIE A. LAUFFENBURGER
Our knowledge of baleen and its use in artifacts is fairly limited, yet its occurrence in museum artifacts is widespread. The scope of this project has included uses of baleen by Northwest Coast Inuit, early European and American, and Japanese whaling cultures, but there are undoubtedly many others who put the material to use. Because of its versatility and strength, baleen was fabricated into a multitude of functional and decorative artifacts, including hilt wrappings on Japanese swords. Although the exact identification of baleen is difficult, some characteristics, such as its enormous length, help to differentiate it from horn and other keratin products. The initial investigation of the use of baleen by the Japanese has yielded an interesting body of information and established a foundation for further study and research.
The author would like to thank the staff at the Kendall Whaling Museum for their assistance and cooperation; Emile Schnorr of the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum for letting me examine the museum's Japanese sword collection; Charlie Potter of the National Museum of Natural History for his assistance in obtaining samples for research; Mary Peever of the Cayman Islands National Museum for sharing her knowledge on the subject; Linda Nieuwenhuizen and Judy Levinson of the American Museum of Natural History for providing treatment information; David Stoney and Barbara Stephan for examining the unknown sample using polarized light microscopy; Mary Baker of the Smithsonian Institution Conservation Analytical Laboratory for carrying out the FTIR analysis; the objects conservation staff at the Walters Art Gallery for allowing me the time to complete this project and providing continued support and consultation; and especially the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its support during this research project. Thanks also go to Jonathon Fuqua and Ann Boulton for their critical review of the manuscript.