"Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner"; a Scrimshaw Art Demonstration at the Senior Center

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 09-26-2007 01:28 PM 1940 reads 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

About a month ago I received a phone call asking if I would demonstrate the Art of Scrimshaw at the Senior Center in Marion, KS. The lady that called said that she has held onto a brochure of mine since 2003 that someone had given her then, and so she decided to see if I would come and talk to the group.

I asked a bunch of questions, and for some reason had it sunk in my mind that we were talking about the nursing home crowd for the demonstration. I haven’t been to a nursing home much since my grandmother died in the late 1980’s, and I just couldn’t see how a group of people like I remembered in a nursing home would be interested in seeing Scrimshaw Artwork.

When I was getting directions to the location, it finally dawned on me that the demonstration was for the Senior Center, not the Nursing Home. The Senior Center acts like a community clearing house for the retired members of the town, where they can get a hot meal, some information about all of the changes coming with Social Security, and prescriptions, activities and special events, and such things. During these meetings, there is a typical business meeting where all things are discussed just as in any “club.” But, after the business meeting, a featured guest is given the floor to entertain, or discuss the topic of interest.

I talked to one guy I know that is a regular attender to the Marion Senior Center events, and he asked what day my demonstration was scheduled. I told him, “Wednesday the 19th.” He immediately assured me that there would be a good sized crowd that day, since it was “Chicken” day for the meal.

I arrived at the Senior Center on September 19th, and set up a table with several examples of my Scrimshaw Art, some books on the subject, some raw material, some tools and ink I use, and threw in a walking cane and a chair that I built.

After the invocation, we all filed through the serving line to get our meal, two big pieces of Fried Chicken (white meat), a dinner roll, diced beets (I passed on those), canned fruit cocktail, and some desert, which I forget what it was now, but it was good. The meal looked great, and I settled in to an open spot that was pointed out to me among the crowd that was already seated and introduced myself and started to eat.

After the meal, the “club” business was discussed, mainly whether the Senior Center ought to sponsor a tour bus to head to a Casino up in the Northern section of the state, and a treasurer report, and some humorous quotes were read out loud. Then, there was a long impassioned appeal for votes to “go” to the Casino, and then the ballots were passed out. Gathered up, the votes were 17 for the trip, and 15 against the trip, and so the trip is to be scheduled.

I made a note to myself that if two retired folks that I know in Marion had come that day, the vote would have been a 17-17 Tie, and then it would have been real funny to see what would happen. But, my friends had a doctor visit to make that day, and missed the meeting, so the Casino Bus is a “go.” After the meal, a few people made their way to the parking lot, and so by the time I was ready to speak, I estimated about 30-40 people remained.

I waited, and waited, and waited, for the business meeting to end so that I could get my chance at the microphone, and even waited to the point that I had to go to the bathroom. So, I snuck down the hall and was in the middle of business there, when some guy opened the door and said, “Hey guy, are you the guest speaker? They are all waiting on you.”

I quickly finished up business in the bathroom, washed, and headed back down the hall, turned into the main room, and was greeted with a bunch of embarrased smiles. Apparently, the guy that came to get me announced that he had found me sitting (watch that spelling) in the bathroom.

So, with that great introduction, I took the microphone and introduced myself, and talked for awhile about who I was, what I do for a living, how long I have lived in the area, what I did before doing artwork for a living, and other questions that I was asked during the dinner time table chat.

Then, I gave a presentation on the basic history of Scrimshaw as an Artform, and showed some examples of my work, some raw material, the tools and ink I use, etc. I mentioned that I am soon to be “published” as a fellow Scrimshander, Jim Stevens ( has used some of my photos of my work in his new book in publishing right now on how to do Scrimshaw work. There were several in the group that figured that the completed pieces were just items I had purchased for my collection, and so it was fun to make sure that everyone knew that I did the work myself, as I was unable to afford to buy Scrimshaw Art. That brought a laugh.

After that laugh, I got really brave and suggested that a better investment than a Casino Trip would be to buy Scrimshaw Art. That brought a smaller laugh, about 15 folks I would guess.
Scrimshaw Stuff:

I’m not really a very entertaining speaker. If I have any humor to provide, it is usually the dry, sarcastic type, which isn’t really very funny, so I try to keep that to a minimum. I did notice during the presentation, that only one person had fallen asleep, so I took that as a good sign. I’m sort of the type of boring speaker that only the folks that really want to learn something enjoy, the rest probably are just bored, but polite enough to sit and listen…..except for that “one” lady who was very tired. I remember thinking to myself, ”It is not you Mark, it must be her medication.”

I finally got to the Question & Answer section of my talk, and one lady asked if I was the guy that made the furniture items for the St. Anthony Catholic church over in Strong City (about 30 miles away). I responded that I was the “guy.” Then, she gave a very encouraging report of those items and my abilities in furniture building, and then she encouraged everyone to go see them.

I just “happened” to have one of my “church furniture” brochures on the table, so I quickly snapped it up and passed it around the room to show the photos of the work she was describing.
Here is the starting link to that set of my posted projects:

So, since she opened the door, I talked for quite awhile then about my furniture making, and answered questions on that topic as well. The usual type questions, and then one guy even asked how much my Kansa Indian Chair ( was that I brought to the demonstration. I quoted the price, and they all gave a big “whew, and Oh my!”, so we moved on quickly.

I had brochures all laid out on the table showing all of my work from caskets to walking canes, and other things I have built over the years.
cane I took:

I wrapped up the presentation, and noticed that somehow about 30-40 minutes had passed, maybe longer. Since I had been in the bathroom before the talk, I had been too embarrassed to check my watch before I started, so I didn’t know exactly what time I got the microphone to speak. One thing for sure, time seems to fly when I’m standing infront of a microphone, but it always takes me a few minutes to get over the nerves and get warmed up.

For my trouble, I was given the Chicken Dinner, and a crisp $10 bill, which covered the cost of gasoline for one way to the meeting in my old Antique Pickup Truck (1972 GMC Sierra), as the fuel saving Ranger is dead now due to transmission failure, ugh.

The Ten Bucks was a complete surprise, and was appreciated. Hey, that is at least $10 in Canadian now also! The main goal of doing a demonstration like this is to educate the community on a small, nearly forgotten, segment of the historical Folk-Art World, to be an active part of the community, and also to meet some folks that don’t know about my work. The Chicken Dinner and Money were just “Winner-Winner” on top of a successful demonstration time. I’ve done several “historical” educational sessions over the years about Scrimshaw and Powder Horns, all before “blogging” was introduced to me. The most enjoyable have been teaching children and homeschoolers. Nobody buys anything, but I do it because I enjoy it also.

As I was packing up my things, the lady that had coordinated the meeting told me about how good the “Elvis Impersonator” from Wichita was when he entertained them at another program awhile back. I also heard about another “bad Elvis Impersonator” they had before that wasn’t as good as the guy from Wichita. The “bad Elvis” didn’t even wear a costume, for crying out loud!

She mentioned that the “young” Impersonator from Wichita was so good, that she was going to try and get him back out again. Then she told me about how some of the older guys like to dress like women and do sillly Melodramas, and how enjoyable that entertainment is for everyone. I smiled, thanked them for the invite, and headed to the old truck for the ride home. Too bad I don’t sing well, or own a dress, I sort of look like an “Elvis” in his later days, if only I had a wig and a sparkly white jumpsuit!
(Trying to be funny, no disrespect to Elvis, his family, his fans, or his Impersonators regardless of how good they are.)

Thanks for reading along, and who knows, I may be at a Senior Center in your area one day.

Here is a photo of my demonstration table.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

14 comments so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3992 days

#1 posted 09-26-2007 01:43 PM

Yep, Mark, that’s the way she goes. We have to go because we never know when the right person will be watching. At least they were polite and listened. Sounds like you did a good demo. Maybe next time bring your guitar. LOL

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4435 days

#2 posted 09-26-2007 01:58 PM

I have a guitar Thomas, but I gave up on learning to play it about 10 years ago. I haven’t sung since I “froze” up at a State Music competition in 8th grade during a solo. Now, only God hears me sing.

thanks for reading,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View TomFran's profile


2957 posts in 4023 days

#3 posted 09-26-2007 02:16 PM


Very interesting story. I love the chronology of events as you related them, and then the climactic ending – the presentation of the $10! What a way to encourage an artist in his work. It’s OK though – there is wisdom to be obtained in such disappointments. It is a statement of what the average person thinks is of value (the Elvis impersonators).

Hang in there. You never know what will come out of it.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View PanamaJack's profile


4483 posts in 4107 days

#4 posted 09-26-2007 02:41 PM

$10 and a Chicken Dinner? A little more than minimum wage out there in Kansas, maybe. (That’s more than I have made this week!) Was the crisp $10 a winning bet at the boat?

Next time maybe you could have a “pitch-in” woodworking project. Get them involved. Maybe something they could sell at a raffle. Have it mostly routed and cut out of scraps. They just have to put it together(?).

Great job Mark and thanks for sharing this. It was a good thing you did.

-- Carpe Lignum; Tornare Lignum (Seize the wood, to Turn the wood)

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4203 days

#5 posted 09-26-2007 02:42 PM

Hmmm… I guess I get a different take on the story?

Seemed to me that it was a pretty good night. You got some needed-for-personal-growth time in front of a crowd and, in the process, opened 30 or 40 pairs of eyes to something new. As a bonus, someone recognized your work over at St. Anthony’s, which had to be a little bit of a boost to you.

The way I’ve learned it, our priorities should be God, Community, and then Self. Having your priorities straight isn’t a bad thing.

And a chicken dinner to boot?

I say good for you, Mark.

-- Ethan,

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4435 days

#6 posted 09-26-2007 03:19 PM

Thanks for the comments guys. I went back and modified my verbiage a little to make sure that I didn’t come across as unappreciative. I was appreciative and enjoyed the time. Thanks for the feedback.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4009 days

#7 posted 09-26-2007 03:29 PM

As was mentioned earlier, the trip should be considered a complete success. I’m sure you didn’t arrive there with the intent of selling all your remaining stock.

You did plant seeds in “experienced soil” so who knows what will come of it. Some of the strangest things happen when you least expect it.

Plus you got feed, listened to, and paid. Who could ask for more? I thought that was the key to a man’s heart.

Don’t forget to claim then ten spot on your taxes!!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4203 days

#8 posted 09-26-2007 03:37 PM

By the way, Mark, as usual, you tell a great story. Very easy for me to visualize it all as I read along.

Another good on you.

-- Ethan,

View TomFran's profile


2957 posts in 4023 days

#9 posted 09-26-2007 03:38 PM

”Don’t forget to claim that ten spot on your taxes!!” - Lee


That is hilarious!!!! Only a self-employed person could fully appreciate that humor.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4190 days

#10 posted 09-27-2007 12:44 AM

I too thought this was a great success!

First of all—the lady had kept your brochure for 4 years. And you were wondering whether they were a good investment!! Yup.. you just never know where your brochures are sitting, waiting for the right moment! Success.

$10 is a bonus – sure beats getting a coffee cup. (especially if you don’t drink coffee… hmm how many of those have I received over the years?? I don’t care to add them up).

you got questions: questions come from an interest. That beats listening to crickets. Well done.

And these people each tell two people, who tell two people, who tell two people and all of a sudden someone who wants to buy some of your art is tracking you down!!

Great event and SUPER Story. Made me chuckle a dozen times.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4206 days

#11 posted 09-27-2007 04:10 AM

Thanks, Mark.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Karson's profile


35126 posts in 4430 days

#12 posted 09-27-2007 04:23 AM

Mark remember to write off your expenses for the trip as you include your $10.00 salary. The tax man probably doesn’t need to know about the equilivant cost of the meal.

So you at least had two people that knew about you. The lady with the brochear and the lady from the church.


-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1809 posts in 4115 days

#13 posted 09-27-2007 04:42 AM

A great night for sure. Funny too! Not only did you give some oldsters an interesting night but you have a funny story to share forever.

-- Bob

View DocK16's profile


1184 posts in 4116 days

#14 posted 09-28-2007 05:04 AM

Grab the guitar, take the ten spot, get yourself a used white jump suit, and grow some sideburns for your next presentation. I’d pay $10 to see that.
As always an interesting DeCou blog.

-- Common sense is so rare anymore when you do see it, it looks like pure genius.

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