Patience pays off: Jamestown man creates art on antlers and horns

Drex Young always enjoyed art, but didn't think he would ever create intricate works of art using the ancient imaging technique known as scrimshaw. Young and his wife, Sandy, live just north of Jamestown. He said he first got into creating art us...

Drex Young holds his first cribbage board he made on an elk antler, from 1987, using the scrimshaw technique.

Drex Young always enjoyed art, but didn’t think he would ever create intricate works of art using the ancient imaging technique known as scrimshaw.

Young and his wife, Sandy, live just north of Jamestown. He said he first got into creating art using elk antlers and cow horns in the late 1960s. Young said his first creation was not a piece of art, at least not in the traditional sense, it was a muzzleloading rifle. The .50-caliber flintlock rifle was the rifle he has used for deer hunting.

“I’ve never hunted elk,” he said. “My biggest big game is deer.”

Young was born and raised in Joplin, Mo. He moved to Tulsa, Okla., for college and lived there for 10 years. He got a job opportunity to work at Western Gear in Jamestown and he has been here ever since. He is now retired.

Young said he was fortunate that when he was in high school he became friends with a group of guys who were hunters and craftsmen. He said he got into muzzleloading and black powder guns about that time and noticed that most black powder rifle shooters had their own personal powder horns.


“I got to reading about and looking at pictures of engraved powder horns,” he said.

Young said said at the time an engraved powder horn was expensive.

“This was like the late ’60s,” he said. “These engraved horns were $50, and back then $50 was a lot of money, especially if you were a high school kid.”

Young said he did some research and learned how to do engraving work and created his own powder horn. Other people saw his work and asked Young to make them a powder horn. He started making powder horns and selling them.

“And it snowballed from there,” he said.

Young said the way he creates the scrimshaw art on powder horns or elk antlers is he freehand draws the image he wants to create on the antler or horn, then uses either an Exacto knife to carve the lines for the image or a heavy duty needle to create holes in a specific area. He then uses India ink to fill in the lines and holes that will create the image.

“Then you use steel wool, I use a Scotch Brite pad, to rub the ink into the cut lines or holes,” he said, “then remove the excess ink so you can see the outline.”

Young said you add more detail and repeat the process until you have the image you want. He said there weren’t any classes on how to do scrimshaw when he started, so he figured out a process that worked for him and has refined it ever since.


Young said creating images on elk antlers and cow horns is not for everyone.

“It’s detailed and tedious work,” he said. “You have to be really patient, there are no shortcuts.”

Young has also created cribbage boards using elk antlers. He said he was inspired to create an elk antler cribbage board after he saw cribbage boards created by Native Americans in Alaska using walrus tusks at the Philbrook Art Museum in Tulsa, Okla., many years ago. He made his first elk antler cribbage board in 1987.

Young doesn’t have a website people can go to see examples of his work. He is a member of the Artisans, a group of artists in the Jamestown area. Young does create smaller works of art that are sold at the Ila & J.A. Kirkpatrick Gallery at Frontier Village, operated by the Artisans during the summer.

Young said he was commissioned by the North Dakota Council on the Arts in 2005 to create several new scrimshaw pieces and cribbage boards using elk antlers.

“I completed the work about a year and a half ago,” he said. “I’m still burned out from the work.”

Young said one of the pieces he created was a map of the Red River that covered one entire Elk antler.

Young said the pieces he made for the NDAC will be part of an exhibit that will tour the nation sometime in the future.


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This powder horn was the first piece of scrimshaw work that Drex Young created in the late 1960s.

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