Garrison man shares passion for whaling history, art, with visitors to Minot Public Library

Andrea Johnson/MDN Items made of whale bone and other artifacts are on display at the Minot Public Library.

Landlocked North Dakota isn’t usually the best place to learn about the history of whaling, but this month a display at the Minot Public Library has provided the perfect history lesson.

Steve Holmes of Garrison, a descendant of a Massachusetts whale boat captain, has allowed the library to display some of his collection of paintings and historical artifacts. Holmes, who is an artist, psychologist and a retired Congregationalist minister, said he is also available to give educational presentations to area schoolchildren if teachers will contact him this month.

On display under glass at the library are some of the priceless whalebone artifacts that were handed down in his family. In the mid-1800s, whale bone was used to make everything from a child’s hairbrush and comb set that belonged to one of Holmes’ ancestors. There are pictures of his ancestors, the whale boat captain John Marble and his wife Elizabeth “Lizzy” Marble. There is a cribbage set made of whale bone, tatting shuttles and corset stays made out of whalebone. There is a cane made of a shark’s vertebrae. Pieces of scrimshaw, which is the practice of drawing on whale teeth or other ivory with different tools and then coloring the drawing in ink, are also on display.

In another glass display case there is a collection of different whaling harpoons that were used to hunt and kill the great beasts in the 19th century.

“This is my mother’s collection and my grandmother’s collection,” said Holmes, who grew up on the coast of Maine.

Andrea Johnson/MDN Items made of whale bone and other artifacts are on display at the Minot Public Library.

Holmes also has antique lamps on display that show the history of lighting, including a courting candle that was used in the early 1700s. When a gentleman came to court a lady, her parents would set out the courting candle. After the courting candle burned down to a certain level, her beau was asked to go home.

When he was a boy, he went out and watched whales, though whaling no longer took place. Whaling in the United States reached its peak in the mid-1800s during the time period that Captain Marble commanded five whaling boats.

Also on display are paintings of whaling boats, whales and birds. A handful were painted by Holmes. He said he painted one whale boat scene using an outline that he found that had been done by his grandmother in the 1940s. He completed her work.

A print of one of Holmes’ most famous art works is also on display at the library. It is called “Coming Home” and is a painting of an eagle. Prints of it are on display in the office of Sen. John Hoeven and in all the North Dakota National Guard Service centers throughout the state. Holmes said that observers cannot tell whether an eagle is a male or female, since the sexes are identical in appearance.

Holmes can be reached on his cell phone at 701-897-1335 or by email at to organize a presentation.

Andrea Johnson/MDN Steve Holmes poses beside some of his paintings on display at the Minot Public Library.

Andrea Johnson/MDN Steve Holmes of Garrison looks at items from a collection of whaling history artifacts that are on display at the Minot Public Library.