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Plastic Lawn Chair Scrimshaw

A plastic lawn chair isn’t something I thought I would ever feature on this garden blog, but here we are. Ordinarily, these lawn chairs are nothing special. They’re so cheap-both in quality and price- yet they’re found everywhere. Even in the winter they serve a purpose in places like Chicago where we use them to hold parking spots we shoveled out of snow. Captain’s Chair by Michael Dinges is your typical plastic lawn chair that employs scrimshaw and trench art techniques to make a statement.

Scrimshaw is an art form popularized why whalers that carved designs and stories into byproducts of whaling, like bones and teeth. Similarly, trench art is the name given to the same technique used by soldiers and prisoners of war who decorated shell and bullet casings.

Michael used both of the techniques to comment on the changing nature of labor and global trade, and the downsizing of the craftsperson to assembler.

From the Artist's Statement:

"I want the viewer to imagine themselves sitting in this "captain's" chair making decisions involving globalization and capitalism. By using an iconic chair that is ubiquitous, but personalized, I want the viewer to question their own responsibility for the presence of everyday objects that surround us."

If you have a plastic lawn chair in your garage or garden shed and you’re looking for a way to personalize it, why not scrimshaw it and turn it into a piece of garden art?

I came across Captain’s Chair at an exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center. Back in 2009 in the same location I encountered Deceptive Garden, a really cool concept planter that transformed into a table and had storage space for potting soil and garden tools.


  1. I think this looks fabulous, AND I happen to have a chair just like that sitting around. Problem: I don't see how one would "scrimshaw" their art onto the chair. I guess I'm off to see if there is a how-to that will work on plastic ...

    1. I'm testing it out on a bucket that I got out of the basement before I do it on a chair. I carved out the design using a screw that I drew on with a grease pencil. I imagine if you have one of those little hand drills it would be faster, but a sharp point seems to be doing the trick thus far.

      After you've carved out the design rub a dark paint into it and then wipe it off the surfaces you don't want the paint on.

  2. Neat idea, but you all have way more patience than i do! good luck. show us the results, please.

  3. I would use a stencil cutting or wood burning tool, kind of like a soldering iron but with a small tip. It melts the plastic making a smoother line. This makes plastic chairs almost worth it.

  4. I love any art that can come out of the garden context and make a powerful statement about the world-at-large. I think that chair is fantastic. Thanks for sharing it too.

  5. If only I had known they could have been a work of art! I threw six of them out a few years ago, too hard to keep white.


  6. FABULOUS!!!!

    Thank you for surprising us with this delectable chair.

    All joys,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  7. You just saved my life with this chair! My 98 year old dad insists on having one of these in the garden.....this weekend, it will be transformed into garden art! Delight!

  8. The combination of garden and art will make an excellent combination for both residential and commercial areas.

  9. Love this! I'm thinking you could do something similar - but not quite as fabulous - with Sharpies!

    I discovered your blog this a.m. when I Googled morning glory seeds. FAB blog - just subscribed via RSS.

  10. Thanks for this wonderful post. Its a nice piece of art with unique style. I love to buy Plastic furniture over wooden because of its inexpensive, light weight, unbreakable, vibrant colors and low maintenance cost.



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