Roberson has come across a curious fish within its collection. Curious because the material from which it’s sculpted is unknown. We do know it was carved of bone by a Union prisoner of the infamous Libby Prison camp in Virginia during the Civil War. Its carver was known only by the name “Mr. Clarke.”
The inscription on the back of this collection piece suggests that the fish is made of human bone, but that is likely a tall tale. The reality is we’re not sure what material from which it’s made. What we do know is that there are many cases of Civil War soldiers carving rings, small ornaments, and jewelry out of the remains of pig and bovine bones. Something thick and not too brittle.
Prisoners of war had a lot of time on their hands waiting for release or death, and keeping one’s hands busy was one way to not mind the hunger or the cold so much. Some prisons were not well maintained. Libby Prison was especially in the miserable. A converted warehouse with little insulation.
It had a Northern twin of equally–or perhaps more–ill repute. It went by “Hellmira” among it’s unwilling occupants and “Camp Rathbun” by it’s guardians. You can find a marker where this prisoner of war camp once stood in Elmira, NY.