With the influx of European artists to America during the 1930s and 1940s, the influence of new artistic movements, including Surrealism, began to appear in the work of many American artists. Exposure to Surrealism was far reaching, due in part to major exhibitions dedicated to the aesthetic. In 1931, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, in conjunction with Julian Levy, a prominent New York gallery owner, organized the first major Surrealist exhibition in the United States, Newer Super-Realism, which included the work of masters Salvador Dali, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, and Joan Miró, among others.
The groundbreaking exhibition created quite a stir and lured museum-goers and artists alike. As his own work was on view elsewhere in the Museum, James Guy's exposure to the exhibition likely proved to be his indoctrination to the style, as his subsequent works incorporate surrealist characteristics.
At this time, Guy was entrenched in current politics and became affiliated with the John Reed Clubs, a federation of local organizations that sought to expand liberal ideals and shed light on social inequalities. As a way of drawing attention to the injustices brought about by the Great Depression, Guy chose to address these disparities in his paintings. He presented them in a manner that appeared as though they were conceived in dreams or delusions by combining fantastic images and disjointed objects. In Scrimshaw, Guy portrays the dichotomy of the social classes by depicting workers-- a clam digger and a farmer--juxtaposed with a reclining androgynous figure. The figure rests with ease, surrounded by luxury goods such as framed paintings and scrimshaw, while the men labor away to support themselves during a challenging economic time.