Bering Sea Treasures
Great Buys as I'm Overstocked!
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My name is Chuck Frey and I lived in Anchorage, Alaska for about 13 years. I moved there with my job with the U.S. Forest Service in 1991. In 1993 I met an Eskimo family on St Lawrence Island while with some avid bird watching friends. I'm not a real avid bird watcher so my attention turned to wandering around the little village of Gambell, Alaska (shown on the map).
I met a gentleman who invited me to his house for coffee. Over a cup of coffee he showed me some of his beautiful ivory carvings and I bought an ivory walrus. About a month later when I was back in Anchorage I contacted him and asked if he would carve me a whale. Eventually he sent me two whales and asked if I could sell one to my friends and when I do send him the money.
I sold it at my office, and quickly people asked for more. Over the years he put me in touch with other carvers and I have expanded. Pictured below is the small village of Gambell on the Northern most part of St. Lawrence Island. It's taken from a treeless rocky point above the village looking west across the Bering Straits. The mountains of Russia were visible but they didn't show in the photo.
The tidal currents are the strongest and most violent I've seen, on tide changes the entire Bering Sea moves through the Bering Straits, it literally roars! There are no docking facilities, they drag their boats up on the beach, which is a rocky pebble beach, not sand. There is a landing strip on the narrow spit on the left where I flew into. There is a general store and a very nice school, no bars or restaurants. Outside of Hawaii this is the western most point of the U.S. Also shown in the photo below is a pile of old whale and walrus bones.
Some are to weathered to be carved. The photo below is a stunning ivory Polar Bear attached to a Polar Bear claw.
On the Home Page is me setting on my carver friend's doorstep with a large walrus skull he found on a beach. Which is typical of a lot of ivory and whalebone, they find it on beaches after storms.
In response to questions, the economy of Gambell, Alaska and many other rural villages in Alaska is a partial subsistence based economy, that is they rely on the land to produce food, some clothing and different ways to make a living. They are allowed to harvest a very limited number of walrus every year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Only the Native people of Alaska can hunt the walrus, non Native are not allowed to hunt walrus. In order to sell ivory it has to be significantly altered into works of art or clothing. It is not legal to sell a whole tusk or marine mammal parts. It is also not legal to export marine mammal parts from the U.S. to any country including Canada. The walrus is not threatened or endangered but is highly protected. There are U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspection officers on site during the walrus season and they actually tag and bar code each tusk to keep very exact harvest numbers. I too am concerned about the walrus and I spend a lot of time visiting with folks from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. They estimate there are about 250,000 Pacific walrus in the herds north of the Bering Straits and the herds appear to be healthy. Like I mentioned in my write-up, a lot of walrus ivory is found washed up on beaches or dug up. The walrus skull I'm holding on my Home Page was found by my good friend Bill. Some enterprizing young people of Gambell are diving with wet suits to recover ivory tusks off shore, where there are millions. The same is true with whalebone, they find it on beaches. A lot of the whalebone leaves the area and is shipped overseas to be carved, which is unfortunate in my opinion. It has gotten so bad that now ivory and whalebone are in very short supply.
I'm always surprised a how expensive things are in Gambell, when I was there in October of 2005 gas was over $4.00 a gallon (on 8/06 it's $4.87 a gallon, now 6/10 it's over $9.00 a gallon) and heating oil was very expensive, over $8.00 a gallon; a gallon of Coleman camping fuel was $18.00. They do gather driftwood to help heat their homes but they still need heating oil. For the village of Gambell carving is about there only cash income. They generate electricity from diesel generators which is very expensive.
Below is a photo of the top of the mountain above the village which is also the grave site for the village. They bury above ground because of the permafrost and there is so little soil or areas to dig, it's all rock and ice.
Below is a typical scene in the village, it's a very harsh area, there are no cars or trucks, everyone drives small 4-wheelers or snow machines in the winter. This is a drying rack for seal and walrus meat, a major source of food. These racks are full in the spring. I stayed in the pink house about in the center of the photo, and sad to say it burned down several years ago, no one was injured though. Bill lost everything including money in his mattress as there is no bank on the Island. It's usually cold with a strong wind and rain. It's quite the adventure every time I go there.
For several years I sold items to friends and family and then tried an open air summer market in Anchorage. I did open air markets for about seven years and then I started some fall and Christmas art and craft shows and offered a wide range of walrus ivory and whalebone carvings at a substantially reduced cost over the local stores. As I buy directly form Native Alaskan carvers I can offer them at excellent prices. I sell to a lot of people who are traveling in Alaska. I prepare an Artist statement for each piece and have had a lot of requests for catalogs, a web site and other ways to shop for additional items. So I decided to first start on Ebay then develop a web site.
Check out my Ebay Feedback, enter: Beringseatreasures, 631 positive Feedbacks, no negatives.
I am offering very beautiful Siberian Yup'ik ivory and whalebone carvings at much lower cost than the retail outlets. In October of 2004 I quit my job with the U.S. Forest Service and for personal and family reasons moved to Central Montana. I traveled in Asia for several years. Ebay discontinued sale of all marine mammal products so I opened this store in June, 2010. I purchased all the carvings direct from the carvers between 1998 and 2007. Some of the carvings are a few years old but they have been wrapped in acid free paper and in storage so they are in fact new.
Below is a stunning whalebone carving of a Polar Bear with cubs. It's time to take a look at some great carvings.