by Stephanie Oittilliah of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea
Staphanie has crafted hand made Eskimo dolls for many years and is a master Yup'ik doll maker, an old tradition on the island. She learned her craft from her Grandmother Beulah Oittilliah a well known dollmaker who's work is featured in a book titled "Ivory Carvers of St. Lawrence Island" by Dale Kessler. Each doll is unique and one of a kind. The dolls have maintained their uniqueness because of the isolated nature of the island.
This beautiful doll is made from a wide variety of native materials. The face, hands, knife blade and spear point are ivory from the tusk of a walrus. The spear point is old fossil ivory, buried for centuries and it took on a rich tan patina. The knife comes out of the Seal Skin sheath. The eyes are inlaid baleen and the spear shaft is baleen from the mouth of bowhead whales, they strain food through it. The line is sinew from seal gut. The headdress is sea otter fur. The parka or Eskimo traditional raincoat is made from walrus gut and trimmed with gray-silver Northern Spotted Fur Seal. The backpack is spotted fur seal as are the trousers. The bottoms of the mukluks are walrus gut. The doll is mounted on an Ooziva, a backbone disk from a bowhead whale, equivalent to our backbone disk. Traditionally these were carved into dishes, seal oil lamps and spirit masks.
Much of the ivory and whalebone is found washed up on beaches after storms. Doll making and carving are a rich tradition on St. Lawrence Island; it helps sustain their proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.
The Hunter - This beautiful doll depicts the hunter; or "Ivaghniighta" in the Siberian Yup'ik language. He's dressed in the traditional winter/spring outfit. Note the head is protected from the extreme cold by thick protruding fur. He was also protected from spring rain and ocean spray by the walrus gut raincoat. The story behind the doll is about the abundance of the land and sea to provide for food, clothing and shelter. The Siberian Yup'ik people have lived in the Bering Straits for thousands of years. This harsh Arctic region is an extremely challenging area to live in, yet there is an abundance to be had from the land and sea. Hunting and gathering were the basis of survival and their culture and continues today. The times of the year offer a variety of hunting. Polar bears in the winter, whales and walrus in the spring and fall, and seals in the summer and fall. The traditional hunting weapon was the spear, and this shows the traditional point that detaches when it is imbedded in an animal.
The doll stands 10 1/4 inches high, about 4 inches wide, and about 2 to 4 inches front to back. Stephanie's traditional way of signing is on the base, a black marker. This unique handcrafted doll is a real beauty. It would be a wonderful addition to a collection and the subject of much conversation; it would truly make a surprise gift for someone special, something really out of the ordinary!
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