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Baleen Killer Whales by Eskimo Walrus Ivory Carver Keith Kaningok


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by Keith Kaningok of North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal whale baleen into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Keith Kaningok.

This stunning set of killer whales were carved from baleen from a Bowhead whale by Keith Kaningok of Gambell, Alaska, a small Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 700 people on St. Lawrence Island, just south of the Bering Straits. It's about 140 miles off shore from Nome Alaska, and about 40 miles from Russia. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Russia.

Keith has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from the ivory tusk of a walrus and whalebone and trims them with baleen, a fibrous material from the mouth of Bowhead whales. Much ivory and whalebone is either dug up or found washed up on beaches after storms. Carving is a rich tradition on St. Lawrence Island, it helps sustain their ancient proud culture and way of life in a very remote area.

Killer Whales  - This beautiful set of Killer Whales or "Mesungesak" in the Siberian Yup'ik language were carved from separate strips of baleen from Bowhead Whales and mounted together on a bone base. Baleen is a fibrous material found in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it. It features a male and a female Orca, which is evident from the curved dorsal fin of the female and the larger size of the male. Keith hand etched the baleen to give it the familiar markings of an Orca. They are mounted on a piece of old walrus jawbone found on in the old village of Gambell.

Killer whales were a very powerful and sacred animal in the old Yup'ik culture. The killer whale, raven and wolf were considered sacred and could not be killed. The Yupik, like the Chukchi and Korak, believed that Raven had created the world. The swallow (bird) was particularly revered because it was thought to protect hunters at sea and the Killer Whale ruled them all.

Killer whales were also revered as protectors of hunters; it was also thought that the killer whale became a wolf in winter and devored the reindeer unless some of the reindeer submitted to the hunters. Ritual meals were concluded by throwing a piece of meat into the sea to bless and thank the killer whales who had made the catch possible.

Care of baleen includes avoiding hot dry locations, such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Give it an occasional very light coating of baby oil or mineral oil, put it on a cloth first, avoid an acid based oil such as lemon oil. Avoid oil on the etched portion, it will lessen the effect. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like baleen!

Keith's signature is on the bottom. The piece measures 5 1/4 inches high, each baleen strip is about 1/8 inch thick and 5 7/8 inches long and the whole piece is 6 3/4 inches long.  This is a very beautiful carving and would make a great gift from a very remote area of the U.S.

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