by Beulah Oittilliah of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea
Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from fur seal and walrus gut into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Beulah Oittilliah.
This lovable Eskimo Doll was made from a variety of animals by Beulah Oittilliah of Gambell, Alaska, a small Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 700 people on St. Lawrence Island, just south of the Bering Straits. The Yup'ik people have occupied the Bering Straits for thousands of years. Their native language is still spoken on both the Siberian and U.S. sides of the 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. Carving is a rich tradition on St. Lawrence Island, it helps sustain their proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.
Beulah has made Yup'ik Eskimo Dolls for many years and is a master doll maker. Beulah’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. They have maintained their uniqueness because of the isolated nature of the island. This beautiful handmade doll is made from a wide variety of native materials. The face, hands and drumstick and frame of the drum are ivory from the tusk of a walrus. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous material found in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it. The headdress is Polar bear fur. The rain coat and drum lining are traditional walrus gut. The walrus gut coat is trimmed with gray-silver spotted fur seal, the trousers are also spotted fur seal. The moccasins are shaved spotted fur seal, you can feel the stubble on them. It’s mounted on an old walrus vertebrate found buried in the old Village of Gambell.
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 ancient culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.
Drummer Doll - “Kallagte”, which is the dancing/drummer in the Siberian Yup’ik language. This doll is about celebration of abundance in the form of music and dance and singing to adorn and nourish the spirit, and the abundance of the land and sea to provide for food, clothing and shelter. The Yupik people have lived in the Bering Straits for thousands of years. This harsh Arctic Region of is an extremely challenging area to live in, yet there is an abundance to be had from the land and sea. When the clan would gather to celebrate and share; singing, dancing and drumming were the center of the celebrations. The drummers would lead and singing and dancing would follow. The walrus gut drum is still used and is the centerpiece of the singing and dancing.
Beulah signed the vertebrate on the back in her traditional unique way, with a black marker, it can be seen in the photo. It measures 8 inches high, about 3 1/2 to 4 inches wide, and about 3 to 4 inches front to back. This unique handcrafted doll is one of a kind and would make a very unusual gift. It would be a wonderful addition to a collection and the subject of much conversation.
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