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Ivory Walrus by "Billy Boy" Soonagrook of St. Lawrence Island, Alaska


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by William (Billy Boy) Soonagrook Jr. of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal walrus jawbone into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist William Soonagrook Jr.
This beautiful walrus was carved from the lower jawbone of a walrus by William ("Billy Boy") Soonagrook Jr. of Gambell, Alaska, a small Siberian Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 700 people on St. Lawrence Island, just south of the Bering Straits. Their Siberian Yup'ik language is spoken on both the U.S. and Russian side 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.
William has carved for many years and is a master carver. He is the youngest son of the Soonagrook family of carvers. His father William Sr, brothers Moses and Ladd are well known carvers in Alaska. He carves from ivory tusks of walrus, walrus bone and whalebone, and trims with baleen from Bowhead whales. Much of the walrus ivory, walrus bone and whalebone are dug up or found washed up on beaches after storms. Carving is a rich tradition for the Native Alaskan people on St. Lawrence Island, it helps sustain their proud ancient culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.
Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus, meaning tooth walker), or "Ayveq" - which is walrus in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful swimming walrus was carved from the lower jawbone of a walrus found in the old village of Gambell. It took on the rich colors from being buried for centuries. The jawbone is a very dense bone and has a nice curve that lends well to the twisting and diving shape of a swimming walrus. On land walrus are a huge mass of plodding blubber, not so in the sea where they are meant to be. This swimming walrus is sleek and elegant, capable of diving deep in search of bottom dwelling food or to escape their enemies, the orca and Polar Bear. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. The tusks are inlaid ivory from the walrus tusk. The "whiskers" on the snout are inlaid walrus "whiskers", which are actually the whiskers from the snout of a walrus. Walrus whiskers are sensory organs for finding clams and crabs on the sea floor. It's mounted on a bone base with a baleen pin.
In the Siberian Yup'ik culture the walrus was a source of food, tools and material for artwork and trading. The female hides were stretched over driftwood to make their boats called "umiaks". In the old days walrus were generally hunted from "umiaks". Walrus will defend themselves and the herd will come to rescue a hunted walrus. Individual walrus were driven ashore with the aid of a baleen clapper, or flat piece of baleen they would slap the ocean surface with, which sounded like an Orca (Killer Whale), the enemy of the walrus. The walrus would seek land, where the hunters waited. Female walrus with pups will spend their summers along the edge of the ice pack, hauled out raising their young pups. The males will move south in the summer to the coastal areas of Alaska and the Walrus Islands. The walrus is considered a bringer of good luck and happiness.
Care of jawbone 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 or a q-tip; avoid acid based oil such as lemon oil. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like bone and ivory carvings!
Billy Boy's Yup'ik name (Kakiiyghatek) is etched on the bottom. It stands 3 inches high, 4 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. This is a stunning piece and would make a great addition to a collection or a nice very unique gift for someone with an eye for something really unusual from one of the most remote areas of the U.S.

It's a great piece, Buy it now!