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Ivory Walrus Family Hauled Out by Yupik Eskimo Carver Darin Slwooko AK


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by Darin Slwooko of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal walrus ivory into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Darin Slwooko.

This walrus family was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus by Darin Slwooko 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. One of the most remote areas of the U.S

Darin has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from ivory tusks of walrus, walrus bone and whalebone, and trims them with baleen from Bowhead whales. Much walrus ivory, walrus bone and whalebone are either 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 "Nunavak" - which is walrus on ice or hauled out in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful walrus family was carved from an ivory tusk. The center of the walrus tusk is a yellow/gold color with a rich mottled texture while the outer portions are a smooth cream and pure white color. This scene is very rich in texture and color. The rich mottled yellowish/gold center of the tusk can be seen on the backs of the walrus. The cream color surrounds the mottled center. The eyes are inlaid in baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. The ivory was found in the old village of Gambell. The tusks are inlaid walrus "whiskers", which are actually the bristle whiskers from the snout of a walrus. Walrus whiskers are sensory organs for finding clams and crabs on the sea floor. There are faint black lines or temperature cracks on the bottom of the piece, not visible in the photo. Temperature cracks are caused when the walrus was hauled out in life and sunning on a beach, warming their bodies and tusks, then plunging back into the cold arctic sea. Their tusks develop surface cracks and are stained black by minerals in the sea water, adding to the richness of the carving.
The walrus are in a guarded position, head and flipper raised, pups held close. It spotted something in the distance, perhaps a Yup'ik hunter or a Polar Bear and is guarding her pup. The females with young will head north in the spring and raise their young along the edge of the ice pack, about 250 miles north of St. Lawrence Island. The males will head south and spend the summers along the coast and the walrus islands.

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. The walrus is considered a bringer of good luck and happiness.

Care of ivory and 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. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory.

Darin signed the bottom. A photo of the carver will accompany the piece. The piece measures 4 1/4 inches long, 1 inch wide and 3/4 inches high. This is a real fine piece. It would make a great very unique gift from a very remote area.

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