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Ivory Walrus Herd by Eskimo Carver William (Billy Boy) Soonagrook Jr.


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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 ivory into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist William (Billy Boy) Soonagrook Jr.

This beautiful herd of walrus was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus by William 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 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 Siberia.

William 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. His carvings are featured in a book titled Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea, by Dale Kessler.

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 culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus, meaning tooth walker), or "Nunavak" - which is walrus hauled out on the ice in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful walrus herd was carved from a walrus ivory tusk. The center of the walrus tusk is a golden yellow rich mottled texture while the outer portions are a smooth cream and pure white, hence color and texture variations. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. It's mounted on a partially fossilized bone base found in the old village of Gambell, it was buried for centuries on took on a dark patina. The walrus are in a hauled out position, basking in the midnight sun.

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". Walrus were generally hunted from "umiaks". The walrus is considered a bringer of good luck and happiness. The females with young will head north in the spring and raise their young hauled out along the edge of the ice pack, about 150 miles north of St. Lawrence Island. The males will head south and spend the summers along the coast and the walrus islands.

Care of ivory includes avoiding hot dry locations, such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory carvings!

Billy signed the bottom of the piece. The base measures 4 3/4 inches long, 3 1/4 inches wide, and 1 1/2 inches high.

It would make a great unique gift for someone who appreciates one of a kind gifts or a great addition to a collection. It was carved by a Native Eskimo from a very remote area of the USA.

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