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Ivory Walrus & Pup by Siberian Yupik Eskimo Artist Joe Slwooko


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by Joe 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 Joe Slwooko.

This very nice walrus with pup was carved from a walrus tusk by Joe 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 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, one of the most remote areas of the U.S. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Russia.

Joe 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 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 in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful walrus an pup hauled out was carved from tusk of a walrus. The center of the tusk is a rich mottled texture while the outer portions are a smooth cream and pure white color. This walrus is very rich in texture and color. The rich mottled center of the tusk can be seen in the upper center of the body, the outer cream and white make up the body with a touch of pure white on the sides. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it.
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 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 really like ivory!

Joe's initials are on the bottom. The piece measures 2 1/2 inches long, 2 1/4 inches high and 1 7/8 inches wide. It's a fine piece with rich colors and texture and would make a great addition to a collection or a real unique gift for someone special from one of the most remote areas of the U.S.

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