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Old Fossil Walrus Ivory Kayak Hunter by Maxine Ungot, Gambell AK


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by Maxine Ungott 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 Maxine Ungott.

This stunning ivory Kayaker was carved from fossilized tusk of a walrus by Maxine Ungott of Gambell, Alaska; a small Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 700 people on St. Lawrence Island, just south of the Bering Straits. It's about 140 miles off shore from Nome Alaska, and about 40 miles from Russia. Their native Yup'ik language is spoken on both sides of the straits. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Russia.

Maxine has carved for many years and is a master carver. She carves from the ivory tusk of a walrus and whalebone and trims them with baleen, a fibrous material from the mouth of Bowhead whales. Much ivory and whalebone is either dug up or found washed up on beaches after storms. Carving is a rich tradition on St. Lawrence Island, and helps sustain their proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area. Her late Father Don Ungott was a well know carver in Alaska.

“Quyaq” (Siberian Yup’ik for Kayak) This is a fine example of Native Alaskan Art. Maxine carved this kayak from fossilized ivory, the rarest of ivory found in the old village of Gambell. It was buried for centuries and took on a rich tan patina. The center of the tusk is a rich mottled tan color, while the outer portions are tan and the outer most is a light tan, hence color variations. The rich mottled texture can be seen on the center side part of the kayak hull. The hunter and float bag were also made from old ivory. The paddle and spear were made from baleen; a fibrous material in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it. The spear is attached to the float with sinew made from seal gut. 

The walrus skin “Quyaq”, or kayak, was a traditional near shore boat for hunting seals, birds, small whales, and with the help of others the taking of walrus. Kayaks were made from drift wood and wrapped with the hide of a female walrus, because the hide was thin and flexible. The spear was attached to a float made from sealskin. The Yupik hunter would glide silently up to a “U.ttug” or “seal basking on the ice”.  Walrus was generally hunted from larger boats called Umiaks. Walrus will defend themselves and the herd will come to rescue a hunted walrus. Individual walrus can be driven ashore with the aid of a baleen clapper, or flat piece of baleen with which they would slap the ocean surface, which sounded like an Orca, the enemy of the walrus. Hence the walrus would seek land, where the hunters waited. 

Care of Ivory includes an occasional light coating of baby or mineral oil, put it on a cloth first, avoid an acid based treatment such as lemon oil, and avoid hot dry areas such as direct sun in a window or a heat register.

Maxine's signature is on the bottom. This unique carving would be a wonderful addition to a collection. It measures 3 1/8 inches long, 1/2 inch wide and 1 3/8 inches high. This is a real collectors item. It would make a great gift from Alaska for an avid kayaker or a nice addition to a collection.

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