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Walrus Ivory Knife by the Late Yupik Carver Aaron Oseuk Gambell


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by the late Aaron Oseuk 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 by the late Alaska Native Eskimo artist Aaron Oseuk.

This very nice knife with a Polar Bear was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus by the late Aaron Oseuk 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.

Aaron carved for many years and was a master carver. He carved from ivory tusks of walrus, walrus bone and whalebone, and trimmed them 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 ancient proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

Small pocket knife or "Semqatwhalek" in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful knife was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus. The center of the tusk is a rich mottled texture with a light gold/tan color, while the outer portions are a cream to pure white. This piece was carved from the outer cream colored portion of the tusk. The eye of the Polar Bear is inlaid baleen; a fibrous black material in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it.

In the Yup'ik culture everyday objects such as a knife were embellished with the animals and fish found in their environment.

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 acid based oil such as lemon oil. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like Walrus Ivory!

The piece measures 5 7/8 inches long, 7/8 inches wide and 1/4 inch thick. Aaron signed his last name and date carved on the back. It would not function as a knife or letter opener, as with repeated use it would break.

This is a nice piece and would make a nice addition to a collection or a gift for someone with an eye for the unusual from one of the most remote areas of the U.S.

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