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Sandhill Crane carved Whalebone by Yupik Eskimo William Soonagrook Sr.


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by William Soonagrook Sr. of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from old whalebone into a Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and is signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist William Soonagrook Sr.

This stunning Sandhill Crane was carved from whalebone by William Soonagrook Sr. 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 Russia. William Sr. has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from ivory tusks and teeth of walrus, walrus bone and whalebone, and trims them with baleen from Bowhead whales. His sons Moses, Ladd, and Billy Boy are also master carvers. The Soonagrook family carvings are displayed in the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, and various private collections in Anchorage and 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 Yup'ik people on St. Lawrence Island, it helps sustain their ancient proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

"Satelgaq" - which is Sandhill Crane in the Siberian Yup'ik language. Bill is real proud of his "Cranes" series of carvings, each one is unique. This piece was carved from whalebone found on the beach on the North side of the Island, a place called Apataki Point, it was buried for centuries and took on a light tan patina. Whalebone is a richly textured bone and an excellent medium for carving. It's mounted on old walrus jawbone base. The beak, eyes and legs are baleen; a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it.

In the Siberian Yup'ik culture birds including cranes were spirit helpers, summoned by the Shaman to bring gifts of the spirit. Birds were carved into amulets and their feathers adorned the clothing of those who summoned the spirits. The presence of a bird during a ritual was a good omen, and a sign of good things to come. Birds were also a source of food, and their eggs came at a time when food was in short supply, early spring. 

Care of whalebone includes avoiding hot dry areas like direct sun in a window or heat from a heat register. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like bone!

William signed the bottom. This crane is in a walking stance. The piece measures 7 inches high, 2 1/4 inches wide and 7 inches from beak to tail. This is a one of a kind piece, rich in detail and texture. It would be the subject of many questions and much admired, a great gift for an avid birder.

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