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Ulu on Walrus Bone Humpback Whale by Yupik Carver William Soonagrook


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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 marine mammal walrus jawbone into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist William Soonagrook Sr.

This Humpback Whale Ulu knife was carved from the lower jawbone of a walrus and mounted on a steel blade 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, one of the most remote areas of the U.S. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Russia.

William has carved for many years and is a master carver. His sons Billy Boy, Ladd, Virgil and Moses are well known carvers in Alaska. Their work is featured the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the Airport collection, the Wells Fargo Collection and private collections. His work is also featured in a book titled "Ivory Carvers of the Bering Sea". 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.

"Ulu" - which is Woman's semi-lunar knife in the Siberian Yup'ik language. William carved the Humpback from a partially fossilized lower jawbone of a walrus found in the old village of Gambell. It's a real dense bone and its curving and twisting shape makes an excellent medium for carving. It was buried for centuries and took on a rich patina.

In the Siberian Yup'ik culture the al was the traditional knife for butchering seals and whales. Traditionally it was made with a stone blade and decorated with animals they hunted, in this case a Bowhead Whale. In the Siberian Yup'ik culture the Bowhead whale was the preferred whale as it relatively docile when approached by hunters with spears. It was a source of food, tools and building materials. There are several old whalebone structures in the old village of Gambell still standing. The taking of a whale was a village affair, and was symbolic of the community of sharing. It took the cooperation of many to feed the village. Bowheads spend most of their lives in the Arctic seas. They have a massive bone structure on their heads for breaking through the ice. There are approximately 10,000 to 12,000 Bowhead whales in the North Arctic Ocean, and they produce approximately 350 to 400 calves each year.hunted. In this case it was decorated with a Bowhead whale.

Care of walrus bone includes avoiding hot dry areas like direct sun in a window or heat from a heat register. Give it an occasional very light coating of mineral oil or baby oil, put it on a cloth first. Our

Williams's initials are on the underside of the tail fluke. The blade measures 5 1/2 inches long, 3 3/4 inches wide. This is a nice piece with rich texture and would be a real nice gift for yourself or someone special. It's carved by a Native carver from a very remote area of the world.

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