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Walrus Bone Spirit Mask Alaska Yupik Art Carving by Charles Slwooko


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Spirit mask by Charles Slwooko of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal old walrus bone into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Charles Slwooko.

This beautiful mask was carved from old walrus bone by Charles 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.

Charles has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from ivory tusks of walrus, walrus bone and whalebone, and trims 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 proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

"Gginaaqwaaq" - Spirit mask in the Siberian Yup'ik language. Charles is real proud of his spirit mask carvings, each one is unique. This mask was carved from part of an old walrus skull found washed up on a beach on the central north part of the island. This piece is like a cheek bone that wrapped around the tusk. The concave interior portion where Charles signed it enclosed the upper part of the tusk where it joined with the skull.

Spirit masks are common in many cultures throughout the world, even our own at Halloween. A spirit mask is worn in sacred dance ceremonies. Wearing the mask frees the spirit, one can be who they want to be, free to dance, free to summon the spirits. When one sees a person wearing a mask, one no longer sees the person with all their known characteristics. One looks beyond the person in the mask and sees the spirit of the person, the ceremony, the freedom of the dance. We see the spirit that was summoned. 

Charles signed back of the mask. This piece would look great in a somewhat dark area with accent lighting to bring out the subtle shadows. Care of walrus bone includes avoiding a hot location like a sunny window and give it an occasional light coating of mineral oil or baby oil, put it on a cloth first.

The walrus bone is about 1 inch thick, 6 inches high and 3 3/4 inches wide. It would make a real surprise and very unique gift for someone special from a very remote part of the U.S.

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