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Walrus Ivory Baleen Cormorant by the late Aaron Oseuk Yupik Carver


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by Aaron Oseuk, Gambell, Alaska North Bering Sea

This beautiful Cormorant 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 500 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 Siberia.

Aaron carved for many years and was a master carver, he passed away two years ago. He carves from ivory tusks of walrus, walrus bone and whalebone, and trims them with baleen from Bowhead whales. Most walrus ivory, walrus bone and whalebone are 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. His work was featured the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Airport collection, public and private collections and the book titled "Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea" by Dale Kessler.

Cormorant or "Ngelqaq" - which is cormorant in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful cormorant was carved from an ivory walrus tusk found in the old village of Gambell. The center of the tusk is a rich mottled texture while the outer portions are a smooth cream and pure white color. This carving was carved from the outer portion of the tusk, very rich in shades of cream and white. The outer cream makes up the body and the pure white can be seen on the front and creates the illusion of the wing, and it also is prominent on the side of the head of the cormorant. The eye is inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. It's mounted on a tear shaped piece of baleen with a hole at the top to hang on the wall.

Animals and birds played a key role in the Yup'ik culture. Birds were spirit helpers, summoned by the Shaman to bring gifts of the spirit. Cormorants were carved into amulets and their feathers adorned the clothing of those who summoned the spirits. The presence of a cormorant 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 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 an acid based oil such as lemon oil. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory and baleen!
Aaron's signature is on the back. The piece measures 9 1/8 inches long, 2 1/2 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick. The ivory cormorant is 3 3/4 inches long and 7/8 inches wide. It's rich pure white colors on the head and wing give it a very elegant look, it's a very unique piece and would look great hanging on a wall.

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