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Walrus Ivory Beluga & Bowhead Whale by Eskimo Carver Ladd Soonagrook


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by Ladd Soonagrook of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal walrus ivory and baleen into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Ladd Soonagrook.

This elegant Beluga whale was carved from the ivory tusk of a walrus and mounted on a Bowhead Whale carved from baleen by Ladd Soonagrook 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.

Ladd has carved for many years and is a master carver. His father William Sr. and brothers Billy Boy, 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. Ladd's work is also featured in a book titled "Ivory Carvers of the Bering Sea" by Dale Kessler. 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.

Beluga whale or "Puugzaq" in the Siberian Yup'ik language is a fine example of Native Alaskan Yup’ik art. This Beluga was carved from the ivory tusk of a walrus. The center of the tusk is a mottled light gold/tan color, the outer portions consists of a cream to pure white colored ivory. The mottled center can be seen on the bottom of the piece, it forms a thin stripe. The cream color makes up the body and the pure white can be seen on the tip of the right forward flipper. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it.

Belugas are found in the coastal areas of Alaska, not generally open ocean whales. They are very gregarious and travel in large pods. They feed on salmon and frequently become stranded at low tide. They have adapted and simply wait for the next incoming tide. The beluga or white whale represents the feminine side of human nature, the gentile and caring, deeply intuitive, a trait that is the foundation for lasting leadership.

It's mounted on a Bowhead whale carved from baleen. 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.

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 or a Q-tip first, avoid an acid based oil such as lemon oil.

Ladd signed his name on the bottom. The Beluga whale measures a shade over 3 1/8 inches long, 7/8 inches wide and stands 1 1/2 inches high. This a real fine piece and would make a real unique gift or a great addition to a collection from one of the most remote areas of the U.S.

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