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Walrus Ivory Clan Whale Necklace Alaska Eskimo Yupik Art William Soonagrook jr.


Availability: 1 available


by "Billy Boy" Soonagrook Jr. of St. Lawrence Island,

North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from an old marine mammal walrus ivory tooth into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft by Alaska Native Eskimo artist "Billy Boy" Soonagrook Jr.

This beautiful piece was carved from an old partially fossilized molar tooth of a walrus by "Billy Boy" 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. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Siberia.

"Billy Boy" has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from ivory tusks of walrus, walrus bone and whalebone, and trims them with baleen from Bowhead whales. He is the youngest son of the Soonagrook family of carvers. His father William sr., brothers Moses and Ladd are well known carvers in Alaska. Their work is featured in the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the Airport collection, public and private collections and his carvings are featured in a book titled: Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea, by Dale Kessler.

Much walrus ivory and teeth, 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 rich and proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

"Ramka" - which is "the Clan" in the Siberian Yup'ik language. Billy is real proud of his "faces" series of carvings, each one is unique. This one displays classic "Billy Boy style", long and slender. The piece features an Eskimo man, woman and kids with a Bowhead whale on the side. It was carved from an old partially fossilized molar tooth of a walrus, behind the tusk. The tooth was buried for centuries and took on a beautiful tan patina. Billy prides himself in the detail. I asked Billy about the tooth carving, he called it a clan carving, like a family portrait.

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 includes avoiding hot dry areas such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory!

The ivory piece measures 1 7/8 inches long and about 3/4 inches in diameter.

This is a stunning piece and would make a great gift from Alaska, or a nice addition to a collection. Something out of the ordinary from a very remote area by a talented Native Eskimo artist.

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