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Walrus Ivory Common Murre by Yupik Eskimo Carver Evans Apataki AK


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by Evans Apataki, Gambell, Alaska North Bering Sea

This beautiful Common Murre was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus by Evans Apataki 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.

Evans 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. 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.

Common Murre or "Alpa" - which is Murre in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful cormorant was carved from an ivory walrus tusk found in the old village of Gambell, there are some faint staining tan from being buried for centuries. The center of the tusk is a rich mottled texture while the outer portions are a smooth cream and pure white color. The rich mottled center portion of the tusk is visible on the front side of the piece, under the head. The outer cream makes up the body and the pure white can be seen on one side. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. It's mounted on an ivory base which shows a cross section of a tusk.

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. They were carved into amulets and their feathers adorned the clothing of those who summoned the spirits. The presence of a bird 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!
Evans signed his first name and last initial on the bottom.  The piece measures 2 7/8 inches high, 7/8 inch wide and about 2 1/2 inches front to back. It's rich pure white colors on the head and wing give it a very elegant look, it's a very unique piece.
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