by Mala Apangalook, Gambell, Alaska North Bering Sea
This beautiful Cormorant was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus by Mala Apangalook 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.
Mala 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.
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. The rich mottled center portion of the tusk trends through the center of the piece. The outer cream makes up the body and the pure white can be seen on the sides and tip of the beak, producing a nice effect. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. There are faint black lines or temperature cracks on the left side of the piece. Temperature cracks are caused when the walrus was hauled out in life and sunning on a beach, warming their bodies and tusks, then plunging back into the cold arctic sea. Their tusks develop surface cracks and are stained black by minerals in the sea water, adding to the richness of the carving.
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!
Mala signed the bottom. The piece measures 4 1/4 inches high, 5/8 inch wide and about 2 1/2 inches front to back.
The piece is tipy and needs a hard flat level surface to stand on, may want to put a tiny piece of tape on the underside.
It's a very unique piece.
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