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Walrus Ivory Eskimo Curlew by Yupik Eskimo carver Edwin Campbell, Gambell AK


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Eskimo Curlew by Edwin Campbell of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

This Eskimo Curlew was carved and significantly transformed from an ivory tusk of a walrus into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Edwin Campbell.

This stunning Eskimo Curlew was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus by Edwin Campbell 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 Russia.

Edwin has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from ivory tusks and teeth 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 Yup'ik people on St. Lawrence Island, it helps sustain their ancient proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

Eskimo Curlew or "Pagunghaq" which is curlew in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This very nice piece was carved from the tusk of a walrus. The center of the tusk has a light rich golden colored mottled texture, which can be seen very faintly on the back of the neck. The outer portions are a smooth cream which makes up the body followed by a pure white which can be seen faintly on the folded wings. The eyes, bill and legs are inlaid baleen, a fiberous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. It's mounted on an ivory base.

In the Siberian Yup'ik culture birds were spirit helpers, summoned by the Shaman to bring gifts of the spirit. Birds 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.

The Eskimo Curlew was hunted to extinction around the turn of the century, there has not been a confirmed sighting in over 50 years. I personally accompanied an avid birder to an area north of Nome, Alaska, where there had been reported sightings of the Eskimo Curlew, we saw curlews but we could not confirm the subtle markings of the Eskimo Curlew.

Care of ivory 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 or a q-tip, avoid an acid based oil such as lemon oil.

This is a very elegant piece. It would make a great gift for a birder or collecter or anyone with an eye for the unusual.The piece stands 4 1/ high, 3 1/8 inches long not counting the bill and 1 inch wide. Its bill is 2 inches long. inch 1 inches long. Edwin's initials are on the bottom.

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