by Joe Slwooko of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea
Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal walrus ivory into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Joe Slwooko.
This very nice Halibut was carved from walrus ivory by Joe Slwooko 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.
Joe 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. Much 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.
Halibut or "Ivisa" - which is halibut in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful halibut was carved from the tusk of a walrus. The center of the walrus tusk is a rich mottled yellowish/tan texture while the outer portions are a smooth cream and pure white color. This piece is carved from the outer portion of the tusk. The outer cream makes up the body and a it was cut diagonally so there is a pattern of pure white on the back. 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 a walrus jawbone base found in the old village of Gambell, it was buried for centuries and took on a rich tan patina.
Animals and birds played a key role in the Yup'ik culture. The Siberian Yup'ik people have lived in the Bering Straits for thousands of years. This harsh Arctic region is an extremely challenging area to live in, yet there is an abundance to be had from the land and sea. Hunting and gathering was the basis of survival and their culture and continues today. The walrus and Bowhead whales were the mainstay of their culture and continues today. Eskimo stories and myths are full of stories of the hunt.
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, avoid acid based oil such as lemon oil. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory!
Joe signed the bottom of the base. The piece measures 3 7/8 inches long, 1 1/2 inches wide, and varies from 1/2 inch thick. This is a very elegant piece and would make a great unique gift for someone special or a great addition to a collection.
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