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Walrus Ivory Nar Whale by Yupik Eskimo Carver Moses Soonagrook


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by Moses Soonagrook of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal walrus ivory and whalebone into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Moses Soonagrook.

This elegant Nar Whale was carved from a walrus tusk by Moses 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 Russia.

Moses 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 eldest son of the Soonagrook family of carvers. His father William sr., brothers Billy Boy and Ladd are well known carvers in Alaska. His son Robert is learning to carve. Their work is featured the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Airport collection and in many public, private collections and featured in a book titled "Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea".

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 people on St. Lawrence Island; it helps sustain their proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

Nar Whale or "Qungvughaq" - which is Nar Whale in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful Nar Whale was carved from a walrus tusk found in the old village of Gambell. The center of the tusk has a light golden colored rich mottled texture, which can be seen very faintly in the photo of the side of the body. The outer portions are a smooth cream which makes up the body. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. The "Nar" was carved from old fossil walrus ivory found in the old village of Gambell, it took on a rich tan patina from being buried for centuries. Moses did a beautiful job of carving the spiral "Nar".  The whale is mounted on an ivory base with a baleen pin.

The name Nar Whale was derived from the Old Norse word ‘nahvalr’ which meant “corpse-whale”; because it resembled a floating corpse on the ocean surface. The Nar Whale is common in the Greenland and Norwegian Arctic seas, but rare in the Alaskan side of the Arctic Ocean. Because it’s so rare it takes on mythical qualities. Prominent features of the Nar Whale are the spots on its back and its mythical like tusk, which is actually an overgrown off centered tooth. The function of the “Nar” is thought to be an attractant in mating rituals of the whale. It was recently discovered the the narwhal's mysterious spiral tusk works as a giant sensor to help it test water quality and to smooch other narwhals. The whale's eight-foot long tusk has long mystified naturalists and hunters, and the explanation may be equally intriguing.
In the Siberian Yup'ik culture the Nar Whale was very sacred. In addition to rarely being seen, the presence of a whale with a unicorn like tusk was thought to be a sign of good things to come.

Care of ivory includes avoiding extremes in temperature change; give it an occasional light coating of baby oil or mineral oil, put it on a cloth or a Q-tip, avoid acid based treatment such as lemon oil, and avoid hot dry areas such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Remember - dogs, cats and birds also like ivory!

Moses signed the base. The larger whale measures 4 1/8 inches long including the "nar", 1 inch wide and stands 1 3/4 inches high.

This a real fine piece carved from ivory by an Eskimo carver from a very remote area of the world. It would make a great gift from Alaska or a nice addition to a collection.

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