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Walrus Ivory Polar Bear by Eskimo Carver Dennis James Jr. Gambell AK


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by Dennis James Jr. of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal ivory into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Dennis James Jr..
This fine walking Polar Bear was carved from the tusk of a walrus by Dennis James Jr. of Gambell, Alaska, a small Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 700 people on St. Lawrence Island, just south of the Bering Straits. Their native language is spoken on both the Russian and U.S. sides 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. 
Dennis has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from ivory tusk of walrus and whalebone and trims them with baleen, a fibrous material from the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. His work is featured in the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the Wells Fargo Collection and in the book titled "Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea" by Dale Kessler.
 Most ivory and whalebone is dug up or found washed up on beaches after storms. Carving is a rich tradition for the Native People on St. Lawrence Island, it helps sustain their proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area. 
Polar Bear - This beautiful Polar Bear, or "Nanuq" in the Siberian Yup'ik language, is a fine example of Native Alaskan Yup'ik art. This carving shows all the rich colors and textures of a ivory walrus tusk. The center of the tusk is a light gold/tan color with a rich mottled texture, which shows faintly on the left side. The outer portion of the tusk is cream colored, followed by pure white, which can be faintly seen on the upper back. The surface is finely etched to give it the texture of fur. The nose is old ivory found in the old village of Gambell, it was buried for centuries and took on a light tan patina. The eyes are inlaid baleen from a Bowhead Whale. The bear is in a walking pose, perhaps trying to sneak up a seal basking on the ice, or "u.ttug".
The Polar Bear was symbolic of a powerful hunter, as in the old days the only way to take a Polar Bear was with a spear. It was considered the Father of the Yup'ik people. Polar Bear Claws were mounted close to the entrance of their house to ward off evil spirits and they also had therapeutic qualities, such as a cure for a headache. People called upon the spirit of "nanuq" to witness their oaths.
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, avoid the inked eyes and nose, put it on a cloth first or a q-tip, avoid an acid based oil such as lemon oil.
Dennis signed his Yupik name "Ungaluk" on the bottom. It measures a shade over 3 3/4 inches long, 7/8 to 1 inch wide, and 1 1/2 inches high. This unique richly textured carving would be a great item for conversation and display or a real surprise gift.

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