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Walrus Ivory Polar Bear by James Uglowook, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska


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by James Uglowook 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 James Uglowook.
This fine walking Polar Bear was carved from the tusk of a walrus by James Uglowook 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.
James 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. 
Nanuq - 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 under belly and lower neck. The outer portion of the tusk is cream colored, followed by pure white, which can be very well seen on the sides, producing a nice effect. There is a faint brown line or surface stain on the side of the piece. Surface stains 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. The surface is finely etched to give it the texture of fur. The nose and eyes are inked. 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.
James Uglowook's signature (last name) is on the bottom. It measures 3 1/8 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1 3/8 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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