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Walrus Ivory Polar Bear by Joe Slwooko North Bering Sea AK


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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 setting Polar Bear and cub was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus 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 Russia.

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. Hi carvings are featured in a book titled Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea by Dale Kessler. Carving is a rich tradition for the Native Alaskan people on St. Lawrence Island, it helps sustain their proud ancient culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

“Nanuq“ is the Native Siberian Yup'ik word for Polar Bear, the great white bear of the north. Joe carved this beautiful Polar bear from the tusk of a walrus near where the tusk joins the skull, it hollow. He took advantage of the hollow part in carving this piece. The center of the walrus tusk is a mottled light gold/cream color, while the outer portions consists of a cream to pure white, hence the color variations. The cream color makes up the body and the pure white can be seen on the sides. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous material in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it.

This carving depicts a Polar Bear and cub sniffing the air in the midnight sun, trying to catch the scent of a seal or it could be hunched over a seal breathing hole. The Polar Bear is symbolic of a powerful warrior, in the old days was the Father of the Yup'ik people and the source of their instincts. The polar bear is only taken by an accomplished and skilled hunter, as in the old days the only weapon was a spear. Polar Bear claws were mounted close to the entrance of the house to ward off evil spirits. They also had therapeutic qualities, such as a cure for headache. Polar Bear fur provided for warm cloths and bedding. People called upon the spirit of “Nanuq“ to witness their oaths.

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 or Q-tip, avoid an acid based oil such as lemon oil.

Joe signed the bottom. The piece measures a little over 1 3/8 inches high, 1 1/4 inches wide and 1 3/4 inches long.

This a a real fine elegant piece, it would make a real unique gift from one of the most remote areas of the U.S.

Buy it now!