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 into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Moses Soonagrook.
This very nice Polar Bear was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus 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 his carvings are featured in a book titled: Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea by Dale Kessler.
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.
Polar Bear - This beautiful walking Polar Bear, or "Nanuq" in the Siberian Yup'ik language, is a fine example of Native Alaskan Yup'ik art. This carving shows 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 neck of the bear and rear end. The outer portion of the tusk is cream colored, which makes up the body, followed by pure white, which can be faintly seen on the sides of the piece. The surface is finely etched to give it the texture of fur. Moses prides himself in the detail. The eyes and nose are inlaid baleen; a fibrous black material in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it. The bear is in a walking pose, perhaps trying to catch 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 includes avoiding extremes in temperature change and low humidity. Avoid hot dry areas such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory carvings!
Moses signed the bottom. The bear measures 4 1/8 inches long, 1 1/8 inches wide and stands 1 5/8 inches high.
This a real fine piece, rich in color and texture carved 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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