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Walrus Ivory Scrimshaw Hunter by Al Aningayou of St. Lawrence Island


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by Al Aningayou of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from a marine mammal walrus ivory into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and is signed by Alaska Native Eskimo Scrimshaw artist Alwin Aningayou.

This fine Eskimo Hunter was scrimshaw or etched onto the tusk of a walrus by Al Aningayou of Gambell, Alaska, a small Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 350 people on St. Lawrence Island, just south of the Bering 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 Siberia. Their native Yup'ik language is spoken on both sides of the straits.

Al has etched and carved for many years and is a master carver, he is also one of the finest etchers or scrimshaw artists in Alaska, a rare combination. He carves from the ivory tusk of a walrus and whalebone and trims them with baleen, a fibrous material from the mouth of Bowhead whales. Much ivory and whalebone is found washed up on beaches after storms. Carving is a rich tradition on St. Lawrence Island, and helps sustain their proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

The Hunter This beautiful piece depicts the hunter, or "Ivaghniighta" in the Siberian Yup'ik language. The center of the walrus tusk is a rich mottled yellowish/tan texture while the outer portions are a smooth cream and pure white color. The rich mottled yellowish/tan center of the tusk can be seen on the bottom of the piece. The outer cream surrounds the center. There is a black line or temperature crack on the right side and many faint ones on the back side. Temperature cracks are caused when the walrus was hauled out and sunning on a beach in life, warming their bodies and tusks, then plunging back into the cold arctic sea. There tusks develop surface cracks and minerals in sea water stain them black, adding to the richness and authenticity of the carving. The back side shows the original surface of the tusk.

The Hunter is dressed in the traditional winter outfit. Note the head is protected from the extreme cold by thick protruding fur. In this outfit the hunter could survive for long periods in the extreme cold of the Arctic. The story behind the piece is about the abundance of the land and sea to provide for food, clothing and shelter. The Siberian Yup'ik people have lived in the Bering Straits for thousands of years. This harsh Arctic region is an extremely challenging area to live in, yet there is an abundance to be had from the land and sea. Hunting and gathering were the basis of survival in their culture and continues today. The times of the year offer a variety of hunting. Polar bears in the winter, whales and walrus in the spring and fall, and seals in the summer and fall. The traditional hunting weapon was the spear.

Care of ivory includes avoiding hot dry low humidity locations, such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory!

Al's signature is on the lower right hand corner of the etching. It measures a little more than 2 3/8 inches high, 3/4 inches back to front and a little more than 1 1/8 inches wide.

This unique scrimshaw tusk would be a wonderful addition to a collection and the subject of many conversations. It's a fine etching done by a Eskimo carver in a very remote part of the world.

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