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Walrus Ivory Scrimshaw Polar Bear by Al Aningayou Gambell Ak


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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 Polar Bear 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 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.

This beautiful Polar Bear, or "Nanuq" in the Siberian Yup'ik language, is a fine example of Native Alaskan Yup'ik art. It's etched on an old walrus ivory tusk found on a beach. It has a light tan stain on the back side from being buried for centuries. The piece shows all the rich colors and textures of the tusk. The center of the tusk is a light gold/tan color with a rich mottled texture, which can be seen on the ends of the piece. The outer portion of the tusk is cream colored, on which the Polar Bear is etched.  The back side of the piece retains the original surface with a few pits and scratches from many sparing battles for dominance with other walrus.  It also has temperature cracks  on the back side.  Temperature cracks are caused when the walrus was hauled out and sunning on a beach then plunged back into the cold arctic sea.  Their tusks develop surface cracks and the sea water stains them black, adding to the richness and authenticity of the piece.
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.

 The back side shows the original surface of the tusk. 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 1/2 inches high, 1 inch back to front and 1 3/4 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 US.

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