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Walrus Ivory Seal by Cliff Apatiki St. Lawrence Island, Alaska


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by Cliff Apatiki 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 Cliff Apatiki.

This elegant and stunning swimming seal was carved from the ivory tusk of a walrus by Cliff Apatiki 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, one of the most remote areas of the U.S. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Russia.

Cliff 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 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 ancient and proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

Northern Spotted Seal or "Neghsaq" in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This is a fine example of Native Alaskan Yup’ik art. This stunning swimming seal was carved from the ivory tusk of a walrus. The center of the tusk is a mottled light gold/tan color, the outer portions consist of a cream to pure white colored ivory, hence the color variations. The mottled center can be seen on the rear of the seal as a faint line running along the center of the piece. The eyes  are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it. Each of the spots were drilled to a shallow depth and inked.

It's mounted on old ivory intern mounted on a baleen base with a baleen pin. Old ivory is found in the old village of Gambell. It was buried for centuries and took on a rich tan patina. There are faint black lines or temperature cracks on the sides of the seal which blend nicely with the spots. Temperature cracks are caused when the walrus was hauled out and sunning on a beach, warming their bodies and tusks, then plunging back into the cold arctic sea. There tusks develop surface cracks and the minerals in the sea water stain them black, adding to the richness of the carving.

In the Yup’ik culture the seal represented the feminine aspect of life and human nature, the gentle and caring, deeply intuitive, a trait that is the foundation for lasting leadership. Seals were hunted for oil, meat and hides. The hides were made into floats and attached to a spear. The Yup’ik hunter would glide silently up to a “U.ttug” or “seal basking on the ice”. The head of the spear would detach and the seal would be kept afloat with the seal air bag.

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

Cliff signed his name on the bottom. The seal measures 5 3/8 inches long, 1 inch wide and stands 2 3/4 inches high at the pin. This a a real fine piece and would make a real unique gift or a great addition to a collection from one of the most remote areas of the U.S.

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