by Brandon Oseuk 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 Brandon Oseuk.
This fine Snow Bunting was carved from the ivory tusk of a walrus by Brandon Oseuk of Gambell, Alaska, a small Siberian Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 700 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 Siberian Yup'ik language is spoken on both sides of the straits.
Brandon has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from ivory tusk of walrus and whalebone and trims them with baleen, a fibrous material from the mouth of Bowhead whales. His late father's carvings, Aaron, are featured in a book titled Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea by Dale Kessler.
Much ivory and whalebone is either dug up or found washed up on beaches after storms (See "St. Lawrence Island page"). Carving is a rich tradition on St. Lawrence Island, and helps sustain their rich and proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.
"Qateghrewaaq" - Which is Snow Bunting in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful Bunting was carved from an old partially fossilized ivory tusk of a walrus. The center of the walrus tusk is a rich mottled light golden/yellow color, while the outer portions consists of a cream to pure white color, hence the color variations which are noticeable on the front and back body. The rich mottled center of the tusk forms a stripe from under the head and down on the back, you can see it in the photos. It gives it a real nice texture. The cream color shows on the sides and a touch of pure white on its wings. The eyes and legs are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it. The bill is old ivory found in the old village of Gambell. It was buried for centuries and took on a rich tan patina. It's mounted on an ivory base and the ivory is from where the tusk joined the skull, it's hollow.
Animals and birds played a key role in the Yup'ik culture. Birds include gulls, ptarmigan, puffins curlews and buntings. Birds were spirit helpers, and summoned by the Shamans to bring gifts of the spirit. Buntings were carved from ivory into amulets and adorned those who summoned the spirits. Their brightly colored feathers also adorn clothing of those who summoned the spirits. The presence of a bird during a ritual was a good omen, and sign of good things to come. Birds were also a source of food, especially in the spring. Perky Snow Buntings are harbingers of spring. Nothing is more cheerful than their song after a long winter.
Care of ivory and baleen 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 a Q-tip first, avoid acid based oil such as lemon oil. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory!
Brandon signed his last name on the bottom and date carved (5/12). The Bunting measures 3 5/8 inches high, a little over 1 1/8 inch wide.
This unique piece would be a wonderful addition to a collection and the subject of many conversations. It's a fine carving done by a Eskimo carver in a very remote part of the world. The old ivory bill and rich textured ivory really look great.
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