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Walrus Ivory Snow Bunting by Yupik Carver Melcher Oozevaseuk, Alaska


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by Melcher Oozevaseuk of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal walrus ivory and bone into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Melcher Oozevaseuk.

This fine Snow Bunting was carved from the tusk of a walrus by Melcher Oozevaseuk 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.

Melcher 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. Much ivory and whalebone is either dug up or found washed up on beaches after storms. 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" - Snow Bunting in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful Bunting was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus. The center of the walrus tusk is a mottled light golden/yellow color, while the outer portions consists of a cream to pure white. The mottled golden center can be seen on the back of the piece and the body is cream colored. There are faint black lines or temperature cracks on the right side of the piece. Temperature cracks are caused when the walrus was hauled out in life and sunning on a beach, warming their bodies and tusks, then plunging back into the cold arctic sea. Their tusks develop surface cracks and are stained black by minerals in sea water, adding to the richness of the carving. The eyes and bill are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it. It's mounted on a seal vertebrate found on a beach near Gambell.

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.  Frequently 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. Perky Snowbuntings 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, avoid an acid based oil such as lemon oil.

It measures 2 7/8 inches high which includes a 1 1/4 inch base, the Bunting measures 1 1/8 inch back to front and 3/4 inches wide. Melcher's signed the bottom of the verterbrat.

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

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