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Walrus Ivory Snowy Owl by Yupik Eskimo Carver Robert Tungian Gambell


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by Robert Tungian 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 Robert Tungian.

This fine Snowy Owl was carved from the ivory tusk of a walrus by Robert Tungian 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.

Robert 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 carvings 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.

"Anipaghllak" - Which is Snowy Owl in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful Snowy Owl was carved from an 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 back body and very subtle on the sides. The rich mottled center of the tusk forms a stripe down on the upper 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 are a double inlay of baleen inlaid in old fossil ivory. Fossil ivory is found in the old village of Gambell, it was buried for centuries and took on a rich tan patina. Baleen is a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it.

The Snowy Owl is found throughout the northern arctic tundra plains and builds its nest on high frost mounds or any small vantage point. The Snowy Owl is sacred in many northern cultures. It is symbolic of that which comes at night - the dream world, the world of the Shaman, things that are seen by reflected light, moonlight. The owl is considered very wise, wisdom gained through deep thought emanating from dreams and reflection. Owls and birds were spirit helpers, summoned by the shamans to bring gifts of the spirit. The presence of a bird during a ritual ceremony was considered a good sign. Frequently birds were carved from ivory into amulets and adorned those who summoned the spirits. Their brightly colored feathers also adorn clothing and were a source of food in the early spring.

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!
Richard signed his initials on the bottom. The Owl measures 1 7/8 inches high, 1 inch wide and 1 1/2 inches front to back.

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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