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Walrus Ivory Sperm Whale by Yupik Eskimo Carver Robert Soonagrook AK


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by Robert Soonagrook 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 Soonagrook.

This beautiful Sperm Whale was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus by Robert Soonagrook 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. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Russia.

Robert is a young and new carver and is quickly becoming a master carver. He carves from ivory tusks of walrus, walrus bone and whalebone, and trims them with baleen from Bowhead whales. He is the son of the Moses Soonagrook. His grandfather William Sr., uncles Billy Boy and Ladd are well known carvers in Alaska. Their work is featured the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Airport collection and in many public, private collections and featured in a book titled Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea by Dale Kessler. Robert has a great family of carvers/teachers. Most walrus ivory, walrus bone and whalebone are 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 proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

Sperm Whale or "Manulek" - which is Sperm Whale in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful Sperm whale was carved from an old ivory tusk of a walrus found in the old village of Gambell. The center of the tusk has a light golden colored rich mottled texture with a speckled gray markings from being buried for centuries. The outer portions are a smooth cream with a touch of white on the forward flukes. It's mounted on an ivory base with a baleen pin. The base is cut from the outer portion of the tusk and shows faint temperature cracks. 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 the sea water, adding to the richness of the carving. The eyes are inlaid baleen; a fibrous black material in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it.

In the old Siberian Yup'ik culture the Sperm Whale was avoided by the hunters as it was an aggressive whale and would turn on the hunters and flip their boats. The taboo of the Sperm Whale continues today. Sperm Whales are found in increasing numbers in the rich Arctic feeding grounds.

Care of ivory 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 first, avoid acid based oil such as lemon oil. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory!

Robert signed his initials on the bottom. The whale measures 2 1/2 inches long, 2 inches high and 1/2 to 1 1/8 inches wide. It's a very beautiful piece and would make a real unique gift. Something out of the ordinary.

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