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Walrus Ivory Tooth Necklace, by Yupik Eskimo Carver Ladd Soonagrook


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by Ladd Soonagrook of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal walrus ivory tooth into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Ladd Soonagrook.

This unusual necklace piece was carved from a molar tooth of a walrus by Ladd 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 Siberia.

Ladd 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. He is the middle son of the Soonagrook family of carvers. His father William sr., brothers Billy Boy and Moses 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.

Much walrus ivory, walrus bone and whalebone are either dug up or found washed up on beaches after storms (see "St. Lawrence Island" Page). Carving is a rich tradition for the Native Alaskan people on St. Lawrence Island, it helps sustain their rich and proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

"Aalqullghiik" - which is the married couple in the Siberian Yup'ik language. Ladd is real proud of his "faces" series of carvings, each one is unique. The piece features a Yup'ik man and woman on the front side and a Bowhead Whale on the back. It was carved from a molar tooth of a walrus, behind the tusk. It was found on a beach on the North side of the Island near a place called Apataki Point. The eye of the Bowhead is inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it.

In the Siberian Yup'ik culture the Bowhead whale was the preferred whale as it relatively docile when approached by hunters with spears. It was a source of food, tools and building materials. There are several old whalebone structures in the old village of Gambell still standing. The taking of a whale was a village affair, and was symbolic of the community of sharing. It took the cooperation of many to feed the village. Bowhead's spend most of their lives in the Arctic seas. They have a massive bone structure on their heads for breaking through the ice. There are approximately 10,000 to 12,000 Bowhead whales in the North Arctic Ocean, and they produce approximately 350 to 400 calves each year.

The whale continues to play a key part in village life; it embodies the spirit of community sharing. The taking of a Bowhead has great significance to the people of Gambell. On my first trip to Gambell I asked if they fish. I received a very stern answer, “we don’t fish; we hunt whales, walrus and bears”.

Care of ivory includes avoiding hot dry locations, such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Give it an occasional light coating of mineral oil or baby oil, put it on a cloth first or a q-tip. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds like ivory also.

A photo of Ladd will accompany the piece. Ladd signed the back shown in the photo. The piece measures 2 1/8 inches long, 3/4 inches wide and 5/8 inches thick. This is a one of a kind piece, rich in detail, truly unique. It would be the subject of many questions and much admired. It's a great necklace piece featuring a Yupik Woman, Man and whale. It would make a real unique gift or nice addition to a collection. Could be your animal spirit guide. Something out of the ordinary from a very remote area.

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