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Walrus Ivory Tooth Necklace, by Yupik Eskimo Carver William Soonagrook


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by William Soonagrook Sr. of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

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

This unusual necklace piece was carved from an old molar tooth of a walrus by William 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.

William 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. His sons William jr., Ladd 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. William is real proud of his "faces" series of carvings, each one is unique. The piece features a Yup'ik man on one side and woman on the other side. It was carved from a molar tooth of a walrus, behind the tusk. The walrus tooth was found on a beach on the North side of the Island near a place called Apataki Point. Bill prides himself in the rich detail. I asked Bill about the tooth carving, he called it a clan carving, like a family portrait. Later I talked to Bill's wife Virginia, and she said to me "I told Bill to stop putting me on those carvings, I don't like everyone to see me, but he still does". To which I responded and said "of course he puts you on there, you're the love of his life!" On the back side is his late wife Virginia.

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 William will accompany the piece. Bill signed the back. The piece measures 1 5/8 inches long, 1 inch wide and 3/4 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 and Man. 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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