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Walrus Ivory Tusk Carved Polar Bear by Yupik Eskimo Mark Nupowhotuk


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by Mark Nupowhotuk 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 Mark Nupowhotuk.

This stunning Polar Bear family was carved from an ivory tusk of a walrus by Mark Nupowhotuk 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.

Mark 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. Much walrus ivory, walrus bone and whalebone are either dug up or 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.

“Nanuq“ is the Native Siberian Yup'ik word for Polar Bear, the great white bear of the north. Mark carved this beautiful family of four Polar bears on the tusk of a walrus stalking a seal. The shape and original surface of the tusk still remains on the backside where it is signed. The center of the walrus tusk is a mottled light gold/cream color, while the outer portions consists of a cream to pure white colored ivory, hence the color variations which are more prominent than the photos show. One can trace color and textural variations at various depths in the tusk. The eyes and nose are inked. Note also the bear tracks behind each bears.

This scene depicts Polar bears and a seal basking in the midnight sun or the bears could be stalking the seal. Note the broad webbed feet of the Polar bear and how they flatten themselves when stalking. The Polar Bear is symbolic of a powerful warrior, and in the old days was the Father of all the Yup'ik people, and the source of their instincts. The polar bear is only taken by an accomplished and skilled hunter, as in the old days the only weapon was a spear. Polar Bear claws were mounted close to the entrance of the house to ward off evil spirits. They also had therapeutic qualities, such as a cure for headache. Polar Bear fur provided for warm cloths and bedding. People called upon the spirit of “Nanuq“ to witness their oaths.

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 an acid based oil such as lemon oil.

Mark's signature and location (Gambell, Alaska) are carved on the bottom. The tusk is 15 1/2 inches long, 1 1/2 inches wide at its widest point, and about 1 1/8 inches thick at it's thickest. A photo of the carver will accompany the piece. This is a stunning piece. It would make a great gift for a collector or anyone with an eye for the unusual from one of the most remote areas of the U.S.

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