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Old Ivory Walrus Tooth Bowhead Whale by Moses Soonagrook, Gambell AK


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

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

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

Moses 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 elder son of the Soonagrook family of carvers. His father William sr., brothers 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.

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.

"Ivaghniighta" - which is the Hunter in the Siberian Yup'ik language. Moses is real proud of his "faces" series of carvings, each one is unique. The piece features a Yup'ik hunter on one side and his son on the other side and Bowhead Whale on the edges. A hunter, his son and a bowhead Whale, all very nicely done. It was carved from a large old 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 and was buried for centuries and took on a rich tan patina. Note the detail, like the tiny gap under the whale's tail fluke.

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 on St. Lawrence Island I asked if they fish. I received a very stern answer, “we don’t fish, we are hunters, 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 Moses will accompany the piece. Moses signed the back lower part where the cusp is intact. The piece measures 1 7/8 inches long, 3/4 inch wide and 1/2 inch 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 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.

Buy it now!