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Whale & Walrus Bone Kayak Hunter by Merle Apassingok, North Bering Sea


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by Merle Apassingok of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal whale bone and walrus bone into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Merle Apassingok.

This stunning Kayaker was carved from whale and walrus bone by Merle Apassingok of Gambell, Alaska; a small Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 700 people on St. Lawrence Island, just south of the Bering Straits. It's about 140 miles off shore from Nome Alaska, and about 40 miles from Russia. Their native Yup'ik language is spoken on both sides of the straits. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Russia.

Merle has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from the ivory tusk of a walrus and whalebone and trims them with baleen, a fibrous material from the mouth of Bowhead whales. Much ivory and whalebone is either dug up or found washed up on beaches after storms. Carving is a rich tradition on St. Lawrence Island, and helps sustain their proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area. Her late Father Don Ungott was a well know carver in Alaska.

“Quyaq” which is Kayak in the Siberian Yup’ik language. This is a fine example of Native Alaskan Art. Merle carved the hull of the kayak, float bag and seal from a whale rib bone found washed up on a beach. There is a hint of green in the bone from being in sea water. The body of the hunter was carved from a vertebrate of a whale, it was found in the old village of Gambell and was buried for centuries and took on a rich brown patina. The head and hands were carved from walrus jawbone also found in the old village of Gambell. The paddle and spear are traditional drift wood. The spear point is ivory from the tusk of a walrus. The spear is attached to the float with sinew made from seal gut. It's mounted on a walrus bone base.

The walrus skin “Quyaq”, or kayak, was a traditional near shore boat for hunting seals, birds, small whales, and with the help of others the taking of walrus. Kayaks were made from drift wood and wrapped with the hide of a female walrus, because the hide was thin and flexible. The spear was attached to a float made from sealskin. The Yupik hunter would glide silently up to a “U.ttug” or “seal basking on the ice”. Walrus were generally hunted from larger boats called Umiaks. Walrus will defend themselves and the herd will come to rescue a hunted walrus. Individual walrus can be driven ashore with the aid of a baleen clapper, or flat piece of baleen with which they would slap the ocean surface, which sounded like an Orca, the enemy of the walrus. Hence the walrus would seek land, where the hunters waited.

Care of bone is avoiding hot dry areas such as direct sun in a window or a heat register and protect from dust. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like bone!

Merle's traditional Yup'ik name is on the bottom, "Wowita". This unique carving would be a wonderful addition to a collection. The kayak measures 12 1/2 inches long, 1 3/4 inches wide and 6 3/8 inches high at the top of the head. This is a real collectors item. It would make a great gift from Alaska for an avid kayaker or a nice addition to a collection.

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