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Whalebone Polar Bear Alaska Yupik Eskimo Art by Charles Slwooko


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by Charles Slwooko of St. Lawrence Island, North Bering Sea

Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft. It was carved and significantly transformed from marine mammal whalebone into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Charles Slwooko.

This walking Polar Bear was carved from the outer fluke bone of a whale by Charles Slwooko 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 Siberian Yup'ik 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. One of the most remote areas of the U.S.
Charles 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 ancient culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area.

Walking Polar Bear - This beautiful Polar Bear or "Nanuq" in the Siberian Yup'ik language, is a fine example of Native Yup'ik art. It was carved from an outer fluke bone of a whale, equivalent to our finger bone. Fluke bones are very dense and make an excellent carving medium. It was found in the old village of Gambell and was buried for centuries and took on a rich tan patina. The eyes and nose are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. The bear is in a walking pose, perhaps looking for a seal basking on the ice or "u.ttug".

The Polar Bear was symbolic of a powerful hunter, as in the old days the only way to take a Polar Bear was with a spear. It was considered the Father of the Yup'ik people and the source of their instincts. Polar Bear Claws were mounted close to the entrance of their house to ward off evil spirits and they also had therapeutic qualities such as a cure for a headache. People called upon the spirit of "nanuq" to witness their oaths. Polar Bear fur provided for warm cloths and bedding.

Care of bone 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. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like bone!

Charles signed his initials on the bottom. The piece measures 2 1/8 inches high, 7/8 inches wide and 2 1/2 inches front to back. This is a real fine piece and would make a great unique gift from a very remote area of the U.S. Charles has a unique style.

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