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Whalebone Polar Bear Fur Spirit Mask by Eskimo Carver Moses Soonagrook


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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 old whalebone into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Moses Soonagrook.
This beautiful mask was carved from old whalebone trimmed with Polar Bear fur 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, one of the most remote areas of the U.S. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the mountains of Russia.
Moses has carved for many years and is a master carver. He carves from ivory tusks of walrus, walrus bone and whalebone, and trims with baleen from Bowhead whales. His work is featured in a book titled Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea by Dale Kessler. Much of the walrus ivory, walrus bone and whalebone are 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.
"Gginaaqwaaq" - which is Spirit mask in the Siberian Yup'ik language. Moses is real proud of his spirit mask carvings, each one is unique. This mask was carved from an old whalebone vertebrate found washed up on a beach on the central north part of the island at a place called Apataki Point. It was buried in the sand for years and will continue to shed sand. It's trimmed with Polar Bear fur. The eyes are walrus ivory inlaid with baleen; a fibrous material in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it.
Spirit masks are common in many cultures throughout the world, even our own at Halloween. A spirit mask is worn in sacred dance ceremonies. Wearing the mask frees the spirit, one can be who they want to be, free to dance, free to summon the spirits. When one sees a person wearing a mask, one no longer sees the person with all their known characteristics. One looks beyond the person in the mask and sees the spirit of the person, the ceremony, the freedom of the dance. We see the spirit that was summoned.
Care of walrus bone includes avoiding a hot location like a sunny window. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like bone!
The whale bone is about 1 1/2 inches thick, 7 3/8 inches high and 6 inches wide. The Polar Bear fur extends 1 to 2 inches out from the whalebone.
Moses signed his name on the back of the mask, best seen in reflected light. This piece would look great in a somewhat dark area with accent lighting to bring out the subtle shadows. It would make a great addition to a collection or a real surprise and very unique gift for someone special from a very remote part of the U.S.

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