by Ladd Soonagrook 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 Ladd Soonagrook.
This very different Spirit Walrus was carved from whalebone by Ladd 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.
Ladd has carved for many years and is a master carver. His father William Sr. and brothers Billy Boy and Moses are well known carvers in Alaska. Their work is featured the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the Airport collection, the Wells Fargo Collection and private collections and his carvings are featured in a book titled Eskimo Carvers of the Bering Sea, by Dale Kessler.
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.
“Keretkun” - the Chukchi Master of the Sea (Spirit Walrus). This is a fine and powerful traditional carving depicting the transformation of the spirit of the Yup’ik hunter and the walrus; or in the days of the Shaman, the “Keretkun”. Upon the death of a powerful hunter his spirit would enter the walrus. The piece was carved from an outer fluke bone or knuckle bone from a Bowhead Whale. A very dense and rich textured bone. It was found in the old village of Gambell and was buried for centuries and took on a rich tan patina. The spear is made from baleen of the Bowhead Whale, and tipped with a walrus ivory point. The spear point projects below the level of the base so it's slightly elevated when on a level surface. The line is sinew from seal gut. The eyes are inlaid baleen, a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead Whales, they strain food through it. When I first met Ladd a few years ago, I realized he puts himself into his carvings, it’s actually a mini self portrait of the carver.
In the Siberian Yup'ik culture the walrus was a source of food, tools and material for artwork and trading. The female hides were stretched over driftwood to make their boats called "umiaks". In the old days Walrus were generally hunted from "umiaks". Walrus will defend themselves and the herd will come to rescue a hunted walrus. Individual walrus were driven ashore with the aid of a baleen clapper, or flat piece of baleen they would slap the ocean surface with, which sounded like an Orca (Killer Whale), the enemy of the walrus. The walrus would seek land, where the hunters waited. The walrus is considered a bringer of good luck and happiness.
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 or a Q-tip first, avoid an acid based oil such as lemon oil. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like bone!
Ladd signed his name on the bottom, note. The piece measures 2 7/8 inches long, not counting the spear, 1 5/8 inches wide and stands 1 3/4 inches high at the head.
This is a real fine piece and would make a real unique gift or a great addition to a collection from one of the most remote areas of the U.S. Could be your Spirit Guide?
Buy it Now!