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Whalebone Shaman Spirit Whale 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 marine mammal whalebone into Authentic Alaska Native Eskimo handicraft and signed by Alaska Native Eskimo artist Moses Soonagrook.

This very different transformer whale or Spirit Whale was carved from whalebone 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 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 them with baleen from Bowhead whales. He is the eldest son of the Soonagrook family of carvers. His father William Sr., brothers Billy Boy and Ladd are well known carvers in Alaska. His son Robert is learning to carve. Their work is featured the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Airport collection and in many public, private collections and his carvings are 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. 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 Whale) This is a fine and powerful traditional carving depicting the transformation of the spirit of the Yup’ik hunter and the whale; or in the days of the Shaman, the “Keretkun” in the Siberian Yup'ik language. Upon the death of a powerful hunter depending on the clan, his spirit would enter the whale. The whale was carved from whalebone found in the old village of Gambell. It's mounted on a whalebone base with a baleen pin. When I first met Moses a few years ago, I realized he puts himself into his carvings, it’s actually a mini self portrait of the carver.

Care of bone includes avoiding extremes in temperature change and avoid hot dry areas such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like bone!

Moses signed the bottom. The piece measures 5 7/8 inches long, 1 1/2 inches wide and 3 inches at the pin.

This a real fine piece from a very remote area and a powerful depiction of the transformer. It would make a great gift from Alaska or a nice addition to a collection.

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