by Moses 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 Moses Soonagrook.
This stunning walrus 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, 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. His father William Sr. and brothers Billy Boy and Ladd 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. Moses' work is also featured in a book titled "Ivory Carvers of St. Lawrence Island" 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.
Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus, meaning tooth walker), or "Ayveq" - which is walrus in the Siberian Yup'ik language. This beautiful walrus was carved from whalebone. It was buried for centuries and took on a rich tan patina. It was an outer fluke bone or knuckle bone from a Bowhead Whale found on the North coast of the island. This carving shows subtle colors and rich porous texture of whale bone. The eyes are inlaid baleen; a fibrous black material found in the mouth of Bowhead whales, they strain food through it. The tusks are inlaid ivory from walrus tusk.
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". Female walrus will raise their pups along the edge of the ice pack in the summer and will head south along the coastal islands in the winter. 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. A walrus hauled out on the ice is called "nunavak".
Care of bone includes avoiding hot dry locations, such as direct sun in a window or a heat register. Remember, our pet dogs, cats and birds also like ivory and bone!
Moses signed the bottom. The walrus measures 6 inches long, 2 7/8 inches wide and stands 3 3/4 inches high. This is a real fine piece and would make a real unique gift to someone special from one of the most remote areas of the U.S.
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