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 very stunning and unique walrus with pup was carved from whalebone 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 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.
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 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 with pup was carved from whalebone. It was a large vertebrate probably from a bowhead whale and found on the North coast of the island near a place called "Apataki Point". It was buried for centuries and took on a nice tan patina. This carving shows subtle colors and rich porous texture of whale bone. The eyes are a double inlay of baleen in old fossil ivory. Fossil ivory is found in the old village of Gambell. The tusks are inlaid ivory from walrus tusk. It's mounted on a weathered whalebone base.
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!
Charles signed his initials on the bottom. The walrus measures 6 7/8 inches long, 4 inches wide and stands 3 7/8 inches high including the base. 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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