Alaska Carvers

Many of the Stonington Gallery whalebone and Ivory carvers hail from Shishmaref, Alaska, a small Inupiaq Eskimo village a hundred miles north of Nome along the Bering Sea coast. The population (530 villagers) lives on a tiny, eroding barrier reef. The villagers remain because of the strategic access to sea and land hunting. In the winter months men go inland to hunt for moose and caribou. In the late spring when the ocean ice is breaking up, they hunt by boats for seal and walrus. During the summer families spend the long daylight hours at camps fishing for salmon and picking berries on the tundra and scavenging fossilized whalebone and ivory along the beaches, seeing what has newly emerged from the sand and rock after the long winter.

Shishmaref has a strong arts and crafts tradition for generations. Generally it is the men who carve ivory, antler, whalebone and baleen. They utilize the natural size and texture of the local materials to create works which reflect their activities and their connection to the animals on land and sea.

The village emphasis on creativity started up a burst of innovation during the mid-seventies when whalebone carving was introduced. Today Shishmaref leads the in the production of whalebone carving as an outstanding sculptural media and it is a medium that spread to all the Inupiat peoples in the surrounding Bering Sea villages. As it has become more popular, Shishmaref has gained an artistic reputation as the place for artists to be to stretch their creativity. The artists tend to focus on creating interesting, culturally relevant pieces more than they focus on building a particular reputation. Whalebone carving is something that is taught from father-to-son; it is a group effort and a labor of love that is enriched with the stories of the Inupiaq people from long ago to today.

Many of the Gallery Eskimo artists are Yupik and Siberian Yupik and hail from St. Lawrence Island.