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Chukchi Bone Carving
August 17, 2009 20:17

The Extreme North is inhabited by over 20 peoples and ethnicities, all of them keeping their ancient and interesting culture, an important place in which belongs to useful arts. From olden times the northerners have made clothes, household articles and decorations using natural materials, such as fells of animals and birds, fish skin, wood and plants, and, certainly, carved bone. The folk art of bone carving has been a old tradition with the Chukchi and Eskimos inhabiting the northeast coast of the Chukchi Peninsula and the Diomede Islands.

Carving and engraving on bones of polar animals is one of the most striking examples of the inimitable art of the Arctic peoples. Nowadays the art of bone carving has been kept alive only in Alaska, Yakutia and the Chukchi Autonomous District.

According to archeological finds the works of Chukchi and Eskimos bone carving existed as far back as the first centuries of Christian era. Bone had been a universal material in the North before metals appeared there. The aboriginal masters used different kinds of bone: walrus tusk, hartshorn, and mammoth bone.

The Ancient Bering Sea culture (Old Eskimos culture that existed from the 3rd century BC till the 1st century CE) was peculiar for its animalistic sculpture and household articles made of bone and decorated with relief carving and curvilinear ornamentation. In the following Punuk Period, which lasted till the beginning of the second millennium, sculpture became geometrical, and ornaments changed into rectilineal. The 19th century saw the appearance of narrative bone engraving, originating from petroglyphs of Pegtymel' and ritual wood drawings.

In the late 19th – early 20th cc due to development of trading with American and European merchants and whalers there appeared carved bone souvenirs meant for sale. The early 20th century was marked by development of a new form of Chukchi art – these were walrus tusks with engraved pictures. Primitive drawings on tusks had been made earlier also, but narrative pictures on the surface of polished walrus tusks appeared in the 1920s and quickly attained amazing artistic power and beauty.

In the 1930s the handicraft gradually focused in the settlements of Uelen, Naukan and Dezhnev. A stationary bone carving workshop was founded in Uelen in 1931. Its first director was Vukvutagin, one of the leading masters of bone carving.

The figurines of whales, seals, and white bears created in the 1920s – 1930s are expressive though static. In the 1930s already there appeared sculptures in which bone carvers tried to convey typical poses and digress from symbolical, static images. This tendency was expanding in the following years. In the 1960-1980s sculpture groups came to prevail in Chukchi bone carving.

Masters of Chukchi carved bone do not use lace openwork technique, which is characteristic of Yakut carving. Only Chukchi have coloured bone engraving, this unique kind of ethnic arts and crafts. It is dynamic and narrates a wide variety of stories, such as old tales about the Sun, about a beautiful girl, or skillful hunters and fishermen. It can even tell about some transformations modern of life.

Sculptures are traditionally cut by men, while engravings are mostly made by women. Engraved are usually household articles, such as, for example, a pencil cup, or a knife; or it can be just a walrus tusk, on which a whole story in pictures unfolds.


Tags: Russian Arts and Crafts Bone Carving    

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