ca. 1940s – 1950s
United States: Alaska
Materials: Ivory and elastic
Ivory carved jewelry such as this detailed bracelet were common as souvenirs made by northern Inuit people in the early half of the last century. This bracelet depicts a dog team with a sled, a rider and ten dogs intricately carved and painted. The sections of the bracelet are made of white and mottled pieces of walrus ivory, the mottled ivory coming from the interior of the tusk. The bracelet is strung on elastic thread which was commonly used in jewelry in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Ivory carvings of the Inuit people often depict animals and have historically been linked with shamanistic hunting rituals. This tradition carried over into the souvenir trade that erupted in the 1940’s. Animal depictions, though not linked to hunting ritual when used in jewelry or figurines for souvenirs, were still the main form of ivory, bone and stone carvings made. The sled dog team is an important aspect of the Inuit culture and is thus depicted quite often in carvings. Trained sled dogs made it possible for groups and individuals to travel long distances over arctic terrain to follow game or to relocate seasonally. Dog teams were essential in guarding reindeer herds and hauling equipment and supplies. In 1896, during the Alaskan Gold Rush, sled dog teams made it possible for prospectors to travel in the icy tundra. In the early 1920’s dog sled races became very popular and the famous Iditarod Race was born. This particular bracelet is from the Diomede Islands in the middle of the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska.
The inhabitants of these islands were relocated so close to Russia that a Russian military base could be built on the larger of the two islands, but a small population famous for their ivory carvings still remains on the smaller island in a the City of Diomede located on the westernmost coast. Carved ivory from this area is mostly sold in Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska, but is also sold through art auctions. [Katrina Kassis Swihart]