Chukotka ivory art
Chukotka ivory art
Every person who went to school in Russia suppose to know this word «Uelen» meaning the far most northeastern settlement point of the country’s territory But this place is famous in another way as well. Here, on the Uelen sandbank, or neck of land, stretching toward the Saint-Lawrence island of the Bering Sea, people are living for centuries, and perhaps, for millenniums. These are aboriginal settlers who authored an unique bom-carving art The settlement of Uelen is the place for a famous born-carving art shop where for several decades the craft of carving and engraving walrus tasks has been flourishing and still exist till nowadays, Chukchi and Eskimo (Innuit) people are two neighboring groups historically living in Chukotka peninsula (most of the Innuits live in Canada).
According 2002 Russian census of population, there are 15827 Chukchi and 1798 Eskimo people live in the Russian Federation. Today, majority of them live in urban settlements, but a significant number are still involved into traditional life subsistence economies — sea mammals hunting and fishing.
Part of Chukchi people are involved into reindeer breeding and fur animals hunting.
Thus, tundra and sea are two natural elements which form life and culture of Arctic aboriginals. These two elements are intermingled in a world vision of the local population and they make the main theme of their artistic expressions. This book is about this art and it is an annotated catalogue of most complete and precious private collection of Chukotka ivory art. Most often, to engrave the polished walrus task surface, an aboriginal artist used for one side — the theme tundra life and hunting; for another side of the task — the theme of sea hunting and life in a coastal settlements. That is why we chose this title for the book «Tundra and Sea».
Fugurines and figural compositions carved from walrus tusk, engraved walrus ivory, decorative knives and other items make up valuable museum collections in Russia and elsewhere in the world. This collection features some outstanding examples of this art.
The author of this book started collecting ivory carvings back in the 1960s and ‘70s, when he was teaching at the Magadan Pedagogical Institute. Acquisitions made in the 1990s — some 200 items — are the backbone of this collection. In 1999 the collection was shown for the first time ever at an exhibition held at the Museum of Eastern Art in Moscow. The first publication introducing the collection appeared in the Russian magazine Around the World. However, to date, the collection has not been studied, described and properly presented, although its artistic and ethnographic significance is obvious.
In this book the reader will find a scientific analysis of the history of the development of the Chukchi and Eskimo ivory carving and its artistic and ethnographic significance. This analysis is largely based on the art of the masters who represent the famous Ivory Art Centre in the community of Uelen. This book contains a detailed description of the collection, information about the artists and texts of some Chukchi folk tales whose characters are depicted in many walrus carvings.
Many books and monographs have been written about the Chukchi and the Eskimo, the two peoples inhabiting Russia’s Far North-Eastern region. The bibliography of Russia’s Chukchi and Eskimo ethnography and art is also rich and the study of walrus task’s carving and engraving has its long and distinguished tradition of old local museum the modern art center has been inaugurated in 2005 with growing exposition for indigenous people, their history, culture and art. Rich collection of Uelen ivory going back 1920-30s is now in possession of Zarogsk state history and art museum. These objects had been transferred there after 1937 Exhibition of Folk Art at the Tretyakov Art Gallery in Moscow. In 1939, in Zagorsk, new Museum of folk craft and arts has been established and it exists till nowadays in this ancient Russian city nearby Moscow. Small collections of this art are in possession of other museums — The Russian Ethnographic museum and The Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkam- era) in Saint-Petersburg.
This book is built on one private collection’s materials, but this collection represents the best samples of most famous artists who worked in the XX century in Chulotka ivory and who made this art as one of the most precious national cultural legacy and as one of the world celebrity.
The author expresses its first gratitude to Andrei Nikitin without whom this collection did not come out at alL Special gratitude to Yuri A. Shirokov, former director of the Anadyr museum and author of all objects’ descriptions, to Michael Leibov — author of photography. Working with publishing house «Indrik» I have discovered that its director, Kiril Vakh keeps as family relicts an album of his grand mother who worked in 1930th in Chukotka as meteorologist, and her amateur but extremely valuable photos of Uelen and its people in 1930th has been included the book with courtesy. Kunstkamera And Museum of Oriental Art gave permission to reproduce some archaeological objects from the Ekven burial site and other places.
My old friend, Director of Arctic Research at Canada’s Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Harald Finkler endorsed my project and assisted with preparation of English translation. All of them I express my gratitude.
This is how it all started. In the 1920s the state supported the development of traditional arts and crafts of different peoples inhabiting the country within the framework of the Soviet national-cultural policies pursued at the time. It was then that the already existing art of the Chukotka ivory carving caught Moscow’s attention. The natural talent of the Aboriginal carvers combined with the expertise of the professional artists and art historians from the Arts Academy sent by Moscow to Chukotka’s most remote community of Uelen to develop handicrafts produced remarkable results. A. L. Gorbunkov, an artist and expert on folk art, was the first who was started in the late 1920 – early 1930 small native cooperatives in setteements of Dezhnev, Lorino, Uelen. Ethnographer and art expert, I. P. Lavrov, the Art Director of the Uelen Ivory Carving Centre, once told me: «I taught Emkul (one of the best known engravers) to draw compositions and engrave images of reindeer running in the tundra. She was such a quick learner and so talented that there was no need to teach her, really.»
In recent years, Chukotka has become a place where business and tourism have been developing at a rapid pace.
The Chukotka craftsmen and the art consultants from Moscow and Leningrad accomplished something truly wonderful: they built, on the basis of the aesthetic principles of the Northern Aboriginal peoples, a strong art school that was a vibrant and influential force for several decades and that has preserved, to some extent, its traditions to this day. It would be wrong to present this art as a «forgotten» art form or a newly discovered art. Artists from Uelen have participated in many national and international art shows, they have been awarded honorary titles and decorations. The Uelen Ivory Carving Centre has become one of Chukotka’s symbols. Yet the uniqueness, the artistic significance and the rich content of this art bom on the outskirts of civilization remain little known in other parts of the world.
Some say that this art died when the last one of the old generation of the famous ivory carvers died, that modern Chukotka craftsmen have succumbed to drinking or have become victims of greedy visiting traders and will never be able to create works that would equal the masterpieces of their predecessors. Unfortunately, one cannot rule out such bleak prospects: after all, the history of the world’s art is a mix of ups and downs, emergence and decline of various schools, trends and cultural traditions. The best of the Chukotka artwork created in the 1930s to thel950s in the small round building of the Uelen Ivory Carving Center that resembles a yaranga, the traditional dwelling of sea hunters and reindeer breeders, will remain unsurpassed. However, it would be wrong to under appreciate the talent of the modern carvers and the efforts of all those who support the development of the Aboriginal art.
The story behind the best artwork created by the masters of the past, international recognition of and demand for this art could influence in a positive way the current situation, although in some cases the reverse is true. As an example one could mention certain arts and crafts and crude fakes. This collection includes the best pieces by famous carvers and engravers, whose art is well-known throughout the world and is part of Russia’s cultural heritage.
ARTISTS AND ARTISTIC FORMS
Northern artists went down in the history of the Aboriginal art as skilful animalists. Ivory carvings of polar bears, walruses, seals and reindeer are surprisingly expressive and represent a stunning generalization of forms. Sculptures created in the early XX century, in the 1920s and 1930s, when there were no power tools available, are particularly interesting. These sculptures are the backbone of the collection. Pieces by Chukotka ivory carvers depicting northern animals are traditionally laconic in style and do not have any unnecessary details. Although somewhat primitive and ambiguous, they convey a highly original artistic vision.
Keen observation, true to life depiction, ability to see and convey the perfect lines of Arctic animals and the beauty of the harsh North are, indeed, stunning. The ivory figurines of the walrus, the seal, the polar bear, the reindeer and the dog are very expressive and convey the special warm feelings of those who made them, so much so that once you take them in your hands, you do not want to part with them.
As a matter of fact, until recently the Chukchi and the Eskimo used to carry these items with them. When they went hunting they took them along, since these figurines were considered to be sacred amulets and magic charms. Children used them as toys.
Some of the items in our collection (the smoking pipe, walrus, seal and reindeer figurines) that date back to the XIX century had a symbolic meaning. Small sculptures created by the Chukotka craftsmen in the XX century repeat these forms and, at the same time, become more complex and demonstrate exceptional finesse. Huge walruses peacefully lying on ice, majestic polar bears, a reindeer striking a gracious pose, a baby seal, — all these works are real masterpieces.
Later on they began carving sculptural groups besides individual figurines. In the 1940s it became increasingly popular to carve reindeer sleds and scenes depicting walrus and bear hunting, fishing, wolves attacking reindeer, walruses fighting with reindeer bulls, or a fight between a walrus and a polar bear. Reindeer sleds and other compositions were usually placed on ivory «platforms» made of huge walrus tusks engraved on each side. The antlers that crown the figures of the animals are a stunning example of extremely delicate work. They were made separately (in pairs) and then put into small drilled recesses.
In the XX century a new form of the Chukotka art emerged, that of ivory engraving. They used to decorate tusks with primitive drawings before. However, it was only in the 1920s that they started to engrave images of various scenes on the surface of polished walrus tusks and right from the very start succeeded in creating powerful and beautiful pieces. In the book, there are the images of two tusks decorated by engravers from the village of Dezhnev who belonged to the «Dezhnev School» that was well-known in the 1920s and the 1930s.
The collection features pieces by over 40 outstanding Chukotka artists. Khukhutan, a well-known Eskimo hunter who used to be the head of a sea hunters’ team, has been decorated with a title of the Honorary Artist of Russia. Using his unique style, Khukhutan created works depicting scenes of hunting in the Arctic. Vukvutaghin, a Chukchi who founded the Uelen Ivory Carving Centre, trained dozens of carvers. One of his famous pieces, a stunning dog sled, is, in fact, a very powerful composition: the huge walrus tusk that doubles as a stand features a sled with a musher and a passenger, hunters in full northern gear pulling along a seal, a polar bear and a huge walrus. The tusk is decorated with scenes in relief depicting daily life in the North.
The collection includes a number of works by Tukkai and Suyguteghin, the two famous Chukchi carvers who created such well-known sculptural groups depicting Aboriginal life as «A Pack of Wolves Attacking a Reindeer Herd» (Tukkai) (see p. 98) and «Reindeer Herders Relocating to a New Campsite» (Suyguteghin). Sculptural compositions made of ivory are more than just miniature genre reproductions. Every scene tells a fascinating story about the North.
When it comes to Nature, Arctic hunters are real experts, — they know it very well.
Every carver tends to create images of «his» animal. Thus, Khuvat was particularly successful doing sculptures of polar bears. Nikolai Kililoy preferred walruses that brought him fame as a master carver. These two animals are always present in the artwork of all Chukchi carvers. However, the images of «Khuvat polar bears» and «Kililoy walruses» are distinct, they are more expressive and powerful. The collection features a number of sculptures by these two carvers.
Desk sets and napkin rings are viewed in art history books as something «eclectic», something that is associated with indiscriminate taste of a visitor, a seaman from a ship. The collection includes a significant number of commissioned utilitarian items that contradict this popular belief. One can take as an example a decorative piece by Knuknutan, a toiletry box. This piece is of little practical value. However, the Eskimo artist managed to create a highly original, beautiful and unique «one of a kind» sculptural group, — one will not find anything like this in other collections. The box with the lid has been transformed by the cover into a polynia from which a walrus has emerged, while the figures of the polar bear and the hunter suggest the drama of pursuit.
The desk set by Ako is an excellent example of decorative carving. The traditional figures of Artie animals on the desk set do not look strange and out of place: they are integral to the piece. The napkin rings (that must have been ordered by crews of sea ships) are of interest because of the primitive drawings and the skilful positioning of the drawings on the narrow ivory band. The schooner by Ghemaughe was carved in 1957 from a walrus tusk and a whale bone.
It is another commissioned item in the collection. This masterpiece has a special place in the collection and is a rare and unique piece that really stands out, — one will not find a similar item in any other domestic collection of ivory carvings.
Engraved tusks is a specific form of the Chukchi art that emerged at the turn of the XX century. They became a kind of a pictorial history of people living in the North. The collection features about sixty engraved tusks. Two of them are splendid pieces. These are the works by Pyotr Penkok and Stepan Etuvghi who belonged to the Dezhnev School and date to the 1920s — 1930s. The two artists developed their own unique style distinct from that of other carvers of the time. It is characterized by an emphasis on decorative elements, large engraved figures-characters and a pronounced naYvite combined with an accurate depiction of the surrounding environment. Engraved tusks created by artists who belonged to the Dezhnev School are, indeed, a rarity in museum collections.
This collection includes many works by two female Chukotka artists Vera Emkul and Elena Yanku. Both have been awarded the title of the Honorary Artist of Russia. Their creations — ivory engravings — can be found in the museums in Russia and abroad. The collection features pieces made by several generations of Chukotka carvers. Some of them became well-known dynasties such as the Ghemaughes: Ghemaughe (a carver who made ivory schooners), Maya Ghemaughe (his daughter who became an engraver), Lilia Ghemaughe (his niece who is an artist). Another legendary dynasty is that of Vera Emkul (the artist’s mother), Victor Teyutin (her son who is a carver), Lidia Teyutina (her daughter who is an artist), and Aromke (who is Emkul’s father and the Teyutins’ grandfather).
ETHNOGRAPHY OF THE WALRUS TUSK
Here is a fascinating story behind the art of the engraved walrus tusk. The first such tusk was made by a Chukchi whose name was Stepan Ettughi (Etuvghi). He died in the 1944. The narrow sides of the tusk bear the master’s inscriptions made in block letters and in words. On the one side it is written «The Chukotka Peninsula. Cap(e) Dezhnev. 1926.» The second side bears the following inscription: «Trading Post. Dal- gostora. Stepan. Faghele Morch. Kliku rapoti».
Stepan’s brother was the well-known engraver P. Penkok. He engaged in sea-hunting and worked in the family studio. On the one side of the tusk one can see the trading post of the A КО, the Kamchatka Open Stock Society, along with the trading post of Dalgostorg and the Chukchi village of Kenishkhun (Dezhnev): eight buildings of the trading post complex, including three storage facilities. There are red flags on the three buildings of the trading post. The buildings are heated with woodstoves and smoke is rising from the chimneys. One can also see stands for kayaks and a bear skin that has been put out to dry. Nearby the trading station there is a village of 14 yarangas, or skin tents, with stands for kayaks and meat pits. There are people on the shore: a man is standing in the kayak, another one standing beside the walrus that has been brought ashore from the hunting trip, yet another man is walking along with a meat bag, just like the two others near the village structures. A woman and a man are standing on the very edge of the spit. She is wearing a red kamleika while he is wearing a striped one. The band of the sea becomes wider and runs across the entire side of the tusk. To the right, at the edge of the tusk, one can see the scene of hunting a walrus from a kayak. The harpooner on the bow of the boat has pierced the swimming walrus with his spear. Beside him there is a man preparing floats that are called pykh-pykh. Two oarsmen are busy paddling, while the rudder man is guiding the boat.
The other side is also engraved with scenes of winter sea hunting that are remarkable for their degree of ethnographic details and accuracy of expression. The Chukchi man has thrown the harpoon into the walrus and keeps the wounded animal on the stretched line.
The polar bear on the ice floe has attacked the walrus, biting its nose. Two polar bears stand beside a seal tom apart. One of them rises on its hind legs. Next to it is a scene of walrus hunting from a kayak. Two walruses lie on an ice floe. The third one has jumped into the water, and the harpoon with the line is aimed at this particular walrus. The hunter on the kayak has just thrown his harpoon. He is wearing a striped kamleika with a hood and has an inflated pykh-pykh (a float) behind his back. At the very edge of the tusk one can see two seals on ice floes. The entire length of the tusk is covered with the drawing of the sea. In the upper part there are shapes of hills covered with snow. This tusk is an outstanding piece of the Chukotka ivory carving art, remarkable for its decorative elements, nalvit£, colour palette, ethnographic, local lore and historical value and geographically accurate presentation of the village of Dezhnev and a trading post of the 1920s.
The second tusk dates back to 1934.
It was engraved by Pyotr Penkok. The tusk itself is a unique item. Its total length is 87 centimeters and no similar samples have been found in recent decades.
The engraving is done in monochrome with a black pencil. It is a miniature graphic encyclopedia of the life of Aboriginal peoples in the Arctic. On the one side of the tusk there is a picture of the Dezhnev village: a narrow strip of the shore, dogs eating meat, a whale-boat pulled ashore. Two Chukchi have begun dressing the walrus carcass. A group of hunters is pulling ashore a whale-boat.
The hunters are being welcomed by a woman and children. Two Chukchi are standing stand beside the walrus carcass. A hunter is pulling an empty whale-boat towards the shore. Three hunters are returning with their game, carrying it on their backs. A woman is walking away with bags full of meat. In the background one can see some village structures and the AKO buildings, private houses, a meteorological station and skin tents.
On the other side of the tusk there is a picture of the village of Uelen, Local villagers are dressing walrus carcasses on the wide Uelen spit: women are cutting out pieces of meat and are taking them away in shoulder bags. Two women are separating walrus cagings. A Chukchi hunter is returning from the hunting trip, dragging along his game, a seal. A team of hunters is pulling ashore their whale-boat. Nearby they have begun dressing a walrus carcass. Two figures are bending over the carcass. Right on the spit there is duck hunting going on. One hunter is shooting at a low-flying flock of ducks, the other one who is standing in the whaleboat has thrown his ‘bolo» (a missile weapon used for bird hunting). A dog has picked up a duck and is trying to run away. A Chukchi is chasing the dog. Next to it one can see a hunter with his game of several seals. A dog sled is passing by them pulled by six dogs, the musher holding the whip in his hand.
The story ends with a scene of seal-hunting. Sitting on the shore, a hunter is shooting at the seal emerging from the water. There are all kinds of accessories lying around on the ground beside him: inflatable floats and a cast with a line (a wooden pig with sharp spikes used to pull out of water harvested seals). There is also a harvested baby seal lying there. In the background one can see the village of Uelen of the 1930s: a residential school, skin tents, a school and small houses, the antennas of a radio station. At the far end of the village there are buildings of the Uelen Polar Station. One can see six structures of the station and various meteorological devices. There are some landmarks between the village and the polar station that help people find their way in a blizzard. This work is one of the best pieces and has a high historical and artistic value.
THEMES AND MEANINGS
Northern Aboriginal peoples have developed unique life support systems that help them survive in the harsh environment of permafrost, barren tundra and cold Arctic waters. Equally impressive is their spiritual world, which is rich and diverse. This is reflected in shamanistic rituals, myths and legends, festivities and dances. The ivory art reflects these spiritual themes. One of ancient characters is that of a peleken (see pp. 93-94). To this day, its origins and its meaning are not fully understood. However, given the way in which ivory carvers depict this creature (usually in pairs), the fact that they make sure that they always have peleken figurines somewhere nearby or give them as a gift or a souvenir to other people, prompts one to believe that this manlike creature has become a kind of talisman for the entire people.
In the beginning thematic engravings on walrus tusks were monochromic: engravers used as a colouring agent soot from fat- burning lamps called zhirnik, — a source of heat and light in yarangas. The earliest images on ivory tusks are simple, stylistically accurate and are done in black and white.
It was only in the 1920s that they began using red when depicting wounded or killed animals. Later on a multi-color engraving emerged.
An artist would engrave an image on the polished surface of the tusk with a special miniature toothed plate and then would rub into the ivory pigmented lead using for this purpose colour pencils and achieving in this way a stunning harmony of colours.
Folkloric and folk tale topics provide main thematic lines for graphic images engraved on walrus tusks. Engravers started turning to folkloric topics in the 1930s. Though loosing its magical character, the Chukchi and the Eskimo art became more sophisticated when artists began using new forms and merged Chukchi and Eskimo folklore with graphic art. The first folk tale that provided a theme for an engraving was the tale about an evil spirit Kele, recorded way back in 1900 by the famous ethnographer V. G. Bogoraz. The plot is the following: Kele, the evil spirit, caught some girls, put them up on the tree and left looking for a knife to make quick work of his game. At this time a sly and smart fox appeared who freed the girls and hung on the tree their kerkery, or fur clothes. Upon his return Kele discovered that he was fooled and began his pursuit of the girls. Eventually they crossed a river and, when at their advice, Kele drank up the river, he died. Many artists
used the plot of this folk tale in their engravings (Rypkhyrghin, Emkul, Pechetegina and others). The plot is presented through drawings placed in a logical order: this is how the story unfolds. Every engraver interpreted the plot and the characters of this folk tale in a different way and used different landscapes. The earliestivory engraving based on the story of Kele included in this book was made in 1934 on a task.
A folk tale about Giant Lolghylin, who dozed on ice floes in the midst of the ocean and then came to the rescue of hunters who lost their way, provided another folkloric theme for engravers. Lolghylin put the hunters and their kayak inside his giant mitten, where they spent the winter and then safely returned home. Residents of coastal communities knew this story about adventures of sea hunters. In 1940 it was recorded by I. P. Lavrov, an art historian who later worked for some time as the Art Director of the Uelen Ivory Carving Centre. The first drawings for an engraving based on this tale were made by Vukvol, a young and talented artist who was killed in a battle at the time of the Great Patriotic War. The Uelen Ivory Carving Centre is named after him. Vera Emkul and Galina Tynatval used elements of the plot of the folk tale about Giant Lolghylin for decorative purposes in their engravings on tusks and ivory cups.
The collection includes a walrus tusk with engravings based on a folk tale called «Abduction». This piece is unique in terms of its size, the story it tells, its ethnographic value, the fascinating colour palette and the high quality of the drawings. This tusk was engraved by Lidia Teyutina in 1969, who told through her engravings a folk tale that she heard from Vera EmkuFs mother.
Let us examine the tusk and see the story it tells. Once upon a time there lived a family: a father, a mother and their son. One day the father went out to do some hunting. He killed a seal and returned home. His wife dressed the seal and cooked the meat They ate the meat, and she took the bones, went outside and threw them in the direction of the sea. At that time a whale was swimming by. Several minutes later she was approached by a man who tried to persuade her to become his wife and return with him to the sea. The woman would not accept the offer because she did not want to leave her family. But then the man said: «Take my clothes: this kamleika made of casings and the foot-wear (torbaz) will keep the water away». He made a date with her for the next day. They met and then set out on their journey. They walked for a long time on ice hummocks and then came across a crack in the ice. First, she was afraid to dive into the cold water. Then she put on the clothes he gave her and they took the dive together. In the water the woman transformed into a she-whale… This tale takes a dramatic turn and has a sad ending.
One side of the tusk is engraved with scenes that tell the story up to the moment when the bones were thrown away and the whale swam closer to the shore. The very first drawing is that of a big hut of sea hunters. It is made of stone, with the skin of a walrus serving as the ceiling. The hut is propped up with whale rib bones. This is followed by a scene of seal hunting. Again, one can see the interior of the hut A woman is dressing a seal, while a man is busy doing some house work. The third scene depicts a meal in the hut with the family using a flat dish. The final scene shows the woman taking out the bones and the wale swimming towards the shore.
Themes prompted by folk tales acquired popularity in the second half of the XX century, when thematic ivory engraving became dominated by female engravers. Artists expressed their ideas about the world, about good and evil and about love with the help of such images as eagles carrying whales in their claws, warriors defending their peoples’ camps and animals transforming into human beings.
Most of the objects that represent the Chukotka Ivory Art were created in the Soviet times and the artists could not but turn to this theme in their creative pursuits. Back in the 1930s Vukvol created the engraved compositions «Legend about Lenin» and «The Rescue of the Cheluskin Crew» that were displayed in the V.I. Lenin Museum and the Central Museum of the Revolution in Moscow. In the following years many more works were made that dealt with the historical theme. This collection includes remarkable pieces based on the theme «The Youth of Tegrinkeu» (he was a well- known Komsomol and Party leader in Chukotka) that tell the story about establishing the first Komsomol group in Chukotka.
Besides tusks engraved with historical themes artists would produce ivory engravings depicting hunting scenes and specific historical events or recounting somebody’s stories.
For some carvers ivory became a kind of an ancient parchment: they used their gravers as a writing tool. Interestingly, although many Chukchi and Eskimo craftsmen were illiterate and their lives were far from comfortable, they often chose to make such items as desk sets, toiletry boxes and napkin rings. Production of souvenir decorative paper knives became particularly popular among local carvers.
This type of works that can be called «souvenir items» emerged over a hundred years ago, when visits by Russian, American and Norwegian schooners to Chukotka became more frequent. A piece representing such a schooner (a three-mast schooner with sails) was made by Ghemaughe, an experienced hunter who became an accomplished artist. He relied exclusively on his memory and did not use any sketches or drawings. The hull of the schooner is made of ivory, the floor is cut out of a big chunk of a bowhead bone, with each side of the hull decorated with black plates made of the same bone. The sails are made of reindeer scapulas. The masts, yards and gangway ladders and boats are all carved from walrus ivory. This schooner is a true masterpiece of the Uelen carver who became famous by creating precisely such works.
The unique carved chess sets were probably commissioned as souvenirs or were created to become a conversation piece (see p. 78). This combination of two techniques — ivory turning and carving — produced beautiful and original figurines that represent Chukotka’s wildlife and a kind of a «hierarchy» among the Arctic animals: the king is the polar bear, the queen is the walrus, the castle is the reindeer, the knight is the hare, the bishop is the polar fox and the pawn is the seal. The black chess pieces differ from the white ones only in that they have spots of black colour in engraved details. Thus, the black walrus (the queen) has the black colour on its whiskers, nostrils and eyes, while the polar fox (the black bishop) has black eyes and nostrils and a black narrow line of the mouth. The white bishop’s eyes are two drilled recesses. The reindeer’s antlers and head are carved from a single tusk.
Is it possible to ensure a future for this unique art, using to this end new opportunities offered by an open society and a market economy? This is not an easy question to answer. Taking into account relevant experience of the USA, Canada, Norway and Greenland where they also have Aboriginal art as well as museums and specialized galleries operating successfully in the capital cities of these countries, one can say that it would be highly desirable to open in Moscow a gallery-museum called «Chukotka». This collection could be permanently displayed there, serving as the region’s visiting card and an important argument in favour of the preservation and further development of the art of modem ivory carving. Such a gallery-museum could serve as a place where one goes to enjoy the best in ivory art. At the same time, this would be a place where new works are presented for viewing and selling. In the meantime, life goes on at the Uelen Ivory Art Centre, where a new generation of carvers work and perfect their artistic skills. Who knows, maybe some of them will follow in the steps of such masters as Ghemaughe and Emkul. By the way, my latest additions to the collection were pieces made by two talented artists of the new generation: Sergey Tegrylkut (a 1998 walrus tusk engraved with scenes based of the Chukchi folk tale «The Mice and the Ravens») and Zoya Ghemaughe, a granddaughter of the famous carver Ghemaughe (a 2005 walrus tusk engraved with thematic scenes «The Tundra and the Sea».) Sergey Tegrylkut died in 2005 in a tragic accident. He never had a chance to make a second tusk that would continue the story based on this folk tale. His case reflects all the drama of the present-day Aboriginal art of Russia’s Chukchi and Eskimo people. More often than not its creators live difficult and short lives. However, the art itself has come to us from eternity and must be preserved forever.
This album is published in an effort to present the best of the Chukotka Ivory Art and in the hope to provide an impetus for the establishment of a new museum in Russia’s capital — the city of Moscow.
THE ANCIENT ORIGINS OF THE CHUKCHI AND ESKIMO ART
Fist people arrived in Chukotka about 35 thousand years ago. At that time Chukotka and Alaska were joined by a wide land bridge called Berenghiya. America’s first inhabitants, the ancestors of Indians, used it when they moved from Asia to America. About 12 thousand years ago Berenghiya went under water as a result of global warming, and Asia was cut off from America by a sea straight Two cultural traditions eventually emerged in the continental and coastal regions of Chukotka. One was based on caribou harvesting, and the other — on harvesting sea mammals. The people who established these traditions moved further into the Arctic, inhabiting one of the planet’s harshest areas in terms of its climate and nature.
The ancient inhabitants of the North-East Asia were not only skillful hunters and courageous explorers, but also gifted artists. The history of the Arctic art spans many thousands of years. However, only a handful of artifacts of the ancient artistic culture of the Chukotka peoples has survived to this day.
The oldest artifacts made of walrus ivory discovered by archeologists in the north-east of Chukotka are two thousand years old. It is precisely during this historical period that a unique art form emerged on the shores of the Bering Straight, that of walrus ivory carving. Sea mammals harvesting provided Arctic sea hunters with plenty of this valuable material used to make various articles, which was strong, beautiful and relatively easy to work with. The character of the ancient Chukotka carvings was determined by the natural qualities of the walrus tusk. This was «the art of small forms», — small plastic art, images in relief and graphic compositions used to decorate hunting implements, various tools and elements of clothes.
Since the 1940s, when the Far North-East Asia became the subject of a systematic archeological research, a number of scientific expeditions has worked in the Chukotka coastal areas. The expedition teams included such prominent Russian scientists as M. G. Levin, S. I. Rudenko, A. P. Okladnikov, V. P. Alekseyev, D. A. Sergeyev, N. N. Dikov and S. A. Arutyu- nov. An ancient settlement was discovered near Uelen, in Ekven on the coast of the Bering Strait, along with original artwork made by sea hunters of the ancient Arctic. Carvings of Arctic animals are outstanding specimens of the ancient art of Chukotka. These are true masterpieces that combine an amazing variety of themes with the perfection of the execution and the harmony of the forms. Ivory carvers made figurines of certain animals and birds, created three-dimensional images of animal heads.
Bear heads with open jaws, walrus heads and bird beaks were often combined in complex multi-figure compositions. Images of the bear, the seal and the walrus are easily recognize able: they invariably reflect the main and most typical features of the animal. At the same time almost every piece has an aura of something mythical about it. Reality and fantasy are closely intertwined in the zoomorphic culture of the ancient Chukotka. Probably, this was the result of the link that existed between the Arctic art and the religious beliefs of ancient artists. Rather than depicting an animal that actually existed in the surrounding environment an artist would create an image of a character of ancient myths and legends, an image of a powerful spirit.
The Arctic artists would use engraving techniques to accentuate eyes, nostrils and ears of animal figurines. Thus, plastic images were becoming more convincing and more concrete. Engraving techniques made sculptures look more decorative, while rhythmic alternations of lines, circles and ovals emphasized the plasticity of sculptural forms and created an aura of something enigmatic and mythical about images of animals. Sculptural images created by the Arctic sea hunters in 1000 BC — 1000 AD were probably associated with specific rituals that were accompanied by singing, dancing and dramatized performances. The forms of ritualistic items and the character of sculptural and graphic images with which they were decorated were shaped not only by the religious beliefs of the ancient Chukotka sea hunters, but also by their ideas about the beautiful. Obviously, inhabitants of the coastal areas of the Bering Strait and the adjacent territories had an integral system of aesthetic values as early as 1000-500 BC. Creative work became a part of people’s daily life. Craftsmen found simple and elegant forms for the most basic utensils, decorating their surface with graphic ornaments or ornaments in relief.
The so-called «winged items» often have images of walrus and polar bear heads and bird wings done in relief. However, more frequently one can see some mysterious faces on the surface of such ivory carvings that resemble a flying butterfly. Researches have come up with different hypotheses as to who exactly is depicted on «winged items», — «Sea Goddess», «Butterfly the Whale Killer» or some other character of the Chukotka peoples’ numerous myths and legends. Modern science cannot provide definitive answers to many questions concerning the spiritual culture of the sea hunters of the ancient Arctic. Even the very purpose of the «winged items» remained a mystery until recently. They were considered to be the tops of shamanic rods or details of kayaks. Archeological discoveries of recent years put an end to this debate that went on for many years. A «winged item» was placed at the tail end of the harpoon’s shaft and, among other things, played a role of a stabilizer, a role similar to that of an arrow’s feathering, by ensuring an optimal and stable trajectory of the harpoon’s flight.
Over two thousand years ago Chuckotka carvers began using small metal tools apart from tools made of stone. The carvers were getting these tools from far-away places, probably, from Eastern Asia, as a result of multiple exchanges. Metal styluses significantly broadened creative opportunities for carvers. Probably, without these tools craftsmen of the ancient Chukotka would not have been able to create their elegant ornaments featuring carefully done fine details. Miniature metal instruments were used to drill the material, make through fretwork and perform other complex operations. The end result of all this was that carvings made by sea hunters of the ancient Arctic became more sophisticated.
The more we learn about the ancient inhabitants of Chukotka, the better we understand their artistic pursuits and the importance of art in the life of the Arctic peoples. Harsh climate and natural conditions in the Far North put tremendous pressures on the people, and art helped them to survive in this hostile environment. Probably, the very process of depicting Arctic animals, whose images are central to the art of the ancient Chukotka, not only enhanced the prehistoric hunters understanding of northern nature, but also changed their attitude towards it. The harsh world of the Arctic was becoming more understandable and familiar to the people inhabiting this region. Art helped them to establish closer links with the Arctic nature, and they saw themselves as an integral part of the Arctic environment. Rich mythology, distinctive folklore and original art became integral components of a strong cultural tradition of the Artie peoples.
An extremely important role that art played in the life of the peoples of the ancient Chukotka was one of the main factors that contributed to the high level of its development. Cultural contacts were another key factor that explained the blossoming of Chukotka peoples’ artistic culture at the turn of our era. Living on the outer boundaries of the human civilization. Northerners were not completely isolated from the rest of the world Mysterious faces, multi-figurine zoomorphic compositions and elegant curvilinear ornamentation typical of Chukotka’s ancient art enable one to identify in this art some features that have their roots in the civilization of the ancient China, in the cultures of the American Indians, in the art of the Southern Siberia, the Amur Region, Sakhalin and Hokkaido. Obviously, some artwork created thousands of kilometers away from the Polar Circle, through multiple exchanges, found its way to the inhabitants of the northern latitudes, and ivory carvers there learned from the high traditions developed by artists in the Eastern Asia and North America. Thus, Chukotka’s ancient art was part of a single cultural process that was developing in the Pacific Region, a bridge of sorts that linked Eurasia with America long before the Europeans discovered the New World. Due to its high artistic potential this art had an important influence on the art of the adjacent regions and defined, to a large extent, the image of the traditional culture of the Chukchi and the Eskimo in the centuries to come.
THE ART AT THE END OF THE XIX THE BEGINNING OF THE XX CENTURY
Traditions rooted in the remote past were preserved in the Chukotka ivory art for hundreds of years. The end of the XIX — the beginning of the XX century marked a new stage in its history. This was the time when contacts of the Chukchi and the Eskimo with the Russians and the Americans became more frequent. Visiting whalers and traders were readily buying figurines of Arctic animals carved from walrus tusk. As a result, the transformation of the ritualistic art into an arts and crafts industry began in Uelen and other coastal villages. In terms of their stylistic features, works of that period still followed closely the traditional art. However, new trends and patterns were emerging: images were becoming more realistic and, insofar as the themes were concerned, a new emphasis was placed on narration.
For hunters, walruses and bears were not only objects of worship, but also game. Sculptures were a telling reminder of this. They often had holes or scratches that were signs of magical rituals. By «wounding» ivory carvings of animals in such a manner hunters wanted to make sure they would be successful in a real hunt.
The distinctiveness of the Chukotka ivory pieces made at the end of the XIX — the beginning of the XX century is not limited to their archaism. This art had a particular charm and appeal generated by a spontaneous and unbiased view of the world that reminds one of a child’s outlook of the world and that is so typical of folk artists. Using a minimum of materials and artistic techniques they created vibrant and inspired images. Such are the figurines of the swimming «ducks» with their heads proudly held up, or the sculpture of a polar bear that depicts a young animal, maybe a cub, rather than a mature giant. Despite its laconism, the bear looks strikingly real. The carver skillfully reproduced gracious movements of its strong body. This piece is interesting also in that it shows the carver’s desire to explore and use natural characteristics of ivory that is monolithic and heavy. Also, a thoroughly polished surface of the walrus tusk produces a peculiar inner glow. As this form of folk art continued to evolve, the defining feature of the Chukotka ivory art became the ability of the artists to identify themselves with the beauty of the Arctic nature and express it through their works.
Theme-driven engraving in the Chukotka ivory art emerged at a relatively later stage, in the XIX century. However, long before that the Chukchi and the Eskimo depicted hunting scenes, carving them on rocks or painting them with soot and animal blood on wooden paddles and kayak benches. Graphic compositions on walrus tusks dating to the end of the XIX — the beginning of XX century remind us in many ways of this early art. In the artwork that the Chukotka engravers made to sell on the market these ancient traditions and canons were of secondary importance, giving way to artistic considerations. The artists strived to create expressive images evoking different emotions and rhythmical, balanced compositions. This approach is particularly evident in engravings made on whole walrus tusks. These exotic souvenirs first appeared in Chukotka in the early 1900s. Whole walrus tusks were of a size that allowed making larger and more detailed engravings with true-to-life and easily recognizable characters. Ivory engravings of that period are characterized by a distinct composition that enables the viewer to clearly see and examine each image and feel the depth of the space.
A significant part of the tusk’s surface was left free of engraving by the artist. The white colour of ivory contrasted with the black silhouettes of hunters, bears and dog sleds and integrated naturally into the context of the artwork, symbolizing the «Great White» of the vast Arctic spaces. The emergence of a new art form, that of engraved walrus tusks, in the Churkchi and the Eskimo Ivory Art became an important milestone in the centuries-old history of these peoples.
THE ART OF THE 1920s— 1940s
During these years Arts and Crafts Centers were established in Uelen and other indigenous communities, bringing together people for whom ivory carving and engraving became their main occupation. This happened for the first time ever in Chukotka’s history. A unique artistic style eventually developed that is found in the best artwork created by Uelen carvers and engravers. It was based on traditions rooted in the preceding period and creative experimentation in the Chukchi and the Eskimo art. The distinct features of this style that are particularly evident in pieces made in the 1920s to 1940s include thorough knowledge of the North, spirituality and sincerity of the characters and the desire to emphasize the beauty of walrus ivory.
Changes brought about by the evolution of the Chukotka ivory art in the 1920s to 1940s are particularly evident in ivory engraving. First, engravings on walrus tusks were black-and-white only: engravers used as colouring agent soot from fat-burning lamps called zhimik that served as a source of heat and light in yarangas. Later on artists started making multi-coloured engraved images.
An artist would thoroughly polish the tusk’s surface with a special miniature toothed plate and then would rub into the ivory pigmented lead from colour pencils. Graphic compositions of this period are fundamentally different from earlier works. Stories presented through engravings became more detailed, while the colour palette became significantly richer: instead of black-and-white images artists were now making multi-coloured engravings. As a rule, their walrus tusk engravings spoke of the events in which they directly participated. This made their works particularly convincing and true to life. At the same time engravers did not attempt to depict specific details when they worked on scenes of hunting and dressing animal carcasses or scenes of reindeer herders returning to their communities. Another important characteristic of these graphic compositions was that images of humans, animals and landscapes had equal significance. Such an approach stressed the general and timeless nature of an engraving and emphasized the immediate importance of the story told by the engraver. The viewer was invited to enjoy the unfolding magnificent panorama of images of the Arctic nature and people who lived in that inhospitable region.
The Uelen sculpture of the 1920s tol940s resembled, in more than one way, the plastic art of the preceding period. As in the past, the main characters of works created by Uelen carvers were animals. They were depicted in poses that projected quietness and grandeur. Skipping unnecessary details, carvers skillfully interpreted characteristic shapes of the bodies of walruses, bears, reindeer and whales, their behaviour and typical poses. Their sculptures have clear-cut silhouettes. All proportions are well-balanced, while forms constitute an integral whole and are somewhat heavy. Despite their small size, these images possess qualities of true monu- mentality that distinguish high art. A smooth thoroughly polished surface of a sculpture makes it even more appealing. It is a pleasure to take a figurine into one’s hands and to feel the weight and the warmth of the ivory on one’s palm. This special quality of sculptural images is largely the result of the technology behind their production: while carving a sculpture an artist holds it in his or her hands all the time. Besides, a walrus tusk has always had a special significance and meaning for the Chukotka sea hunters: for thousands of years the Arctic tundra inhabitants used ivory to make all kinds of things. The Chukchi and the Eskimo people have always associated with ivory and walruses not only their religious beliefs, but also their interpretation of the beautiful.
As the mythological content of the art was receding into the past, its creative and aesthetic aspects were becoming ever more important. This is precisely what distinguishes the artwork of this period from the art of the early XX century. Schematization of ritualistic sculptures that emphasized their special sacral significance gives way to image-driven artistic expression and the ability to create generic and remarkably lively images. Polar bears do not look threatening any more and walruses are presented not as the very embodiment of the object of hunting but as representatives of a «sea nation» who are graceful in their own special way. For the first time ever artists were trying to reproduce movement: here one sees a seal basking in the sun that raises its head, there one sees a reindeer standing perfectly still and listening intently to the voices of the tundra…
Trying to add ethnic character and aesthetic value to such utilitarian items the Chukchi and the Eskimo craftsmen decorated small boxes, pencil-cases and snuff-boxes with engravings that depicted scenes familiar to Northerners: a bear stealing up to a walrus or sea hunters harvesting sea wildlife. Besides engravings dealing with specific topics the artists decorated their works with ornamental images.
THE ART OF THE 1950s TO 1980s
The period from 1950s to the 1980s proved to be a milestone in the history of the Uelen arts and crafts industry. New techniques that emerged in the preceding decades were further developed. Sculptures and graphic works had more complex artistic forms and dealt with a greater variety of themes and subjects. At the same time it was during that period when the Chukotka ivory art began to experience challenges associated with a generational change. There were fewer and fewer artists left who belonged to the old school and remembered the beginnings of the Uelen arts and crafts industry, those carvers and engravers who were familiar with the centuries-old techniques and who knew well the traditional way of life of sea hunters and reindeer breeders.
The traditional Chukotka plastic art has been preserved in animal figurines. Walruses by Kililoy, pelekens by Tukkai, Seyguteghin and some other unknown carvers deserve special mention in this regard. Khuvat created a splendid series of seven polar bears ranging from the largest bear heading the procession to smaller ones and bear cubs at the end of the line, one proudly following another. To create this series the carver cut a big walrus tusk into seven parts and used each of them to carve a figure of identical shape. Perhaps, this work was prompted to some degree by a well-known composition of seven elephants whose concept originated in the Eastern culture but eventually became popular in Russia.
Whereas sculptures made in the 1920s to 1940s were, typically, single images, in the 1950s to 1980s ivory carvers often produced multi-figured groups. They depicted humans and animals that formed a whole based on some kind of a common theme. Thus, the subject- driven approach that became well-established in engraving was now also being used in the Chukotka plastic art. One of the first carvers who started making multi-figured compositions was Khukhutan. Most of his ivory carvings are about hunting. Khukhutan’s characters fearlessly engage in single combat with polar bears and walruses. To emphasize the dramatic nature of the situation and demonstrate the strength and agility of his people, the artist sets the image of the man against that of the animal: the miniature figurine of the hunter confronts a significantly larger figure of the bear. The contrast between the two is also evident in the way they are presented. Khukhutan shows humans in motion, in complex and dynamic poses. By contrast, his animals are calm and monumental. Khukhutan’s images of animals have an aura of grandeur and monumentality about them A polar bear rising on its hind legs, a walrus lying on an ice floe, — these images are the embodiment of the might of the Northern nature and the symbol of the boundless Arctic spaces covered with ice.
In the middle of the XX century a new trend emerged in the Chukotka sculpture.
The artists started creating lyrical and peaceful compositions in which animals were presented as living beings and not mere objects of hunting. The first works that introduced a highly pronounced humanistic element into the Chukotka plastic art were pieces done by Vukvutaghin and Nikolai Kililoy, who was one of his followers. This talented artist who has learned a lot from the carvers of the older generation has created a number of outstanding sculptures and has made carvings of reindeer sleds. Another new feature of the Chukotka ivory art that was introduced by the Uelen artists in the middle of the XX century was that of sculptural groups. Among popular subjects of that period were fights between walruses or a combat between a polar bear and a walrus. However, quite often excitement generated by hunting gave way to the appreciation of the beauty of the sea giants’ plastic and muscular bodies: artists would make sculptures of resting and peaceful walruses. Among such compositions is the one called «Walrus Couple» that was allegedly created by Kililoy. Although the images of the Arctic wildlife created in the XX century lack the strong symbolism typical of the sculptural art of the preceding periods, works by Aromke, Vukvutaghin, Kililoy, Khukhutan and Tukkai are, undoubtedly, outstanding examples of the Chukotka folk art They are true masterpieces of small plastic art.
In the period from 1950s to 1980s sculptures created by Uelen craftsmen became more diverse in terms of their subject matter, with humans often being their main characters. These were men — hunters and reindeer breeders, women performing household chores or children helping adults. Artists were now depicting humans more often than before; besides, the very image of Man was changing. Simple schematic figurines were giving way to carefully carved realistic images. Man as the main character featured prominently in the art of Tukkai, one of the best-known masters of the older generation. While working on images of his people, he reproduced moments when they were at the peak of their physical and spiritual strength. Many of his works are full of dynamics. One of the most outstanding pieces is a sculptural group called «А pack of wolves attacking a reindeer herd». It recreates a scene of monumental proportions that Tukkai witnessed in real life when he worked for some time in the tundra, in a collective farm situated in the Chaun Region. Here one sees the reindeer herders entering into a fight with the predators. The artist skillfully conveys the intensity of the fight: the frightened reindeer try to escape from the wolves, dashing around, while the reindeer herders are fearlessly running towards them to protect them. The plastic images are combined with the graphic ones on the sculpture’s stand that is made of an enormous walrus tusk over 70 centimeters long.
Viktor Teyutin, a gifted student of Tukkai, used his master’s sculptures as fine examples when he started working on his own. His pieces «Sledge-riding» and «Smelt Fishing» depict simple pleasures of daily life, of which the Arctic inhabitants did not have many. Incidentally, such diversions that combined work with play were popular both among Aboriginals and newcomers to the North.