Exotic Crafting from the Far North

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You live in a place that is so remote from most of our readers experience, could you please tell us a little about it and where you obtain your materials?

I live in Barrow Alaska, the farthest north you can go in the United States.  I grew up in a smaller village down the coast until I went to college.  Alaska is known for its low population and rugged beauty, and for it's richness in culture and heritage.  We are literally the "Last Frontier"; a place where the Northern Lights dance and there are places that have never been walked upon by human beings. I am glad to be a part of that!

All of my natural Alaskan Native materials are one of the products from the subsistence lifestyle that I live.  The others I buy from online stores, and from vendors when I am lucky enough to make it to a city that has bead stores.  For more information about my materials please read: eskimoscrybe.deviantart.com/jo… All questions are greatly encouraged!


How did you get started doing your crafts?

My family has always been artistic.  My uncle is a well known baleen basket weaver, another uncle a gifted ivory carver.  After hunting and storing and gifting meat we are often left with parts of the animal that are beautiful and raw.  It takes many years to master the local materials, and even more years to mature artistically.  I learned much from watching my uncles and later on I learned from my own research into ancient Inupiat artwork.  I started working the tougher materials when I was of an age to get a "share" of the animals.  (A "share" of the animal is the portion of the animal saved for you if you helped in the any way).  I started working ivory, baleen, and skins when I was 16.

I then got my degree in Studio Art from University where I learned as much as I can about art history, painting, drawing, metal-smithing, photography, and ceramics.  I then moved into teaching at the local middle school, and tribal college.  Now I work on commissions and my own personal pursuit in artwork.  I hope to refine my direction in my artwork, and maybe even return to get my Masters degree in Alaska Native art.

What other crafts do you do?

It seems like the list of my experimentation never ends!  As I find new techniques and materials I often try them out and see how they fit.  The ones that I have a soft spot for are:  Scrimshaw, polyclay, metal-smithing, carving, beading, and sewing.  And of course anything and everything I can find here on the North Slope of Alaska.

:thumb53739559: Sedna's Crown -Full Pic by InupiaqScrybe Berry bracelet by InupiaqScrybe Scrim. Baleen wall hanging by InupiaqScrybe Ceramic mask - self portrait by InupiaqScrybe

Where does your inspiration come from?

My inspiration revolves around my environment and my culture.  This place is full of never ending inspiration.  From the dance that seals do when they are drinking water to the tiny textures found on ancient bones found deep in the tundra, from the pattern found on murre eggs to the bushy untangled mess that foxes are in the summers…..it never ends.   You can view some of what I see at my photo stock account at: arctic-stock.deviantart.com/

How hard is it to do a piece like "Seal Skin and crystal earrings"?  

It's really hard to measure what kid of work goes into a simple piece like "Seal skin and crystal earrings".  If you take it from the beginning it seems like it takes years.  The seal skin itself is a four month process.  All the way from the taking the skin, to the special process that is needed to bleach the skin white and to end up hairless.  All the work is done here at home without harsh chemicals.   I ended up with these tiny circles of skin (about 1 inch wide), scraps from larger more predictable projects.  It took me longer to come up with the idea than it did to make them!  I have never seen the skin used in this way before.  I think as with most pieces sometimes it's the process that it the hardest part and not the actual work.

Seal Skin and crystal earrings by InupiaqScrybe

What is involved in making a scrimshaw piece like "Baleen and salmon berries?

Baleen is the long slab like material that "baleen" whales use as a sieve to separate their food (krill) from the ocean.  It's arranged vertically in the mouth.  One side of the thin slab has long hairs, and then other side is curved slightly.  It comes mainly in a black color, but sometimes can have a silvery grey hue, or even white, splotches of color.  Baleen is made of "hair', compacted together…..it kind of looks like plastic ….sorta…and is very flexible.

In "Baleen and Salmon Berries"  I started with a rough cut piece of a (rare) silvery colored baleen.  It then took me a few days to clean then polish the piece so that the surface looks like translucent glass.  I thought of using the designs from the "qupak" (or fancy parka trimmings) and so I did some sketches of some ideas I had.  Once I had a design I took a sharp scribe and carefully scratched the lines deep into the baleen.  I then filled the lines with white water based oil paint.  Of course the necklace stringing took almost as long!    I try to combine colors that are found here in the arctic tundra…thus I ended with the salmonberry color stone beads.

Baleen and salmon berries by InupiaqScrybe

Can you tell us about "whale song pendant"?

With this piece I first worked the nickel silver, by cutting it to size, hammering texture into the surface, using liver of sulphur, then bending it to the shape of the baleen beneath it.  I attached the thin leather cord using some glue and crimp ends…I chose the lighter cord to give the pendant more weight.  I was inspired by the necklaces I saw from one of my friends who happens to be from Australia.  I thought it was a neat way to incorporate the ideas.  I gave it to him for his birthday.

whale song pendant by InupiaqScrybe

How complicated was it to put together "Layered polar bear claw"?  

I learned so much!  It must have taken me five or six tries to get it to the finished piece.  My original idea was to just assemble the layered materials and then grind down the rough sticking out edges.  Well….you grind sterling silver and it warms and expands, which warmed the baleen and made it buckle, which jiggled the pegs free from the ivory beneath it…and well…it took many tries to get the piece to be stable!  Mainly I learned how to respect each material and their unique temperaments, and it slowed me down to plan more ahead than I usually do.

Layered polar bear claw by InupiaqScrybe

   What was involved in creating "Snow Necklace"

Seed bead work is deeply embedded into our culture.  I love the texture and wide range of color it can bring to a piece of jewelry.  It is also an area that takes years of exploration to master!  I am very, very far from becoming a master of seed beads but I do love the intricacies the medium presents.  This necklace in particular was part of a series I made using delicate size 15 beads for a friend of mines wedding jewelry.  She wanted something that had some elements of Inupiaq art in it, but was elegant and would match her wedding gown.  I started with a pile of sparkles and cream in every TYPE of bead and then separated the piles into what I thought would work.  I loved this necklace but was disappointed to find out that her dress had not one bit of lace on it…so it would have stuck out like a sore thumb.  So I salvaged the bead work and added a funky pendant. 

Snow Necklace by InupiaqScrybe

Do you take your own photos?

I have only been taking photos of my work for a few years, and I have only recently upgraded my camera so I am still learning!  My artwork is usually very simple and not a lot of clashing colors, so I try to keep the background and lighting simple so that they are showcased.  I also have to be careful because a lot of my work has a very high polish, and so having lighting that is easily adjustable is a must.  I sometimes adjust the contrast and lighten the photos a tad, but I try to stay away from heavy PS work to keep the focus on my work.  Since I use these photos in my web store I have to keep it pretty simple.

Do you participate in any shows or exhibitions?

While living in the lower 48 I was in a few shows and exhibitions, mostly for work that really did not incorporate my native heritage.  I found the feedback and critique invigorating!  It helped hone my skills.  Since I live in such a remote place now I do not have access to many shows and exhibitions.

  Do you market your creations?

I run a tiny online store called Nuna Inua: Alaska Native Art.  www.nuna-inua.com  I sell my work on the site plus a few pieces from other artists around the North slope of Alaska.  We are all Alaska Native Inupiaq, and all of us make a living off of what we make.  I did try E-bay at one point and was disappointed.  I have not tried Etsy yet, but it does well for a few friends of mine.  I do quite a bit of commissioned work, mainly for hard to find items that are rare, recreations of ancient Inupiaq tools, dolls, and some illustration work for children's books and educational material. I welcome any commission since it really does help me flex my artistic muscles!

Do you belong to any organizations and what benefits are there?

I am a member of "Silver Hand", which is organization that checks my genealogy records to verify that I am Alaskan Native, so that I can sell my work legally.  Though sometimes I do forget to re-register!  It's a wonderful tool for buyers that are looking for authentic Alaskan Native artwork. 


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Little Eskimos by InupiaqScrybe Spring time wishes by InupiaqScrybe Scrim. Baleen necklace ......2 by InupiaqScrybe Polar bear hair barette by InupiaqScrybe Polar bear claw_ivory necklace by InupiaqScrybe Flower Power Beads by InupiaqScrybe Scrimshaw baleen necklace ...3 by InupiaqScrybe Fossil Ivory_copper pendant by InupiaqScrybe Snowy owl earrings by InupiaqScrybe Seal and Carnelian Ears by InupiaqScrybe Qupak bracelet by InupiaqScrybe

Make sure to visit :iconinupiaqscrybe:'s wonderful gallery and leave some comments and faves!


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Hippopottermiss's avatar
Lovely work :)
Good interview,
Thanks for sharing with us techniques that we otherwise wouldn't meet :hug: