Okvik Eskimo walrus ivory head auctions for $197,000 at Bonhams

An Okvik Eskimo walrus ivory head has hammered for $197,000 at Bonhams' December 9 Native American Art sale in San Francisco.

The head was discovered on Punuk Island, located west of Alaska in the Bering Strait, in 2012 by the Yupik Eskimo who still inhabit the islands.  

Okvik walrus ivory head
The Okvik walrus ivory head was carved circa 200 BC - AD 100

The sculpture is female, identifiable by the Okvik practice of tattooing dots on women's faces when they reach puberty, and features intricate detailing - including the delineation of individual eyebrow hairs.

Hatchet marks on the neck indicate that the head has been severed from a larger figure - a practice that the Okvik carried out for unknown reasons.

Artefacts from the Okvik period (200 BC - AD 100) are characterised by their zoomorphic qualities, and are often exquisitely carved.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, ships stopping at St Lawrence Island would often collect artefacts, which would be installed in museums and private collections.

Eskimo art was of particular inspiration to the surrealists - who held an exhibition of artefacts in New York in 1946.

A Navajo classic twilled bayeta manta, circa 1860, made $125,000.

Navajo classic manta blue
A manta is a piece of woven cloth worn as a dress or blanket

The lot is also known as the Lila Matson Blue Centre Manta, due to its purchase in 1990 by Lila Matson - an heir to the Matson Shipping Line.

The weaving and tapestry are exceptionally fine. Just 1% of Navajo blankets from the classic period (1800-1860) have survived to the present day in original condition, making the lot extremely rare.

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Recent and related articles

War of 1812 sword tops Heritage Auctions at $50,000 | 9 December 2013

Sioux pictorial beaded shirt sells for $75,000 at Heritage Auctions | 19 November 2013

Guinea Coast Baga mask sells for $305,000 at Bonhams | 18 November 2013

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Images: Bonhams

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