Ivory carvings are the most
popular crafts produced by the Inupiat Eskimos of the Arctic
Ocean and Bering Sea regions who hunt walrus for meat and
utilize the skins and tusks for clothing and crafts. Unlike
many marine mammals, the walrus is not an endangered species
and is in fact more plentiful now than it was 100 years ago.
Only Alaska Natives are allowed
to possess unworked ivory, which can only be sold after it
is handcrafted. Walrus hunting and ivory carving are essential
to the survival of the traditional Northern Eskimo cultures.
Some carved items are made of fossil
or mineralized ivory which comes from the found tusks of both walrus
and prehistoric mammoths and mastadons.
Other crafts produced by the Eskimos
of this region include baleen and birch bark baskets, hide and whale
bone masks, carvings of whale bone, intricate dolls, and needlecrafts
utilizing local furs.
The Yupik Eskimos of Southwestern
Alaska specialize in fine quality baskets, made of beach grasses.
Basket weaving reflects a healthy and growing cultural tradition.
The carving of walrus ivory
and the creation of imaginative spirit masks are also cornerstones
of Yupik Eskimo art.
A relatively new craft is being
produced by a cooperative Southwestern Eskimo knitters who
transform luxurious musk ox wool (qiviut) into intricately
patterned garments. Yupik Eskimos are well known for their
beautiful dolls and miniature models depicting Eskimo lifestyles.
Tiny kayaks, dog sleds and the like are painstakingly crafted
of wood, ivory, skins and other available materials.
The beautiful beadwork created
by the Athabascan Indian women of interior Alaska is highly
prized by collectors of Alaska Native crafts. The traditional
use of beads made of carved wood, seeds, quills and shells
predates the Athabascans' contact with Europeans who introduced
glass trade beads in the mid-nineteenth century
Today this handsome beadwork
is found on mittens, moccasins, and other items of clothing
and jewelry. The hides and furs of local animals are usually
featured in the handcrafted clothing from this region.
Other crafts made by the Indians
of Interior and Central Alaska include birch bark baskets,
willow root baskets, soapstone and wood carving, dolls, and
Peninsula and Aleutian Islands
The Aleut people, who live on
the Alaska Peninsula, along the Aleutian Chain, and on the
Pribilof Islands have a life centered around the sea.
Among the finest baskets in
Alaska are the tiny, intricately woven Aleut baskets made
of pliable, tough rye grass, which is abundant in the area.
The three main styles of Aleut
baskets - Attu, Atka and Unalaska - are named after the islands
where the styles originated. Although the small baskets are
the best known, the Aleuts also make larger, more utilitarian
Other traditional items characteristic
of the Aleuts are birdskin parkas, decorated wooden visor
hats, and models depicting Aleut lifestyle
Abundant resources and a milder
climate allowed the Native people of Southeast Alaska, the
Tlingits, Haidas and Tsimshians, to develop a very sophisticated
culture in which the art forms reflect family crests. The
colorful designs based on stylized animal forms are immediately
recognized as representative of this region.
Although these Pacific Northwest
Natives are best known for their totem poles, they produce
many other types of crafts. Some of the most popular items
are ceremonial blankets primarily of red and black felt decorated
with beadwork and buttons or the very rare Chilkat blankets
woven with cedar bark and the wool of mountain goats. Other
items of clothing are handcrafted and beautifully decorated
by these Indians.
Other crafts characteristic
to this region include hand-carved silver jewelry, beadwork,
woodcarvings, art prints and ceremonial masks.
Many Alaska Natives are producing
art outside the traditional boundaries of their cultures.
In galleries throughout Alaska it is common to see multi media
sculpture, paintings, art prints, and contemporary jewelry
created by some of Alaska's finest Native artists.
These items are still considered
authentic Alaska Native art and will bear the "Silver
Hand" symbol, your assurance that you are buying the
The stores and gift shops of
Alaska are filled with delightful items - fine art pieces
worked in walrus ivory, soapstone, jade and other natural
materials prints, paintings and pottery; clothing and jewelry;
and fun souvenirs to bring home to family and friends. But
not all of these items are made in Alaska. Some are manufactured
in other states and countries and imported to Alaska for sale.
If you are looking for authentic
Alaskan arts and crafts, look for these two symbols.
The "Silver Hand"
emblem guarantees you that the article on which it appears
was hand crafted by an Alaska Eskimo, Aleut, or Indian craftsperson
or artist. The "Made in Alaska" emblem indicates
that the article was made in Alaska by a resident artist,
craftsperson or manufacturer. Wherever possible, art or craft
items bearing these emblems have been made with Alaskan materials.
Look for these symbols, they
assure you that you are purchasing an authentic Alaskan keepsake.
information on the Made in Alaska program.
information on the Silver Hand Program.
For those in search of items
that are definitely Alaskan, but not necessarily crafted by
Alaska Natives, gift shops feature a variety of souvenirs
in every price range which display the "Made in Alaska"
symbol. This symbol is your assurance that the item you are
purchasing was made in Alaska by a resident artist, craftsperson
of the popular materials mined and harvested in Alaska include
natural gold nuggets, jade, hematite, Alaska coral, fish skin
leather the hides and antlers of moose and caribou, the furs
of beaver, wolverine, wolf, fox, seal and a variety of other
animals, soapstone, yellow and red cedar, birch bark, tree fungus,
and dried flowers.
Some Alaskans who are non-Native
also produce the traditional crafts of their own cultures
which are also significant to Alaska's history. In many areas
of coastal Alaska, including the old Russian capitals of Sitka
and Kodiak, the descendants of Russian settlers produce crafts
reminiscent of their Russian heritage. In Petersburg, Norwegian
descendants still practice the decorative art of rosemaling.
Much of the art produced by
Alaskans is simply a celebration of the natural beauty that
surrounds us in "The Great Land," whether painted
on a gold pan, etched in soapstone or carved in wood. Make
sure the gift you buy is "Made in Alaska"
CRAFTS OF ALASKA
For thousands of years Alaska's
Native peoples have created tools both functional and beautiful;
and decorative items crafted from ivory animal skins, bone,
wood, grasses, and many other materials. Art and beauty have
always been interwoven with the history and traditions of
Alaska Native cultures.
we often find new ideas interpreted in traditional ways, but
the ancient crafts such as ivory carving, basketweaving, maskmaking
and beadwork continue to flourish and to keep Alaska's unique
The "Silver Hand"
and the "Made in Alaska" symbols are your assurance
that the items you are buying are authentic Alaskan crafts
made by Alaska residents.
Items and Canadian Customs
You can obtain a free
permit to avoid a customs fee when carrying ivory items across the
Canadian border en route to your non-Canadian destination. The permits
are available at many gift shops or from the U.S. Department of
Interior at 605 4th Ave, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, (907) 786-3211.
Or, you may wish to mail your item directly to your destination.
State Council on the Arts
Arts and Cultural Group
of Alaska Native Arts, Inc.
Division of Community and Business Development: Tourism Development
Museum of the Arctic
Great Alaska Catalog
Detailed information on exporting ivory.
Arts Export Guide