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A voice from the past

I believe there exists a collective artistic consciousness available to all of us. Nowhere is this more evident than in traditional societies around the world where art is everywhere and everyone is an artist. Pattern and design decorate sacred objects, mundane items, and in some cultures, the human body. It is in this spirit that I began work on earrings that had, as their central feature, ancient ivory pieces dug from the boneyards of Gambell and handmade by one of the resident Yup’ik carvers. To honor the aesthetic of traditional Yup’ik design, I created a motif similar to what might be found on an ancient harpoon point, or perhaps a woman’s facial tattoo.

St. Lawrence Island woman with intricate facial tattoos, 1901. Photograph by R.N. Hawley. *


Most frequently, I begin with a rough drawing of the piece. In this case there were 2 identical ivories, so a plan for earrings came early in the design process. I wondered how much time had gone by before they had come into my possession.


And then I set to work using time-honored techniques of the metalsmith – sawing, filing, hammering, bending, and soldering.


Soon (or sometimes not so soon) the work begins to take shape. Often there are adjustments to be made along the way – is the proportion correct? Should they be longer? Shorter?

Eventually, they are finished and the drawing becomes a reality.

Ancient ivory: a voice from the past transformed into modern personal adornment.


* For further information on tattooing in the Bering Sea region (and around the world) see

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