Walrus Ivory Sculpture

72.4 cm, Private Collection

When Luna sheds her pearly lustre over the land of the midnight moon
Pale white wolves and gyrfalcon
Polar bear and snowy owl
Pursue the fleeting ptarmigan and pale receding caribou
Then stalks ivory gleaming death
Consuming glacial mountain, moon and stars

Walrus Ivory Sculpture Back

Original Poem

Walrus Ivory Sculpture Poem

The Experience

The night I finished this piece, I packed it in a shipping box that I had built specifically to hold it so none of the fine detail would be damaged. However, before packing it I tried an experiment. First of all I placed the tusk on its stand on a table about 5 feet from a wall and also turned out the lights. Then I lit a candle and held it so the shadow of the sculpture was cast against the wall, resulting in a much larger shadow than sculpture. By moving the candle back and forth the effect was quite uncanny. As a result the shadows of the three dimensional animals moved relative to themselves and to each other. Consequently they distinctly appeared to be vigorously alive and, for all the world, stampeding. We are little removed from those people who created the many breathtakingly beautiful cave paintings. What did they and their peoples experience inside those caves gazing at those paintings? Finally, what I experienced that night was nothing less than a paleolithic self-initiation. Believe it or not, I don’t care. I know what happened in those caves because it happened in my own.

Preparatory Drawing

Walrus Ivory Sculpture Drawing

Certainly most of the preparatory drawing was realized in the sculpture with the exception of the mountain lion which became a bald eagle and a few other details. The drawing also shows the reverse side through the sculpture with two walruses, the head of the caribou and an arctic fox.

From the root of the tusk to its tip the animals seem like a procession from those of the air to land and then water. For those with and interest in the fourth element, fire, it is in them all.

Technical Issues

Walrus ivory is a unique material with two primary layers. These layers contain powerful stresses that are at right angles. Consequently, if too much of the top of a tusk’s arch is removed, then the inner ‘tapioca’ layer pulls to flatten the arch removing much of its aesthetic appeal. Therefore, when one designs a new walrus ivory sculpture, care must be taken to use a trestle bridge design which transmits the forces in such a way to preserve as much of the arch as possible. For example, the tree branch visible on the back view by the eagle serves as a brace to preserve the wide end of the tusk’s arch.

Finally, the tusk was harvested by Inuit (eskimo) walrus hunters as part of their aboriginal rights and was sold to the US government which sold it legally at an auction.