Monday, October 15, 2012

Walrus Fossil Ivory ~ A Rich Collection

Walrus fossil ivory from Little Diomede Island which is the nearest Alaskan island to Russia 

Artifacts that have been hand worked and polished sometime in recent or not so recent  history.

These are carved from fossil walrus ivory that washes up on the beach over the years. They were then carved and used for spears, fishing and sewing implements

These almost look like fish head carvings but are parts from spools and tools

 In my search for fossil ivory for a fellow artist I was fortunate to have access to a stash of a long standing collector of fossil ivory. He passed away a few years ago and his wife was ready to part with some of his impressive collection.
Sam had visited the Inuit of Little Diomede Island over the years during his professional life and was privy to local midden heaps during his many visits.
He was always respectful of the locals and their culture.

The fine polished finish and markings and variety of color variations are amazing.

When you live in a place with no trees and some nice hard fossil ivory washes up on the beach it makes a fine material for tools

Looks like a natural example of mokume gane doesn't it?

Here's a little bit about Sam's amazing life.
I was a pleasure to have gotten to know him a bit before he passed away. My husband and Sam could talk for hours about his extensive research and collecting. 
I feel honored to be able to use some of his pieces in my artwork.
He made some amazingly complex and beautiful mobiles of his own with his collection.
Many thanks to his wife Patty that graciously let me pile through tubs of his collections and let them live on through other's art as he would have wished.

Longtime Fairbanks resident Sam Stoker died at home Friday, June 11, 2010.
He was born July 9, 1938, in Alva, Okla., where as a boy, he brought home bones and fossils he'd collected from the surrounding plains and became a crack shot, an A-student and an Eagle Scout.
Sam studied history, government and mathematics at the University of Oklahoma, lettering in marksmanship and earning a degree in combined studies. His graduate work was in creative writing at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. 
After traveling for nearly two years, first in Alaska then in South America, Sam returned to Oklahoma where he convinced the OU Research Institute to send him to Fairbanks as a researcher on a vole study. It was one of the most fruitful turnings of his life, focusing his interests and triggering his passions.
He enrolled at University of Alaska Fairbanks, completing a Master of Science in 1973 and his Ph.D. in 1978, both in biological oceanography. His research took him to the northern Bering and Chukchi seas, and to Little Diomede Island for several seasons, where he studied subsistence harvest and marine mammal populations.
These seasons were among the highlights of Sam's life. He loved Little Diomede, the work, the people and his adventures with them, and he still is remembered there.
Sam was an active scholar for more than 30 years, producing studies for state and federal agencies and commissions including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, and the International Whaling Commission.
He studied bird, fish and marine mammal populations in northwest Alaska, monitored the subsistence harvest of seals, walruses and whales, and studied both prehistoric and present ecological conditions of the seas that support them.
From 1986 to 1991, Sam was Gov. Steve Cowper's special adviser on biological resource issues. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of Alaskan crude into Prince William Sound, he began work that lasted the coming decade, for the state then for Exxon, on oil spill assessment, response planning and mitigation efforts in the Sound.
Wherever he was, Sam Stoker was comfortable in a flannel shirt and jeans, at 20 below or 70 above. He figured he was fully provisioned for camping if he packed a tin of instant coffee and a fishing rod, adding a box of Pilot bread and a jar of peanut butter if it was going to be a long trip. He was happiest canoeing a river on the North Slope, watching whales in Prince William Sound or anywhere in Africa watching elephants. 
In his lifetime, Sam was a man of finely honed skills. He was a marine biologist and researcher, a writer, an artist, a gardener who produced tender and tasty sweet corn, and a photographer. He leaves behind two unpublished novels and a collection of beautifully balanced mobiles.


  1. These are all incredible pieces and they went to a good home. I can't wait to see how they show up in your work.

  2. Oh wow--I want to read his unpublished manuscripts. Really, that's a great obit. And I'm sure a really interesting friend. Of everything though, I am most intrigued by the Iowa Writer's Workshop angle!

    Those are really fantastic fossil specimens!

  3. A fascinating story, and a fascinating man. I never knew there was such a thing as walrus fossil ivory. The piece you show here are beautiful!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Wow. First I want to say I am glad you posted the information about your friend's life. What a wonderful life! Also, thanks for sharing his incredible collection with us. I can't wait to see how it speaks to you in your art!

  5. Whoa! First of all, the pieces are amazing. I'm so envious of your stash. How nice of his wife to allow you to have some. Big congrats on that...really looking forwarding to seeing how you use them.

    And almost as astounding to me is the fact that My Mister is also from Alva, OK. (Exclamation Point!) How bout that? Small they say. And what a wonderful, full life he led. Very impressive.

    Again, the pieces are just so darn GORGEOUS...just the sort of earthy, organic pieces that speak to me.

  6. What an interesting man, who clearly had an eye for beauty and a thirst for knowledge. My condolences to his wife and to you.

  7. Fascinating indeed. A wonderful tribute to a full and well lived life. Nice to know.
    The fossil bits are spectacular. The tool shards give me the goose bumps. Looking forward to see what you create with them.

  8. what a beautiful tribute to sam's life - he left behind so much to be remembered and shared...
    your fossil ivory samples are simply gorgeous - they must mean so very much to you because of the layers of sentimentality and reverence associated with them -

  9. Thankyou for this wonderful story about a very interesting man.what a life! I love the tools...such wonderful color and texture from this fossi ivory...I will look forward to seeing what you do with it...if it was me, I probably could never parrt with it!

  10. I don't know what mokume gane is, but these objects are just beautiful. Sam must have been a very cool guy; I would love to see his mobiles- I would bet that they're awesome.

  11. there is something to say about things that have been around and how life and time give it beauty with a warm glow.

  12. Thank you for sharing Sam and some of his collection - they are absolutely beautiful. I feel like I've just read through a Smithsonian article! Wonderful pics!

  13. This is like a museum piece!! Thanks for posting. Fascinating.

  14. terrific post - deeply covetous of that fossil collection - truly gorgeous, thx for sharing that

  15. Oohhhh treasure! I can imagine the excitement of finding a few pieces washed up on a beach. Thanks for sharing Sam's story. (I would love to see the mobiles). Looking forward to seeing what you do with some of these pieces.

  16. Beautiful tribute. The affection and respect between you is evident in the fact that his beloved wife shared his treasures with you. An honor indeed.

  17. What a fascinating story! I've never heard before of walrus fossil ivory. Your samples are absolutely amazing! I'm curious what you do with them.


  18. I would sorely love to touch these fossil remnants you have shown. They are heavenly!

  19. Those pieces are amazing and the story behind them equally amazing, you always come up with interesting stuff to share!

  20. Sounds like an amazing guy. Glad you got to know him. Fossils are something else. xox

  21. I love this part: "He figured he was fully provisioned for camping if he packed a tin of instant coffee and a fishing rod, adding a box of Pilot bread and a jar of peanut butter if it was going to be a long trip." So personal and poignant, thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute. The fossil ivory pieces are amazing...

  22. seriously wonderful stuff here - both the ivory and the man and the connections artists make. if only the whole world could connect like that ...

  23. Beautifu tribute to this Alaskan, Kim - when we stayed in Wales, AK several summers some years ago, Little Diomede and the Russian coast were visible on clear days... good memories. -sus

  24. What a gorgeous collection. So touchable! He sounds like he was a really interesting man............


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