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Angokwakzhuk (Happy Jack, Iñupiaq, 1870?–1918), carving
ca. 1900
Nome, Alaska
Walrus ivory tusk
34 x 5 x 3 cm
Collected by J. E. Standley

“When Happy Jack worked, he worked it perfectly, exactly. You can’t even see the marks on his things. [Other carvers] tried hard like Happy Jack but they don’t do it like Happy Jack. I try too; I can’t do it even if I copy.”
—Big Mike, Happy Jack’s brother-in-law

Angokwazhuk, or Happy Jack, grew up on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska. In 1892, at the age of 19, he was living on Little Diomede Island when Captain Hartson Bodfish admired his carving and invited him onto his whaling ship. The sailors apparently named him Happy Jack and probably also showed him scrimshaw engraving. Although Happy Jack carved other objects, he is famous for detailed engravings in what Dorothy Jean Ray has called the “Western pictorial” style.1

While we may never know, I believe that the two hillside scenes on either side of this tusk depict the story of the Eagle–Wolf Dance. This dance recounts how a hunter, after killing a giant eagle, is taken to the giant eagle’s mother’s home so that she can teach him to sing, dance, and feast. She tells him that he must perform these activities when he returns home so that her son’s spirit can return to her. This story was told, and the dance performed, among villages on the Seward Peninsula during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

On one side of the tusk, Happy Jack has engraved an eagle larger than the wolf. On the other side, birds fly out of the den, startled by the snarling wolf at the entrance. In the story, the hunter sees a vision of a hillside den, from which birds fly away and a wolf emerges dancing. If the drawings do depict this story, this is a valuable and unique piece, as Happy Jack usually carved village and hunting scenes or scenes from photographs. In addition, contemporary carvers rarely engrave whole tusks because of the lack of ivory.

—Deanna Paniataaq Kingston (King Island Iñupiaq), associate professor of anthropology, Oregon State University

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  1. Dorothy Jean Ray, Artists of the Tundra and the Sea.
  • Dorothy Jean Ray, Artists of the Tundra and the Sea. Seattle: University of Washington, 1961.
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