E is for Earrings

Helbing Collection A-Z is a continuing feature of our blog. Each week for 26 weeks, I will highlight an item or items from our Helbing Collection of Native American Arts and Crafts.

For the letter E, I chose  ivory earrings and the matching ivory bracelet and necklace. There is not much information on the earrings. Cleora wrote: “Carved Ivory Earrings. One-half inch oblong earrings carved from slightly yellowed ivory. An identical fishing scene is etched in black on each earring.” One earring has the plastic clip backing still attached. The other is just the ivory piece.

To me, the most interesting piece is the matching bracelet. Each etched image tells a little part of the story of a walrus hunt.

When Ronald Senungentuk (Alaskan artist) visited our museum, he said he thought the bracelet was made from Mastadon and walrus ivory in Shishmaref style, perhaps by Andrew Tingook.

For our official records, Cleora Helbing wrote, “Carved Ivory Bracelet. This expansion bracelet is carved out of three different grades of ivory: the squares in the bracelet are white ivory; half of the ovals connecting the squares to each other are carved out of partially fossilized ivory, light tan in color; and the other half of the ovals are carved out of very precious, dark brown, ancient fossilized ivory. Two holes are carved through the sides of each of the geometric shapes that make up the bracelet. These holes are used to run the elastic thread through the top and bottom of the bracelet, allowing it to expand. Before the introduction of elastic thread from the outside world, the Eskimos did not carve many bracelets, for they had difficulty solving the problem of how to get the bracelet over the wide part of the hand and still have it fit snugly over the smaller wrist. On the squares of this particular bracelet, small black figures are etched, telling the story of how the Eskimo seal hunt. Each etching recreates one phase of the entire hunt.”

There is also a matching necklace. The panels on the necklace are symmetrical with the characters facing the center. Cleora’s notes read: “Carved Ivory Necklace.  This white ivory necklace utilizes two geometric shapes for its design: small carved ivory balls are attached to the clasp at the back of the neck and come about one-quarter of the way around the neck on each side, forming a carved chain. Attached to these are individually carved chain. Attached to these are individually carved squares of ivory, each one in black figures.”

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6 Responses to E is for Earrings

  1. Joan Feliciano says:

    I have the exact bracelet and on the back is signed by Andrew Tingook. Mine has been restrung with a clasp. I would love to hear from you and what ypu think the bracelet is worth. I bought it in Alaska about 40 years ago.

    • Ann says:


      They were probably made in the same time period, our visiting Alaskan artist attributed the bracelet to Andrew Tingook as well, but we don’t have any documentation from the donor or on the bracelet to confirm that.
      As for a dollar value… we generally do not research monetary value here. Historic value is more important to us. I don’t know the monetary value of the ivory pieces in the collection. Sometimes you can find similar pieces on on-line auction sites, but these sites aren’t really helpful unless you know what particular features make one item more valuable than another. Also – in talking to experts, I have learned that the value of Native American Art changes frequently. Some years, certain types of crafts are very popular and therefore expensive, but a few years later, those objects may fall out of favor and become less expensive.

      Thanks for responding – and I hope your bracelet brings you much joy!


  2. I also have a bracelet like this. I need to get it restrung though because the elastic broke. i’ve had it since about 1964.

  3. Holly R. Hanson says:

    I have the simular piece that shows the whale hunt. But I also heard that the artist did not sign it. This piece was brought back in 1950’s from my grandmother that worked in Alaska. Could you give me some clarification on why it woul’nt be signed?

    • Ann says:

      I am not sure why your piece isn’t signed. Ours aren’t either. None of our ivory pieces are signed. Only the wooden bowl with ivory on the sides was signed – by Ronald Senungentuk.
      But you are fortunate to have such a wonderful piece! Enjoy!

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