Siberian Yup’ik artist Aaron Oseuk was born in Gambell, Alaska on August 26, 1940. Gambell is located on the northwest cape of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea just southwest of Nome. Subsistence hunting is a way of life on St. Lawrence Island.
From a very young age, Aaron was taught the principles behind and the importance of the hunt. He became very adept at hunting seals and walrus. A traditional subsistence lifestyle permits no waste. Every part of an animal is used in some way for food, clothing, and shelter as well as art based in tradition and function including ivory and bone carving.
Carving is a rich and important custom for the Native Alaskan people on St. Lawrence Island. It helps sustain their proud culture and way of life in a very remote and harsh area. Aaron learned to carve walrus ivory and whalebone. One of his most popular carvings is the standing otter. These whimsical creatures are made from polished walrus ivory with inlaid baleen eyes. Aaron used the variations in the color of the walrus tusk to create visual texture and character in his pieces. Aaron also carved cormorants, seals, snow buntings and occasionally a swimming otter. Another popular piece of his was a piece of baleen shaped like a tear with an ivory cormorant affixed to it wall hanging.
Aaron’s work is in several private and public collections including the Smithsonian American Art – Native American artist collection and the University of Pittsburgh University Art Gallery collection. Sadly, Aaron passed away in Gambell on February 20, 2008. He is still considered one of the most important ivory carvers of this community, and his work is highly collectible.