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The Bone Carver

May 22, 2012

by Tara Young

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(Music by Matt Abeysekera)

As a young boy on King Island, Sylvester Ayek learned the ways of his Iñupiat elders: hunting, foraging, and the craft of carving walrus ivory and wood. Today, he sells his artwork to support his traditional subsistence lifestyle, struggling to maintain Iñupiat ways in a quickly changing world.

For more information about subsistence living and Alaska Native Peoples sale of ivory, read the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines.

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1 Featured Comment

  • weirdwolf Admin

    Tara Young from kinfolks said 9 years ago Featured

    Spending the day out on the frozen Bering Sea with Sylvester was just mind-blowing. Even though subsistence seems like a hard way to live what a an incredible way to spend your days... Thank you for the thoughtful comments!


  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 9 years ago


  • theroyal
  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 9 years ago


  • OuterKnits

    OuterKnits from OuterKnits said 9 years ago


  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 9 years ago

    Fabulous video! Reminds me a bit of the native finnish population, the Sami people. They make some amazing stuff from bone and many other naturally provided materials. Beautiful video.

  • volkerwandering

    Jess from volkerwandering said 9 years ago


  • katrinaalana

    Katrina Alana from KatrinaAlana said 9 years ago

    Great video!

  • LiliDMagpieCreations

    Lisa Giddings from LiliDMagpieCreations said 9 years ago

    Congratulations!!! You do such Beautiful Work and I enjoyed the video!! :)

  • ValentinesArmoire

    MARY CHRISTINE from ValentinesArmoire said 9 years ago

    definitely one of my favorite etsy stories of all time... Thank you

  • TheHickoryTree

    Linda from TheHickoryTree said 9 years ago

    Just Beautiful.

  • StringBeardCraftery

    Stephanie from StringBeardCraftery said 9 years ago

    What a gorgeous landscape! So pretty!

  • untamedrose

    Breanna from untamedrose said 9 years ago

    Wow thats cool :D

  • peacesofindigo

    Dawanna Young from peacesofindigo said 9 years ago

    I LOVED watching this!

  • TheFederalCase

    Matthew Pastre from TheFederalCase said 9 years ago

    Excellent,, we need more of this

  • DigitalCollageSheets

    Michelle from DigitalCollageSheets said 9 years ago

    Very nice video!

  • m2loomis

    meg loomis said 9 years ago

    Thank you so much for this video and your other feature on Mabel Pike. Alaska Native culture is so often misunderstood...or overlooked. So from Anchorage - thanks!

  • TheBeautyofBoredom

    Gracie from TheBeautyofBoredom said 9 years ago

    Amazing story! I especially like the hummingbird out of the items featured. It must take a lot of patience and skill to learn how to carve. I have never been too good with 3-D art, so these items are pretty cool. Interesting how it ties in with the traditional culture as well.

  • beliz82

    Beliz from ThreadEtc said 9 years ago

    Great video !

  • VoleedeMoineaux

    Hillary De Moineaux from VoleedeMoineaux said 9 years ago

    This is fantastic!!!!

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 9 years ago

    Just beautiful , Thanks !

  • RenataandJonathan

    Renata and Jonathan from RenataandJonathan said 9 years ago

    Great video ! :)

  • taylorfords

    Jeremy Taylor from TaylorFords said 9 years ago

    A great and inspiring video!

  • KrystynPecora

    Krystyn Pecora from QuirkAndSparkle said 9 years ago

    Alaska is an amazing place, and you don't quite realize how different life is from the lower 48 until you get a chance to visit villages like these. When I visit, I always make a point to try and pick up carvings like these or items made out of seal skins or other furs gathered from subsistence living... I'm so glad that there is an outlet on Etsy for more people to be exposed to this and support the art work from up there!

  • HoodVintageandWool

    Elisabeth Ryan from hoodwool said 9 years ago

    great video thank you!

  • bedouin

    Nicole from KarmaCodeOne said 9 years ago

    Great video ~ inspiring patience ~ a florist in San Francisco years back I would save the stamens from lily's for a customer who carved bone and stained the etchings with the orangey amber dust.

  • PaperAltar

    PaperAltar from PaperAltar said 9 years ago

    Beautiful video ! Thank you for sharing your world Sylvester. That is the goal - finding balance .... always & all ways.

  • HoneyThistle

    Wei from HoneyThistle said 9 years ago

    I love this :)

  • spiderbunny

    Jessa Cady from Spiderbunny said 9 years ago

    This is a wonderful video, I love it! ^ . ^

  • thewomensrepublic

    Sara Brazil from SararaVintage said 9 years ago

    Such an artist and someone who represents his culture with pride in todays world. I love when etsy features Native American artists!

  • thevicagirl

    VaLon Frandsen from thevicagirl said 9 years ago

    Wow, amazing. Wow, sure great work. Wow.

  • gallery32

    Trina from Gallery32Photography said 9 years ago

    Such patience to create those lovely pieces. Amazing what one can accomplish in an uncluttered life. Thanks for sharing :)

  • 2TrickPony

    Rachel from 2TrickPony said 9 years ago

    loved this thank you!

  • weirdwolf Admin

    Tara Young from kinfolks said 9 years ago Featured

    Spending the day out on the frozen Bering Sea with Sylvester was just mind-blowing. Even though subsistence seems like a hard way to live what a an incredible way to spend your days... Thank you for the thoughtful comments!

  • fenellasongbird

    Fenella Songbird from Felala said 9 years ago

    thank you for sharing your life with us Sylvester and that you for making this video .... very inspiring and humbling :)

  • andiespecialtysweets

    Jason and Andie from andiespecialtysweets said 9 years ago

    What a gorgeous film; it really transported us to Alaska, and gave us an instant kinship to Sylvester. Wow, what a dose of reality. What a blessing to live life, dependent on the resources that have been given us for our sustenance. Thank you for the vision, Tara and Sylvester!

  • Namaz

    Nazima Banka from nazimabanka said 9 years ago

    simply stunning!

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 9 years ago

    wow, everyone needs to buy one of his items!

  • BlueMoonLights

    Alexandra Simons from BlueMoonLights said 9 years ago

    Beautiful work!

  • ladibugzfly

    Pamela Sweet said 9 years ago

    - sadly for me ... this was too short a (video) story about a remarkable artist living in a remarkable part of the world. What was the point of this tiny documentary ... there wasn' enough info about this wonderful man? Is it all just about selling his carvings? Come-on ETSY ... fiind a better balance. He may not care but I DO! Pamela

  • jewelryrage

    Aaron Kish from JewelryRage said 9 years ago

    Great video thank you.

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 9 years ago

    Wonderful blog!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 9 years ago

    A beautiful video from the wilds of Alaska, I always find it fascinating to imagine how much the world has changed for tribal peoples. Holding onto traditional way of life is important I think as we all become 'the same'.

  • dutchgirlartist

    dutchgirlartist from dutchgirlartist said 9 years ago

    Beautiful in everyway! You made my day quite special.

  • paulfiorello

    Paul Fiorello from DancingMoonLLC said 9 years ago

    What a wonderful video to share with everyone. His carving abilities are amazing, great works of art.

  • orchardfarmsoap

    Kate Jaeckel from orchardfarmsoap said 9 years ago

    a beautiful story about a man and his life's work. we are all looking for that balance. wonderful to see his world.

  • PhoenixFinery

    Lorianne Benton from PhoenixFinery said 9 years ago

    I lived in Alaska a couple years ago, and had the opportunity to work in an art gallery in Anchorage. I was fortunate enough to get to know several artists like Sylvester. Some artists carved walrus ivory, some carved whalebone, and some carved mammoth ivory when they found it. A few even made traditional beaded baskets from walrus stomachs. The best part of my job by far was getting to talk to these amazing people about their artwork and lifestyle. True subsistence living isn't for everyone, but I think we can all learn something from it. So many of the carvings had personal and spiritual meanings. The process is fascinating. Thanks for sharing this video, though it makes me miss my old snowy home!

  • exnomad

    pierce and colleen from exnomad said 9 years ago

    we love the alaskan artists! we have several carvings on our site from our decades in alaska. nice video!

  • bookBW

    Benjamin Wieler from bookBW said 9 years ago

    one of the best features yet, but I agree with Pamela Sweet... too short!

  • LesCargo

    Lesley from LesCargo said 9 years ago

    You are inspiring, Sylvester. I respect greatly the life you live, your traditional lifestyle. It is just as fine a way of life as any other, if not finer. And your creations are simply beautiful.

  • meganmccarthy5

    Megan McCarthy from SisterMadeIt said 9 years ago

    Wow! Great video thanks for sharing. Beautiful !

  • dianepaganpoetry

    Diane Schuh from paganpoetryshop said 9 years ago

    This video is so so beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing your Art! It is really inspirational!

  • foxowlroad

    Oriel from foxowlroad said 9 years ago

    Such a moving piece and what an amazing, gentle soul and artist. Culture is so important in this world that we share......thankyou Anaiyak for sharing with us all that you are:-) Beautiful art from a beautiful land!!

  • DalkullanJewelry

    DalkullanJewelry from DalkullanJewelry said 9 years ago

    Beautifully done video Tara. A wonderful portrait of an amazing artist.

  • TaylorArts

    Christine and Marc from TaylorArts said 9 years ago

    Wow. Such a different world and yet he struggles with what all of us do--finding the balance between putting food on the table and making art. Very inspiring.

  • honeystreasures

    Michael and Lisa from honeystreasures said 9 years ago

    Amazingly beautiful work. Enjoyed the video, very nice.

  • swaun

    Sabrina from swaun said 9 years ago

    Beautiful! It's wonderful to see such a great Alaskan artist showcased. More please.

  • artwink

    Paula from artwinkjewelry said 9 years ago

    A most beautiful story and amazing artist. A favorite story for sure!

  • carolfontaine

    carol fontaine said 9 years ago

    This really does show all of us that beyond the shelves of convenience there exists in us all the ability to be self sufficient, and in doing so we find innate treasures that the modern world can sometimes stiffle......I will always remember this story! Thank-you.

  • GraysCrafts

    Anna and Kenneth Gray from GraysCrafts said 9 years ago

    You make beautiful work, simple and elegant. I was born in Russia, in the northern regions of it. I spent some time close to the north pole because of my work (I am an attorney and was working on a case there), among people like you. What I loved the most about them was that they would always speak their mind, just as you do. All the best with your unique store!

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