Spirit Wheel Mask from Nunivak Island by Jacob Shavings

Jacob Shavings, a late Cup’it artist, meticulously crafted this spirit wheel mask, showcasing the rich native art of Nunivak Island. Born in Bethel, Alaska, and later residing in Mekoryuk, Jacob employed traditional materials such as walrus ivory, baleen, seal gut, wood, and ink to create this stunning piece. Measuring 11 inches high, 9.25 inches wide, and 1.25 inches deep, this mask has already been sold.
Traditional Use and Significance

Historically, shamans designed these masks for winter ceremonies, specifically to pray for the reincarnation of animal spirits. Consequently, these rituals played a crucial role in ensuring the animals’ return in the spring, thereby providing essential sustenance for the community. Thus, the masks serve not merely as artistic expressions but also as embodiments of deep spiritual significance, representing the Cup’it people’s profound connection to the natural world.
The Cup’it People of Nunivak Island
Art and Craftsmanship

The Cup’it people of Nunivak Island excel in creating intricate carvings and detailed native art. Indeed, their craftsmanship, exemplified by Jacob Shavings’ mask, highlights the deep cultural and spiritual significance of their work. Each piece of art tells a story, often reflecting the community’s intricate relationship with nature, spirituality, and their ancestors.
Geography and Demographics

Nunivak Island, located in the Bering Sea approximately 135 miles west of Bethel, Alaska, ranks as the third-largest island off the Alaskan coast. The island houses around 200 residents, primarily in the settlement of Mekoryuk. Historically, the population was larger, as evidenced by the 1880 U.S. Census, which recorded 400 residents. Consequently, the island’s remote location and harsh climate have contributed to the small population, aiding in the preservation of its unique cultural heritage.
Subsistence Lifestyle

Furthermore, the Cup’it people rely heavily on the island’s wild mammals, such as white and red foxes, seals, and walrus, for their subsistence. They traditionally hunted seals with spears from kayaks in the spring and utilized cooperative netting tactics in the autumn. This subsistence lifestyle underscores their resilience and deep connection to the natural environment. Indeed, hunting and gathering practices pass down through generations, ensuring the skills and knowledge remain within the community.
Cultural Heritage and Preservation

The Cup’it people’s way of life, including their art and subsistence practices, ties deeply to their cultural heritage. Consequently, efforts to preserve this heritage are crucial, particularly in the face of modern challenges such as climate change and economic pressures. Organizations and initiatives focus on documenting traditional practices, supporting local artisans, and promoting cultural education to preserve indigenous cultures.
Contemporary Relevance

Moreover, Jacob Shavings’ work and the traditional art of the Cup’it people remain relevant today, serving not only as cultural artifacts but also as sources of inspiration and identity for the community. Exhibitions, museums, and cultural festivals help raise awareness and appreciation for this unique heritage. Additionally, contemporary artists from Nunivak Island and other indigenous communities blend traditional techniques with modern themes, creating dynamic and evolving cultural expressions.
Additional Resources

For more information on Alaskan ivory carvings, visit https://tribalcrafts.com/alaskan-ivory-carvings/ . Furthermore, additional information about Nunivak Island is available on its  page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nunivak_Island . These resources provide a deeper understanding of Nunivak Island’s rich cultural landscape and the incredible artistry of its people.

Cup'it ivory spirit wheel

Jacob Shavings    Cup’it

Spirit wheel mask from Nunivak Island

Walrus ivory, baleen, seal gut, wood, & ink – 11 x 9.25 x 1.25 inches