Inupiaq Baleen Basket by Carl E. Hank

Artist and Craftsmanship

Inupiaq artist Carl E. Hank crafted this large, finely woven baleen basket that showcases the exceptional skill and tradition of Alaskan Native craftsmanship. This basket, which has been SOLD, stands 6 inches tall, including the ivory whale fluke finial, and measures 6.5 inches in diameter. Hank utilized both white and dark baleen, highlighting the intricate weaving techniques of the Inupiaq people.

Historical Context

For over half a century, Alaskan Inupiaq Eskimos have created baskets from baleen, a keratinous substance from the mouths of plankton-eating whales. Although not as prevalent as ivory carving, baleen basketry significantly supports the livelihoods of weavers in Arctic villages like Point Barrow, Point Hope, and Wainwright, Alaska. Collectors of Alaskan Native art highly seek these baskets, with contemporary weavers producing beautifully shaped, finely woven pieces, some featuring multicolored baleen.

Basket Making Process

Typically, weavers start these round baskets with an ivory disc at the bottom, which has holes around its periphery. They then finish the top with an ivory lid, often adorned with figures like whale flukes, seals, walruses, and bears as finials.

Cultural Significance

The Inupiaq people, originally from the King Islands, now primarily reside on mainland Alaska. Due to historical events, including a tuberculosis outbreak during World War II and the subsequent closing of the local school, they relocated, and many now live near Nome, Alaska. As a result, baleen baskets remain a vital cultural and economic activity for the Inupiaq.

Role of Marine Resources

Moreover, whales and walruses continue to play an essential role in the nutritional and cultural practices of Alaska Natives. They provide food, materials for boat coverings, and ivory for carvings. These carvings, including baleen baskets, are sold to collectors, thus supporting the artisans’ income and preserving their heritage.

Further Reading

For further reading on the art and tradition of baleen basketry, refer to Baleen Basketry of the North Alaskan Eskimo.

Additionally, more information on Alaskan ivory carvings can be found at Tribal Crafts.

baleen basket

Carl E. Hank   Inupiaq

Baleen basket

Baleen and fossil ivory – 6 x 6.5”