Skip Navigation

About the WorkShare

New Year Greeting

New Year Greeting

Attributed to Happy Jack (born Angokwazhuk) (Inupiaq, b. Alaska, c. 1870-1918)
Nome, Alaska, United States, 1910
  • Walrus tusk: engraved; gold inset
  • Height: 10 in. (25.4 cm) Diameter: 1 in. (2.5 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Gift of the Kanofsky Family in memory of Minnie Kanofsky, 1984-71
On view

Larger Image

close

New Year Greeting

close

close

Listen

This unusual Alaskan artifact combines the Jewish custom of sending Rosh Hashanah cards with the centuries-old Inuit craft of walrus-tusk carving. The greeting was made by an innovative and influential Alaskan carver named Angokwazhuk--also known as Happy Jack. Happy Jack is credited with introducing the practice of engraving tusks with a very fine needle. Once engraved, the lines would then be enhanced by filling them with India ink, graphite, or ashes.

This tusk records the faces and clothing of a religiously observant Jewish couple believed to have run a store in Nome. The woman is dressed in typical turn-of-the-century style and seems to be wearing a wig. (Traditionally, Orthodox Jewish women cover their natural hair after marriage as a sign of modesty.) The man's beard is neatly trimmed, and his top hat suggests a holiday or formal occasion. Even though he could not read or write, Happy Jack was able to reproduce written inscriptions with great accuracy. The Hebrew inscription on this object delivers the traditional Jewish New Year salutation: "May you be inscribed for a good year, 5671 [1910]." In English is added: "Nome, Alaska."

Jews have lived in Alaska since the 19th century. It is believed that some Jews sailed there with the Russian fishing fleets in the 1830s and 1840s. It was not until a Jewish-owned firm, the Alaska Commercial Company, secured the seal-fishing rights that Jewish traders began making regular visits to the territory. In 1885, the first permanent Jewish settlers arrived in Juneau. The Klondike gold rush of 1897, soon followed by another discovery of gold near Nome, brought thirty thousand miners, fortune hunters, and businessmen into Cape Nome around the turn of the century. A number of Jews were part of that immigration.