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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
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This unusual Alaskan artifact combines the Jewish custom of sending Rosh Hashanah cards with the centuries-old Inuit craft of walrus-tusk carving. With the arrival of the whaling industry in the 19th century, Inuit carvers exchanged techniques and materials with whalers who practiced the western art of scrimshaw (carving whale bones). The complexity and diversity of Inuit subjects increased as more sophisticated interpretations displaced schematic figures and linear ornamentation. Inuit carvers quickly learned to copy illustrations or photographs in what is called a "western pictorial style."

This carving was created by the most innovative and influential of the Alaskan Inuit carvers, a man named Angokwazhuk—also known as "Happy Jack." Happy Jack is credited with the introduction, sometime after 1892, of the art of engraving walrus tusks with a very fine needle. This technique resulted in an almost perfect imitation of newspaper halftones and fabric textures. Happy Jack enhanced the incised lines by filling them with India ink, graphite, or ashes. Even though he could not read or write, Happy Jack could reproduce written inscriptions with great skill.

On this tusk, Happy Jack has ably recorded the faces and attire of a religiously observant Jewish couple believed to have run a store in Nome. The woman seems to be wearing a wig and is dressed in typical turn-of-the-century style. The man’s beard is neatly trimmed; his top hat suggests a holiday or formal occasion. The Hebrew inscription delivers the traditional Jewish New Year salutation: "May you be inscribed for a good year, 5671 [1910]." In English is added: "Nome, Alaska."