© McCord Museum
Anonyme - Anonymous
1900-1935, 20th century
Sealskin, sinew, ivory
11.5 x 18 cm
© McCord Museum
Keys to History:
This bag made of coiled sealskin strips and sewn with sinew resembles the grass workbaskets made later in the 20th century by Yup'ik women of southwest Alaska. They used them to hold sewing equipment or other small articles. This kind of bag is rare and is found only in a few museum collections.
Women's work bags collected at Sitnasuaq (Nome, Alaska) and Cape Prince of Wales, both Inupiat towns on the Bering Strait, may provide some information about 19th- and 20th-century contacts between continents. For example, the geometric patterns of alternating light and dark skin that decorate these bags form motifs in the clothing of the Koryak, Chukchi, Yup'ik and Inupiaq.
The bag and its lid are made up of narrow, folded strips of tanned, dehaired and coiled sealskin stitched with sinew. Between the sealskin strips run welts of untanned dark sealskin. Carrying straps are sewn to each side of the bag at the top. They are held together by a handsome ivory handle incised with the circle and dot motif.
It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of the bag since we have no information about the donor. The style of decoration resembles that on bags made by Eskimos on St. Lawrence Island (Sivuqaq), Alaska, or by the Chukchi of coastal Siberia.
In the 1780s the Russians established a trading post near the Bering Strait, visited yearly by Chukchi and Inuit traders. The latter would bring back artifacts and then pass them on through their own trade networks. The Russians prohibited travel between the continents after their revolution in 1917, so this bag must have been purchased in the late 19th or early 20th century.
An Alaskan or Siberian craftsperson probably made this bag, which was subsequently bought or traded, eventually entering the collection of the McCord Museum.