M4936 | Awl

Anonyme - Anonymous
Western Arctic
Inuit: Yu'pik
1900-1915, 20th century
Ivory, pigment
0.7 x 11.6 cm
Gift of Mrs. J. B. Learmont
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Awl (11)
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Keys to History

As bone needles could easily be broken when sewing thick hide, the Inuit seamstress would employ an awl (kaputaq) to start the hole for the stitch. Awls are made of any strong material: bone, ivory or metal. If an awl was not available, a pointed tool, a splinter of bone or the corner of an ulu served to make the needle-hole. Awls can also be used to make the large holes required in the sealskin that goes onto the drying-frame or on skins for kayak covers.

Women's tools, including awls, are often elaborately decorated by men and are greatly treasured by women. This awl is carved in the shape of the elongated body of an animal, possibly a sea otter. Incised lines decorate the body with fanciful representations of a seal, fish, fur-bearing mammal and plant life.

  • What

    The bone used to make this awl has been polished and rounded to make a comfortable fit for the user's hand, coming to a fairly sharp point that can pierce a tough hide. The type of bone - whether seal, caribou, bear, or the tusk of a narwhal or walrus - is not known.

  • Where

    This awl is akin to those created by the Yup'ik men of southwestern Alaska. They took delight in depicting mythological creatures such as the seal, fish and weasel-like creatures on this awl.

  • When

    Although awls can be traced back to prehistoric eras, this example dates to the early 20th century. Siberians and Alaskans traded objects of material culture, leading to shared design elements.

  • Who

    The style of this awl indicates that it was made by a Yup'ik person from southwestern Alaska. This region is a coastal tundra dominated by large river systems. The men who carved and decorated the tools used the regional flora and fauna in their imaginative designs.