Video: ‘The Bone Carver’

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Sylvester Ayek survives by subsistence hunting and by turning his take into art. The Inupiat elder carves the ivory from walruses into jewelry and sculptures. In The Bone Carver, the Nome, Alaska, resident shares how he learned to hunt and carve during a childhood on King Island in the Bering Sea.

Though it is illegal for hunters in Alaska to take polar bears, sea otters and walruses, Alaskan natives have been given permission to hunt a limited number each year.

Here's an excerpt of Ayek's bio, taken from

Sylvester is my English name, Anaiyak is my Inupiat name. I make my living being an artist. I started carving simple shapes and forms out of ivory and wood when I was a young man in King Island. Because all of the men on the island were master craftsmen, we learned by watching them. They made simple carvings to trade for dry goods and groceries from the store. There was absolutely no money on the island so that’s what they did with Alaska Native Industry stores all across Alaska and King Island was no exception. 

My peers and I started going out hunting and gathering at a very early age. We were expected to learn by making mistakes and by being good listeners, especially in men’s club houses. I grew up one hundred percent subsistence lifestyle and still live that way in Nome, AK. Subsistence lifestyle, for those who live it, are the people who go out hunting for food on the table, from the sea and from the land. They only supplement their diet with store-bought staples like milk, sugar, coffee and tea. Subsistence is purely for my own self and to share with the other people in Nome who aren’t able to go out hunting. That’s the way we were raised and that’s the way it was meant to be.

My ivory carvings are from walrus that I hunt. We eat everything—the skin, meat, the kidneys, the liver, the heart. And the tusks are used to carve and sell. For many subsistence lifestyle people it’s a good way to bring in a few dollars for living in this Western lifestyle.

To buy Ayek's sculptures and jewelry, go to

—Joe Spring

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