Artist Unknown (American, Yupik, 19th century),
wood, ivory, paint, feathers, plant and animal fiber, 7¼ x 13¼ x 9¾ inches, 16.83 cm long
Gift of Mrs. A.F. Jonas, 1952.45
Wooden hats and visors were used by native Alaskan hunters, from the Yupik coastal dwellers south to the Aleutian Islanders. Such headgear would certainly have provided protection from the glare of water and ice, and the beaklike appearance, especially with feathers added, might have made a hunter in a kayak less noticeable or threatening to his prey. But the elaborate decoration common to these hats and visors suggests that they may also have been symbols of status or spiritual power. In the Aleutians different types of headgear were badges of rank and social prestige. Hats and visors were often adorned with images of animals, which may have served as talismans to bring luck and offer protection from danger in the hunt. The headgear may have been even more important, offering the transformational power of a mask, obscuring the human identity of the hunter while imbuing him with supernatural strength, skill, and courage.
The style and decoration of this fine visor are typical of the Norton Sound area. Walrus heads adorning the center are flanked by two ivory ornaments carved in the shape of a bird beak. The concentric circles here and on the two additional decorations toward the back represent the eye and thus vision and the ability to see well; bird imagery overall is associated with the freedom to soar and see into distant places as well as with speed. Both ivory beaks are also engraved with lively depictions of men and animals. On one there is a dog sled, as well as four boats with hunters pursuing walrus. On the other, two hunters stalk caribou with spear and bow while four more appear to be having less success in their encounter with three bears.