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LEVI TETPON (Yup'ik) - March 2000

The Highlight of the Month program at The Indian Craft Shop focuses on a particular craft area, region or artist family/group. Our aim is to illustrate the diversity of tribal groups and the wide variety of artistic expressions and traditions in the country today.

Levi Tetpon is a very innovative carver from the Norton Sound in western Alaska. He carves people, such as hunters and drummers, and transformation pieces. Although he has carved in soapstone in the past, today he mostly carves walrus ivory. His pieces can range in size from 2 inches to almost 15 inches.

Levi comes from a renowned family of carvers from Shaktoolik, Alaska. He learned to carve from his father, Eric Tetpon, Sr., who is famous for his double hoop walrus ivory and baleen food chain masks. His brother Eric carves soapstone people and brother John carves wooden masks.

A full-time carver who lives in the city, Levi carves year-round, unlike carvers who live in the villages and do most of their carving in the winter. He gets his ivory from the meat and hides to the whiskers and intestines. Levi uses baleen from the bowhead whale as inlaid accents and fossilized ivory for faces for its contrast with the fresh ivory.

Levi's shamans and transformation pieces are particularly interesting. The Yup'ik mythology tells that when hungting, a person is transformed into and shares the spirit of an animal. This transformation represents the relationship between the hunter and the animal. These carvings are representative of shamans who can transform themselves into animals to travel to the spirit/animal world and communicate with the spirits of souls of the animals on behalf of the hunters and people, asking their permission to be hunted and caught for food.

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