Return to Main Home Animation Book 1,  Northwest Coast Book 2 / Arctic  Book3,  Woodlands Download PDF of Book 1, Northwest Coast
The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Actic
Wood & Fabric, 18” Height, c.1870-1910
Yu'pik Doll
Yu'pik Doll

Clues suggesting the usage, form and meaning of ancient artifacts are often found in the modern examples of similar objects, such as this turn-of-the-century doll. Modern dolls with cloth bodies allow easy costume changes. Might this doll have been given different suits, and therefore, personalities?

While the comparison might seem far-fetched, in practice it may have been the case. Yup’ik dolls reflect their cultural traditions and emulate aspects of human endeavors within that culture. This doll may have simply been a child’s toy, but one can’t help but seek suggestions of cultural values reflected in other forms of Yup’ik art.

One such clue is the stylized face, with its frowning aspect, ubiquitous in Arctic faces and according to custom, representative of women, as men are traditionally portrayed smiling. Further identification of gender can be determined by the position of the labrets, women's being in the center of their lower lip and men under the corners of the mouth.

Dolls were also an important part of a young girl's childhood as children were often given toys or miniature "tools" that they would be begin using to help develop skills they would use in their adult life whether it be for child rearing, sewing, or hunting. While listening to stories and playing games, children would spend hours role playing with toys similar to their parents' tools.

It is safe to presume that this doll is Yup’ik from or near the Kuskokwim River Valley area, in light of its hardwood head, a material readily available here as opposed to further north where driftwood would be scarce and precious.

This doll also seems to show the influence of missionaries, and is likely to have been made in those areas of Alaska where such an intervention occurred earliest, and where traditions ran askew most quickly. That this doll appears so similar in form to a western child’s doll is probably not coincidental. Missionaries well understood that miniature human representations were powerful symbols, and influencing a native culture required reducing its central protectors to the realm of child’s play.