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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Actic
Old Bering Sea
Bag Fastener
Ivory, 3¾" Length, c.500 - 800AD
Old Bering Sea Bag Fastener

This fish effigy is an example of as bag fasteners used as a closure on women's bags, which were known to the Peoples of the Bering Sea as "housewives."

Women's housewives were finely decorated bags made of seal throat or caribou skins, and designed to carry tools for their daily "chores." Needles, awls, creasers, and scrapers were widely used and these sewing implements were placed in a pouch - attached to the base of the housewife - which was then rolled up and wrapped with a cord around the bag and fastened with an ivory crosspiece or "fastener." These simple, but elegant ivory carvings were often made by men and given to wives or girlfriends as gifts, objects of both beauty and utility.

This delicate piece also exhibits the use of the "lifeline" running from the head to the tail of the fish. This stylized representation of the skeletal backbone is common on ivory bag fasteners. The "lifeline" represents the central spiritual and biological channel of the animal and is a motif frequently displayed in pre-contact objects.