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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Actic
Net Floats
Wood & Ivory, 4½"-6¾" Diameter, c.1850-1880
Inupiat Net Float Inupiat Net Float
Inupiat Net Float Inupiat Net Float
Inupiat Net Float Inupiat Net Float

Throughout coastal Alaska, nets made from hide sinews were used to trap seal and other sea animals, especially during months when sea ice prevented hunting with other methods (harpoons, typically). These are six fine examples of the wooden floats used to keep hide-sinew nets buoyant and were utilized in seal trapping.

Nets would usually be attached these floats and weighted with ivory weights to help the net maintain a useful shape for capturing the seal. These six examples represent the range of refinement and sensitivity to the specific conditions under which they were used.

During the long winter darkness, the nets were practically invisible, positioned just below the sea ice adjacent to small holes seals used for breathing. The hunters made scratching noises near the ice hole with scrapers to attract the seal, guiding them towards the holes and the nets. The wooden floats did much the same thing automatically, using the ocean waves and wind to create sounds.

Positioned at the top of the net they were often carved hollow in order to make them more buoyant, and also to allow for the insertion of small pieces of ivory or stone. Small pieces of ivory were sometimes hung from their exterior, clacking against their hollow interiors with the action of the waves to attract seal when the hunters were absent.

The shapes of the floats were highly varied, but all tended to represent naturalistic innua forms, either of the game animal itself or seabirds that the prey might mistake for a natural denizen of the area.

Most importantly, the images of the seals and seabirds provide spiritual communion with the hunted animal, and all of the natural world, encouraging the seal's approach and suggesting a harmonic animal-human life cycle.