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Friday, November 13, 2015
Nuguruk: Meet Betty Crocker...
"Nuguruk" was not an Eskimo scrimshaw artist, but a Seattle company of the 1960s and even earlier, which obtained cutlery blades and fittings, often from Germany or England, and then hired local people to produce scrimshaw ivory handles. Their products are indeed real ivory (sometimes marine ivory, but more often imported elephant ivory) and are scrimshawed by hand.
However, because the scrimshaw was produced from patterns supplied by the company, they are not original works of art, and all or most of the artists were non-Native.
They copied templates which they were given by the company, and as a result there are only a few stock patterns: seal on ice floe, dog sled, cabin, and a dozen or so others. All the items were signed "Nuguruk," regardless of the name of the factory worker who applied the designs.
Even though some of the factory workers may have been native, genuine native art is not mass-produced using company supplied templates, or signed with a name which is not that of the maker.
As a result, the value of these items is a fraction of that of authentic Eskimo art (perhaps $25 for a carving set, $15 for a cheese slicer).
More information as to the origin of these items is found in "The Lure of Alaska," a 2007 publication of the Alaska State Museum:
According to this publication, the Herman Krupp Co. of Seattle had been marketing 'Alaskan' souvenirs since the 1910’s, and the James L. Houston company, a well-known Seattle jewelry-seller, employed a long-time Krupp employee, Karl Lemke, to mechanically etch fake Eskimo items and sign them with the generic Eskimo-sounding name 'Nuguruk' or 'Nunuk.' See p. 25 of the article, which can be found by googling the title or searching publications of the Alaska State Museum.