Introduction to the Fry Collection of Eskimo and Inuit Objects
I would like to thank John Warnock for creating this website and sharing his collection of Native American objects, and making the site available for the study and enjoyment by others. Also, I know that brother-in-law Clinton Nagy (our wives, Pat and Susan, are sisters) has worked to make this site a success and I would like to express my thanks to Clint as well.
Our interest in Eskimo and Inuit objects from the far North evolved from an early fascination with our American West and the intriguing, self-sufficient indigenous people who occupied so much of it before falling victim to our western expansion. Pat and I traveled west with our children in those years, beginning in the early 1960s, visiting the Hopi Mesas, old trading posts, Monument Valley, Santa Fe and many places in between. We met and became friends with Forrest Fenn and Rex Arrowsmith of Santa Fe as well as Paul Gray, then of Denver. In Cincinnati we were able to purchase small collections of Plains Indian objects which were often sold at auction, ten or twelve items to a lot, in the cardboard boxes in which they had been stored away for sixty or more years. Individual pieces and collections had been brought back to Cincinnati, as curios and sometimes as props to be utilized by local artists like John Hauser, Henry Farny and Joseph Sharp who painted the Native people of the American West. These things were not valued or seen as “art” by any definition and could be purchased for nominal amounts. It was a wonderful era for those of us with not much money but a love of the old West as portrayed by John Wayne, Zane Grey, Charlie Russel and a few others.
With the passage of time our interests moved further to the North. The Eskimo people of Alaska’s coastal villages on the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea and the Inuit of Northern Canada added elements we had not seen before, including an environment inhospitable and uninhabitable by our mid western standards. Twenty-three hour nights, cold winds and subzero temperatures with no fuel as we know it were just a few of the hardships which these northern cultures had to endure. Semi subterranean dwellings of whale ribs and sod, heated by a single dished out stone seal oil lamp with a saw tooth shaped wick of arctic cotton, were home to these people. I had an opportunity to visit these homes while in Point Hope, Alaska years later. Although it was August, temperatures dipped to the mid 30s and the cold north wind blew a gale. Even then, the land spit which is Point Hope was eroding into the black waters of the Arctic Ocean where, someday, it will be no more. It was in this world that these people lived, raised children, hunted the whale during its annual migration along the coast and created functional and beautiful objects which all relate, in some way, to their subsistence life-ways. Creativity knew no bounds. Human ingenuity was limitless. Form and function were in perfect harmony. Life itself, and that of the village, depended upon the construction and utilization of implements that did for these people what they were intended to do. The failure of a harpoon line cut with stone blades in a spiral fashion from the hide of an oogret seal, or a carved bone crampon or a sinew backed bow made of antler could mean the difference between life and death, and often did.
We have attempted in some small way to collect and preserve these unique objects which serve as a lasting tribute so reflective of the best of human creativity. We hope you enjoy the effigies so important in the hunting of whales, the scrapers with flint blades for preparing seal and walrus hides for the making of clothing and kayaks, snow scrapers for removing newly fallen snow from outer garments before entering the warmer semi-subterranean homes or igloos (30 or 35 degrees!), snow shovels, snow goggles, toggle head harpoons, ulus, net floats, kayak accessories and a multitude of other objects of wood, walrus ivory, sinew, hide and bone that made life in the Arctic possible.
Patricia K. and W. Roger Fry