AK DOC Today

News, Events, and Activities in the Alaska Department of Corrections

Carved Baleen Donated to Veterans Museum

Stephen “Sonny” Foster is an Inupiaq Native from White Mountain, Alaska. He has two relatives who were in the ATG that he remembers -his great grandfather Alex Ashenfelter and son Roy Ashenfelter. The tribe they are from call themselves the “Fish River Tribe” more than likely because they lived along the Fish River or they named the river after the tribe, no one really knows but it is fitting for them and have carried the name on proudly.

As a child he was introduced to the Native Art of carving and scrimshaw from his elders. They carved to decorate their homes in the winter months. Everyday household items were carved as well as small trinkets that adorned their parkas and sleds. Carving of animals is believed to embody the spirit of the animal. Only in the recent past has Sonny begun to use Baleen as a medium to express his artistic talents. He has previously only used pencil and paper.

Currently he is using the art of scrimshaw as a way to create pieces to honor and memorialize the people of Alaska. The scrimshaw was traditionally done with a sharpened piece of bone from the front shin of either caribou or moose as it is the hardest bone in order to support the animals’ antlers and head. And, since the invention on nails, his people have used sharpened instruments to crate art. His technique of layering dots to create the image he desires is unique and is amazing in its precision.

Sonny says he “really enjoyed doing this piece of art for the ATG and gained happiness through knowing it will bring countless smiles to peoples’ faces when they see it.”