FAQ - Alaska Native Artwork

Support Authentic Alaska Native Art when you shop at the UAMN Store.

It is very important to research the purchase of Alaska Native Artwork. Any item produced after 1935 that is marketed with the term “Alaska Native” must have been made by a member of a state or federally-recognized tribe or a certified nonmember Indian artisan. That’s the law. 

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) explains that it can be difficult to distinguish arts and crafts produced by Alaska Natives from items that are imitations: Price, materials, appearance, and traditional subsistence materials are important clues to provenance.

Price —

Genuine Alaska Native art or craft items should reflect the quality of craftsmanship, harmony of design, and the background of the artist. Genuine pieces produced by skilled Alaska Native artists can be expensive.

Type of materials —

Materials often used by Alaska Native artists include walrus ivory, soapstone, bone, alabaster, animal furs and skin, baleen, and other marine mammal materials.

Appearance —

Try to pick up and examine a piece before purchasing it. Some items that appear to be soapstone carvings may actually be made of resin. Real stone is cool to the touch; plastic is warm. Stone also tends to be heavier than plastic. A figure that is presented as hand-carved probably isn't if you see or can order 10 more like it that are perfectly uniform or lack surface variations.

Ivory —

When purchasing ivory artwork from a shop or gallery, choose one with a good reputation. Request a written guarantee or written verification of authenticity. Authentic Alaska Native artwork may carry a state-certified tag or Silver Hand symbol which features the words, “Authentic Alaska Native Art from Alaska.” Items may also carry a “Made in Alaska” emblem which certifies it was made in Alaska but not necessarily by an Alaska Native artist. Get a receipt that includes all the vital information about your purchase, including price, materials, maker, and maker’s tribal village. Familiarize yourself with the characteristics of walrus, mastodon, and mammoth ivory, as well as indicators of a well-made piece. Realize that authentic Alaska Native artwork may be expensive. If the price seems too good to be true, make sure to ask more questions about the item and its maker.

Ivory listed in the UAMN Store is not available to ship outside of the United States.

IACB Publications —

Alaska Native Art
Alaska Native Ivory
Introduction to Intellectual Property for American Indian and Alaska Native Artists
Northern Sea Otter in Alaska Native Art