Eskimo Yo-Yos, Muskox Knitting Yarn and Other Unique Gifts to Buy in Alaska

Inspiration comes not only from nature but also from the instinct to use what’s close at hand

Alaska rewards—no, rather—demands ingenuity. In earlier times, with limited
access to metal, Inuit hunters would use frozen fish wrapped in hides as sled runners. These days, enterprising Alaskans craft old fishing lines into doormats, automobile hubcaps into sculpture, and glacial mud into ceramic tiles. Inspiration comes not only from nature but also from the instinct to use what’s close at hand.

Fishing Line Doormat

Upcycled from used fishing line and rope, the mats are made by Alaska Rug Company on Kodiak Island. Owners Robert and Anita Shane started the company when trying to quit smoking, experimenting with rope and knots “in lieu of strangling one another while kicking the habit.” Love It Again Consignment, 1441 W. Northern Lights Blvd., Anchorage

Birch Syrup

For depth of flavor—rich, with spicy overtones and a tangy kick that does well in glazes, marinades, and barbecue sauces—the folks at Kahiltna Birchworks want to convert you to birch syrup. The syrup is certified organic and produced by owners Dulce Ben-East, Michael East, and partner Sally Freund, in the Susitna Valley, south of the Alaska Range. Mile 1.1 S Talkeetna Spur Rd., Talkeetna

Sealskin Companion Doll

“I call them companion dolls,” says Ursula Paniyak-Irvin, of Chevak, “because they make people happy.” Paniyak-Irvin, who is 62, has been making dolls like this Cup’ik dancer ever since learning the craft, at the age of ten, from her mother, Rosalie. The faces are sealskin, with beads for eyes and teeth; the legs and arms are stuffed with electrical wire. “It’s a secret recipe,” she says. Anchorage Museum Shop, 625 C St., Anchorage

Muskox Knitting Yarn

If it’s warm enough for a muskox—an Arctic species that doesn’t hibernate or migrate but simply toughs out the winter—then you know it’ll be more than warm enough for the human species. Qiviut, the muskoxen’s soft, downy underwool, is softer than cashmere and warmer than wool. Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Co-op, 604 H St., Anchorage

Metal Fish Made From Recycled Cars

How is a fish like a hubcap? In this instance, when it’s made from a hubcap. Rob Johnson, a member of the Kenaitze Indian tribe, fashions wall art, like this sockeye salmon, from recycled pieces of junked cars. Says Johnson: “We know fish, we catch fish, eat and sell fish—we love fish.” And in winter, he makes fish. Alaska Native Medical Center Craft Shop, 4315 Diplomacy Dr., Anchorage

Eskimo Yo-Yo

It’s child’s play these days, but an Eskimo yo-yo (an Americanized name) traditionally was used to train young boys in the use of the bola—two rocks joined by a piece of sinew that when twirled and flung at a running animal could bring it down. This one was made by Anna Beavers, a Yup’ik from Bristol Bay. Alaska Native Medical Center Gift Shop, Anchorage

Traditional Inuit Knife

The ulu, a traditional Inuit knife, is ancient in form and has been found in archaeological sites dating back to at least 2500 B.C. Originally made from slate, ulu blades were used to flense whales, butcher seals, and cut skins. This modern, stainless-steel-and-jade version works well chopping vegetables and herbs. Alaska Fur Exchange, 4417 Old Seward Highway, Anchorage

Tlingit-Designed Sterling Silver Bracelet

Juneau-based artist Gene Chilton is part of the Tlingit tribe. A silver engraver since 1978, he uses the stylized designs of clan symbols, like the eagle and wolf depicted on this bracelet. Fish Creek Company, 13 Creek St., Ketchikan

Inupiaq Decorated Tile

Ed Mighell’s ceramics use clay harvested from the mudflats of Cook Inlet near Anchorage. His designs are inspired by the stories and traditions of his mother’s Inupiaq culture. In Anchorage at Octopus Ink Gallery, 410 G St., and the Anchorage Museum Shop, 625 C St. Also at the University of Alaska Museum of the North Store, 907 Yukon Dr., Fairbanks

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