Oscar's Originals

John OscarJohn Oscar

Since 1996, Oscar has produced three dimensional framed mixed media art. The fine art celebrates the Yup'ik dance,  the environment, animals, fish, birds, and Yup'ik stories adorned in spirit masks.  By developing a unique blend of modern and traditional motifs, combining watercolor, acrylic, wood, feathers, ivory, found clams and small crab shells, sand, ivory, reindeer and human hair.  Before relocating to Bethel, Oscar developed a studio in Mekoryuk with the support of the community.  "The people did not know the name of Jesus Christ; and one elder saying, "That was why it was natural to believe. God always gives us the opportunity to share life with our fellow neighbor." and adds "Whether by hunting, fishing, gathering, working, giving, volunteering and all those actions that prove our love for one another.  Our ancestors also had faith, hope and love." 

The Meaning of Festivals

By John Oscar, Artist

     Yup’ik and Cup'ig used masks representing animals of the land, sea and air during dance festivals, where two or more villages gather to celebrate with Ellarpiim Yua (Person of the Universe).  They did not believe in these masks as gods, but temporary imitations of animals, stories, humor and human events. The early missionaries saw these festivals as "…evil, a waste of time, and an unnecessary distribution of wealth” and thus abolished their cultural festivals.  This was the time of sharing with the poor, elderly and widows and the rekindling of family and friendships.

   Carvings of animals and dried inflated bladders were hung in the Qas’giq (a communal house) on strings leading to the middle.  In the center was a doll representing Ellarpiim Yua.  Some masks had holes in their outstretched hands.  These were a symbol of Ellarpiim Yua having control of the resources.  When man disputed over the fish and animals, He would close His hands.  After all, the universe belonged to Him, and humans were merely borrowers.

    Relatives from other villages would bring gifts of garments, hunting tools, utensils, food, household goods and useful material for clothing.  Participants would prepare in advance, practicing their songs and dance.  Gifts were shared especially among the widows, elderly and the poor.

   After the festival, the animals were returned symbolically through these masks.  Submerging them under the ice or burned for kindling.  Sometimes children would use them for play. Sometimes a shaman would submerge them under the ice.  Shamans were not seen as priests or leaders of the village, but ones who had the gift to heal and the ability to protect his community from other harmful beings or other shamans who became inflicted with bad spirits and became spiteful.  Some were said to have the ability to move natural events, and in times of shortage, offer advice to where fish and animals were abundant or seek for assistance to beseech for their availability.

     After the celebration, the spirit of animals then returned to Ellarpiim Yua, and told Him how well they were treated by the humans. They asked permission to return to the festival by making themselves available through hunting, fishing and gathering by the humans throughout the year before another festival.  Ellarpiim Yua then being pleased of the love and respect humans showed for one another, gave the fish and wildlife permission to celebrate life again.


Oscar's Originals, PO Box 2420, Bethel, Alaska 99559 / yupikartist@yahoo.com