Northwest Alaska Inupiaq Baleen Basketry

Baleen Basket with whale tail finial by Marilyn Hank Otton, 1994

Marilyn is from Point Hope Alaska and has taught her children, Harry Hank and John Hank the art of making Baleen baskets.  Marilyn was taught how to make baleen baskets by her mother and father, Eunice and Carl Hank, who were expert basket makers. 

Carl and Eunice Hank learned to weave at Point Hope but later moved to Barrow.  Carl and Eunice Hank made baskets together and their signature finial is a double seal finial.  They often attributed baskets to each other even if the other made it.

Baleen Basket with Polar Bear Finial, date unknown

Harry started weaving by helping his mother with some of her baskets, and in 1992, he began weaving on his own. He weaves two distinctive baskets: one with a wide welt which can be woven quickly and one with a very fine welt. Some of these pieces are comparable to the works of the old masters such as Andrew Owenga and Joshua Sakeagak. Harry uses round rods for weaving clockwise and will often use white baleen as trim. He occasionally carves his own finials but often uses the expertly carved finials of the St. Lawrence and King Island carvers. His finial motifs include walrus, bear, and seal heads, and occasionally whale tails.

Carl Hank – 3.5” Basket, unknown date, Carl Hank

4.5” basket with polar bear finial with baleen inset eyes and nose, unknown date

Carl was husband to Eunice, father to Marilyn and grandfather to Harry and John Hank.

Carl Hank, signature double seal finial, date unknown 

Musk Ox Finial, Carl Hank, date unknown

Triple Baleen Basket with Whale Tail Finial by John Hank

John Hank is son to Marilyn Hank Otton and brother to Harry Hank, grandson to Eunice and Carl Hank.  The basket comes apart into 3 separate pieces, and snaps back together with 3 compartments. John Hank is an Inupiaq Native of Alaska who was born in Pt. Barrow, Alaska.


All of these pieces fit my theme of Northwest Alaskan Inupiaq Art and were all created by members of the same family, the Hank family.  My reaction to these pieces is awe at how creative they are and makes me wonder who the first to make one was.  It truly is amazing how Alaska Natives used all of their resources and even found a use for baleen.  The aesthetic value of these pieces is especially high for me because this is my family.  Marilyn is my aunt, John and Harry are my cousins and Eunice and Carl were my grandparents.


About InupiaqMartha

I am Martha White.
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10 Responses to Northwest Alaska Inupiaq Baleen Basketry

  1. laurena hank says:

    My dad (harry Hank) makes his own tops now 🙂 Remember Martha. Hehe. But this is cool. Its nice that you made a webpage for our family basketry

  2. Stacy says:

    Do you know how I can find out a date to a basket I have? Thanks stacy

  3. I was delighted to find your post. I spent the winter of of 1971-1973 in Fairbanks. One day I struck up a conversation with an older couple I met on the street and invited them over for dinner. It turned out to be Carl and Eunice. At the time, I had no idea how skilled and respected they were for their basketry. I remembered how we laughed as they tried to navigate the unfamiliar spaghetti I cooked up. I think we ended up eating cottage cheese!

  4. Pat says:

    I just bought one of Harry’s baskets in Anchorage. It has a whale tail finneal on the lid. I love it

  5. Terry c says:

    I bought a very nice white baleen basket by john hank when I was in barrow about 8 yeRs ago. Would love to buy a couple more by john, or his parents. I don’t think I will be back there any time soon. Where is te best place to find a nice selection via internet?

  6. Michelle Sanford says:

    My wonderful husband just purchased a basket by Marilyn Hank Otton for me. Can anyone tell me her date/year of birth? Thanks.

  7. Warren Van Wicklin says:

    I bought a Harry Hank basket with a walrus finial at Crazy Wolf Studio in Ketchikan on August 7, 2017. At least the starter disk is inscribed “Harry Hank”, so I hope it is a Harry Hank basket.

  8. Robin Hadden says:

    I purchased a Eunice Hank basket at an estate sale in Vermont. I assume the owners were collectors and knew what they had, but the seller did not! It has the twin seals on top and has made me a lover of the craft. I hope some day to find another baleen basket to add to my nascent collection.

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