Snow goggles

North America | Alaska

Snow goggles

Alaska

Inuit (Ancient Eskimo)

Carved wood
19th century
Length: 5 ¼ in. – 13.5 cm

Ex collection Donald Ellis, inv. #E4362

Inuit snow goggles 13.5 cm / Galerie Flak Price on request
These goggles called ilgaak or iggaak in the dialects of Alaska, were carved to fit the contours of the hunter’s face. The narrowness of the openings for the eyes helped minimize luminosity. The width of these openings had a direct influence on the wearer’s visual field.
Goggles with slits of different sizes were chosen to match climatic conditions (in particular with regards to the incidence and intensity of the sunrays changing with each season over the course of the year).
As noted by Bill Wolf, the harsh Arctic climate presented some unique impediments to the local hunter. The high latitude left the sun low on the horizon through much of the year, and the resulting glare was compounded by the highly reflective snow or water that covered the area. Without protection, a hunter’s eyes were left vulnerable to a painful and often serious condition known as snow blindness, similar to a sunburn. Ivory or wood snow goggles alleviated this effect by allowing the wearer to peer through narrow openings, while shading him from the excessive glare. Additionally, they afforded protection from wind, sleet, etc. while traveling.
In this artifact, an ingenious utilitarian object is elevated to the level of a work of fine art. The economy of line is remarkable.
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