Sam K. Fox Is My Homeboy


So I’ve been working at the museum for two days now and I’m starting to get a sense of how this summer’s going to pan out.

First Day of Work(first day of work)

I should begin by explaining that the Sam K. Fox Museum has NO staff. It is entirely run by volunteers. Even the woman who applied to the Alaska State Museum for an intern (and got me) is a volunteer. This, of course, means that all the wonderful people who have anything to do with the museum also have day jobs. Which in turn means, that most of the time I am alone in the museum. Luckily, it’s connected to the city library where there are a couple of nice teenagers working. The other good thing about the library connection is that it gets us visitors. People come in to use the library, see we’re right there, and take a turn through the museum, too. So I do occassionally have contact with living humans during the day.

With no real staff, there’s a LOT to be done here in Dillingham. First and foremost on my list of things to accomplish is essentially a complete inventory of the museum’s collections as well as entering all of that information into Past Perfect, which the museum only recently obtained. Which brings us to obstacle number one: Until now, accession records were maintained on cards, 2 to 3 sets of cards to be exact. That weren’t kept with one another. And so are discombobulated to say the least. I’m going through and matching up these cards, so as to get the most complete picture possible of the accession and condition of each object, then entering that info into the computer.

Old School(taking this…)

New School(and making it this!)

As most of you know, registration and collections management ain’t really my bag, but it has to be done. And I am more than willing to do it if it means the museum’s in a better place when I leave.

But it’s not all data entry for Johanna. Seeing as I’m it for the museum most of the time, I’ll get to dabble in a number of other areas as well. First up? Figuring out what to do about this:

Parka vs. Anorak(parkas galore!)

The museum has something like ten parkas in this exhibit in all different shapes and sizes, and mostly in terrifce condition. However, right now there’s virtually no information about any of them. Hopefully, next week I’ll begin bringing them out of the case in order to inventory them and do condition reports. I’ll also be researching the parkas and writing up label copy to go with them when they are reinstalled. In addition to the parka project, I have a similar task with our doll exhibit, and I’m helping Deb, my supervisor, research museum quality exhibit cases for a grant she’s preparing. I found an interesting website today for those of you interested in such things.

I’ve also hatched a plan. A plan that is only in the germination stage. A plan that involves developing some sort of lesson plan/activity for local teachers that will bring them and their classes into the museum, which rarely happens now. It would have to be the kind of activity that could be easily adapted to a variety of age levels as social studies standards in Alaska don’t target specific topics for specifc age levels. I’m thinking something with the parkas could work. Suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

And now for your object of the week:

Shaman's Hands(Shaman’s Hands)

These are the crown jewel of the museum’s collection/exhibits right now. The hands were part of a shaman’s ceremonial regalia. The picture in the background shows a shaman wearing the hands while he rids the boy in the picture of a devil/evil spirit/disease. The hands technically belong to the Smithsonian, but are on loan to the museum while they and the community attempt to uncover the identity of the shaman. I believe that if this man can be identified the Smithsonian will repatriate the hands to the community from whence he came.

So friends, I have stayed up WAY past my bedtime writing this post. It’s 3:15am and there’s still a glimmer of light on the horizon. Ugh, I doubt I’ll ever get used to that. So good night, good morning, good afternoon, whatever it is, wherever you are.


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8 Responses to “Sam K. Fox Is My Homeboy”

  1. danwinks Says:

    Quick question first, when you look outside, do you see more flying cars, or more Mastodons? Time-travelin’ sonofgun.

    Anyway, I was wondering about the size of your collection in relation to what is on display. Do you think the museum could create a teaching collection? Maybe you could create educational kits to get out to schools a little farther away, as opposed to museum visits in a remote area? They seem to be all rage at children’s museums (here and remember Brooklyn’s crazy amount).

    Whadduya think?

    • Johanna Says:

      Mastodon parts, for sure. Apparently people find them pretty reguarly while out hiking in the area.

      There’s a fair amount not on display, quite a bit of which would probably work well in a teaching collection (there are some objects that have been set aside for this already). I really like the idea of kits that could go out to schools, but I see a couple of problems with it. 1) The schools are pretty much here in Dillingham. There really isn’t much outside of the town limits. 2) Sending artifacts, even those from a teaching collection, off-site poses a lot of issues for a museum with no staff. How do you get the artifacts to the school? Do you need someone from the museum to be there? Then who? Let’s say Deb did it, then there’s no one on site which means the museums needs to be closed that day. Maybe someday, something like that could work, say if a local teacher took great interest in the program and wanted to be the point person. It’s a great suggestion though, and one that I’ll certainly keep in mind as I’m brain storming (SPEED STORMING). Whatever I come up with, I’d certainly like the traveling kit to be one possible evolutionary step for it.

  2. clairegrothe Says:

    Hmm…let’s see. I’ve consulted The Google and scanned a few things about Native American parkas. Based on that, I’ve got a couple vague ideas forming.

    First, the parkas seem to be made out of a range of different animal materials: mink, reindeer, land otter, wolverine, wolf, seal, whale, salmon, beaver. I could see it tying into various science curriculums: the wildlife of the region, how they’re biologically equipped to survive in the harsh climate, and how/why humans have adapted these features for their own use. Seems like you could do a lot combining the zoological/biological aspects, the climate patterns and geographic features of the area, and the anthropology of how humans (and specifically native cultures) have lived and fit into it all.

    Looking at it from a more sociological/historical perspective, it seems that parka decoration is a means of denoting tribal/community affiliation, as well as remembering stories and histories, that different stitches, animals skins, tassles, beads, etc., mean specific things. From there, you could go a bunch of different directions.

    Maybe a look at how stories have been passed down in different cultures, particularly those that don’t have a writing tradition? You could explore the meanings behind particular symbols, and what certain symbols mean to kids today. Or you could compare how different Native American tribes choose to remember their history. Or, since the creation of these types of parkas seems to be a family affair, there’s the possibility of looking at the importance of the community/collective group in maintaining these traditions, as opposed to the more “individualistic” mindset that’s been championed by European Americans.

    Bwah. Yeah. Sorry for that random brainstorm-comment. I have no idea if any of these ideas would work at Sam Fox, since I don’t know the specifics of your collection, your resources, etc. But if you’re still interested in creating programming around the parkas, check out the article I read if you haven’t already. The woman they interviewed is from Bethel, which doesn’t look to be TOO far from you, relatively speaking. You might be able to get in touch with her and learn more.

    • Johanna Says:

      Hoowee, Claire! Impressive. I really like both of your ideas. I hadn’t really thought of the science one, but the antho/history one fits really nicely with the Alaska State standards in social studies AND with their standards for culturally responsive teachers/schools/students/etc, which I am currently reading up on. Thanks!

  3. Mamadu Says:

    For the wildlife/biology/science side of the curriculum, don’t forget Project Wild. It is a cooperative product of educators and wildlife managers. The ADF&G participated in producing it back in the mid-1980s. I’m sure it’s been Waaaaay updated since then. The idea was that teachers don’t have time to add wildlife info to the basic social studies/science/reading curriculum, so Project WILD designed activities to teach the main topics by using critters. For example, a math problem might use lynx and rabbits instead of apples and oranges, and incorporate the relationship between their predator/prey population dynamics. The ADF&G office will also have stacks and stacks of “Wildlife Notebook Series,” little one page critter profiles that would be very useful for interpreting the skins in the parkas, the animals they came from, life history, etc.

    And scats. I’m not giving up on the tracks/scats matching game.

    • Johanna Says:

      I talked to Deb about the scats/tracks matching game, and she’s into it. We’re thinking we can do it with photographs for sure. Also, we thinking about getting some taxedermied fish to use in the exhibits on fishing and local wildlife.

  4. mpb Says:

    While you are inspecting, could you find out if the lighting has UV filters, please?

    A few years ago, the British Museum did an exhibit which featured some parkas from the Kuskokwim area– and there is the Smithsonian exhibit (now at Anchorage Museum) on These may have ideas.

  5. Bruce Kato Says:


    Welcome to Alaska and thank you for sharing your experiences in Dillingham. We cannot thank you enough for your helping hands in the far north. Best wishes and I know you will be emotionally moved by Alaska’s beauty and her wonderful people.

    Have fun!


    Bruce Kato
    Chief Curator
    Alaska State Museums

    Alaska State Museum
    395 Whittier Street
    Juneau, Alaska 99801
    Telephone: (907) 465-4866
    Fax: (907) 465-2976

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