Posts Tagged ‘Alaska’

Dance Party!

July 17, 2009

Your long overdue obecjt of the week (past several weeks).

Dancing is a major part of traditional Yup’ik culture. Every major celebration/festival/gathering includes elaborate dances accompanied by drumming.

Yup'ik Dancing

(Camai Dance in Bethel, AK)

Part of the dance regalia for men and women alike are dance fans (the Fenimore Art Museum has at least one pair). They are worn on the hands almost like brass knuckles, the fingers fitting into 1-3 holes on the base. Then there’s a circular part that sticks up off the hand and is usually decorated with feathers or fur.

Dance Fans

(A pair of dance fans in the collection at the Sam Fox Museum.)

Dance Fans

(Another pair of dance fans from the collection of the Sam Fox Museum.)

So now for the interesting part. The first pair of fans are a woman’s, the second pair are a man’s. How can I tell? Women’s fans are traditionally made of grass, and in the same style as woven grass baskets, a traditional female art. Men’s fans are carved out of bone or ivory, a traditionally male past time.

The first pair are from Nome, AK and their maker is unknown. The second pair were made right here in Dillingham by Sam Fox himself.

Anyway, I hope to see some Yup’ik dancing in about a week. I’ll be sure to post pictures of fans such as these in action.

Greetings from Palmer: cataloging Alaska’s colonial past

June 18, 2009

I have now been an intern at the Palmer Historical Society’s Colony House Museum for two weeks.  Today was my first time experiencing an earthquake while working at the museum.  Luckily it was a small earthquake (magnitude 3.3).  As I heard all of the objects in the house shaking, there was a moment when I was thinking, “I hope this house, which was built hastily to get new Palmer colonists out of tents before the Alaskan winter, can withstand earthquakes…”  Obviously the museum and I both survived, but I guess earthquakes will definitely fall into the risk management portion of the collections plan I am writing.

Colony House Museum in Palmer, AK

The Colony House Museum interprets a unique part of American and Alaskan history.  In 1935, one of the New Deal reforms resettled families in need of aid to different communities throughout the U.S.  The largest of these projects, called the Matanuska Colony, resettled 204 families from the Midwest to settle the Matanuska Valley, about 40 miles north of Anchorage.  While there were already a few homesteaders in the area, this resettlement program was the beginning of Palmer as a town.  The house, formerly the home of Oscar and Irene Beyland on track 94, was moved to downtown Palmer and is mostly furnished through donations from colonists and “colony kids” (children of colonists now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s) to represent the typical home of the colony between 1935 and 1945.

Gerry and Mary Pat

My basic tasks at the Colony House Museum are collections related: initiating a accessioning scheme, creating a collections plan, teaching the volunteers how to use PastPerfect, etc.  I’ll go into more detail in future posts.

Living Room of Colony House

exhibit space on left, my workspace on the right

A Pox On Both Your Houses!

June 17, 2009

Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder, and a little bit worse!

Not really. It’s been a pretty good week so far. I’ve made progress on several of my projects including catalogging, and getting new cases. On Monday Deb and I started taping out the new floorplan.

Rearranging the furniture

(the tape kind of reminds me of a chalk body outline…)

I’ve begun working with that company case[werks] to see if we can come up with an affordable combination of museum quality cases. It’s an interesting experience, maybe a little hum-drum on the surface, but a lot more valuable than I would have thought. I mean, of course someone has to think about the concrete elements of an exhibit, the parts that don’t really change, but I had never thought about how that happens.

In other news, the second summer intern started yesterday. Her name is Brittany and she’s a high school student here in Dillingham. Her position is through the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. Every year, they fund a variety of jobs and internships around the area that provide local high schoolers with valuable work experience. Brittany is 15, a native Alaskan, and, so far at least, a hard worker. Since I’m the only other staff here, I’ve sort of become her defacto supervisor. Who would’ve thought the intern would have an intern? She’s been tearing through the projects Deb and I assign her and I’m starting to worry I’ll be spending more time keeping her busy that I will getting my own projects done. The other thing is, and this is a bit ridiculous, I’m having a hard time remembering what being 15 was like, academically at least. Had I learned how to make bibliographies by then? Was I still working in MLA? My lapse in memory is making it hard to know what to expect from her. Any suggestions? Memories? Things you loved or hated about school at that age? While I’m of course concerned with having a fabulous experience myself, I’d like her to enjoy her time here and come out of it with some real skills and tools for looking to the future.

And now for your new OBJECT OF THE WEEEEEEK.

Small Pox Vaccination Kit(wha?)

Well, yesterday evening I was entering a few last object id cards into PastPerfect when I came across a peculiar thing. And what was that you might ask? SMALL POX, THAT’S WHAT! Well, sort of small pox. This, my friends, is a small pox vaccination kit from before the disease was eradicated in 1979. There are five vials of vaccine, one of which is broken (!) as though it’s been used, and four which still contain a powdery white substance (!!!). It was found right here in Dillingham on Scandanavian Beach, in the later 70s. Currently, I’m trying to figure out just what I’m supposed to do with it. Tomorrow I’m calling the CDC to see if there are any regulations or anything about disposing of it. I’m sure that whatever was/is in those vials is long dead now, if it was ever alive, but still… Kind of spooky stuff.

Eek!

(eek!)

Sam K. Fox Is My Homeboy

June 10, 2009

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.

Alaska Bound

June 5, 2009

Well, I have yet to arrive in Alaska, but my departure is quickly approaching. I fly out of Seattle Saturday morning and get in to Dillingham, AK Saturday afternoon. Once I arrive, my cell phone will be virtually useless and I will be a full 4 hours earlier that most of you on the East Coast, practically a world away. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out my personal blog “North to the Future.” Well friends, I look forward to hearing of your adventures this summer, as well as sharing mine with you.