Posts Tagged ‘mukluks’

Mukluks, and Parkas, and Dolls, Oh My!

July 9, 2009

Well, folks, things have been kind of nutty out here on the edge of everything. But nutty in a good way.

Brittany and I have been working feverishly to get through our inventory of the collection. For those of you who have never done an inventory here’s how it works.

  1. Take an object out of it’s case.
  2. Identify it by it’s object id (if it even has one).
  3. Find any previously existing records of the object.
  4. Describe the object.
  5. Do a condition report for the object.
  6. Photograph the object.
  7. Put it back where it came from.

Pretty simple stuff, right? Well, yeah, it is. But it has to be done. So far we’ve worked our way through a case full of dolls by local native artists, a case of mukluks (go ahead, click the link, you know you want to, trust me, you’ll be sorry you didn’t), a case of parkas, a case of ivory, and we’re currently working on a case of baskets.

Brittany in the doll case(Brittany had to climb into the case to get some of the dolls out. She’s a trooper.)

Attack of the Parkas(Me looking creepy in a case full of parkas. The face mask was supposed to keep me from having an asthma attack what with all the dust and whatnot in that case. While I didn’t have a full out attack, breathing was difficult for a few days.)

I think everyone reading this knows that I have no intention of becoming a collections manager when I leave CGP. I am much more interested in how people can connect with collections and learn from them than in how they should be preserved. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad someone’s thinking about preservation, I just don’t want that person to be me.)

So how am I staying sane out here in Alaska getting experience in a job I’m not that interested in pursuing post-graduate school? Brittany. That’s how. And her friends. This may seem corny, but these kids are one of the best things about this job, and this place. As you might imagine, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for young people around Dillingham. Most kids get a summer job or two, but it’s a small town, very much like Cooperstown, in fact. So the fact that this pack of teens is hanging out in the museum during their summer vacation blows my mind. And makes me soooooo happy. I mean, they could just be hanging around, sitting on a curb. They could be getting into all kinds of trouble. But instead they sit around with a bunch of old stuff all day, sometimes just watching Brittany and me work, sometimes offering to help themselves.

I think the best way to describe this is through a couple of anecdotes.

First, a couple of weeks ago, Brittany’s friends Jesse and Ben were hanging around. Brittany and I were getting ready to inventory a case of ivory and soapstone carvings and I asked the guys if they wanted to help. They said sure, and so we established a sort of assembly line if you will. Brittany handled objects, getting them from the case to the table where I was photographing them; I evaluated and photographed each object; Ben looked up each object by its ID in the old card catalog; and Jesse recorded all of the updated information on our new condition report forms. The whole process went off without a hitch. And in record time. We tore through 20-30 objects in about an hour and a half. But the greatest part came about half way through. There I was, examining an ivory carving, wearing my little white cotton gloves, telling Jesse about cracks in the ivory, when I hear him mutter, “I wish I had a pair of white gloves so that I could handle an artifact.” So I said, “Sure!” When we were all done with the inventory, I gave him my gloves and let him pick one object to hold himself. He settled on a soapstone and ivory carving of a walrus that his friends had been teasing him about, saying he looked like the walrus. While he was looking at the walrus I showed him the marks on the bottom from where the artist had cut the block (circular saw!), which he thought was the coolest thing.

I am the walrus!(Jesse and Wilbur the Walrus)

Just yesterday, Brittany’s friend Shane was in the museum while we were working on a case full of baskets. Shane, too, offered to help, sI set him up with a pair of gloves so that he could help me position baskets to be photographed. He was particularly fascinated with their construction, and also had a keen eye and was able to help identify several flaws during our condition reports. Perhaps the best moment was when I found a letter inside one of the baskets, detailing its provenance and possible uses. This basket came to the museum in the 1970s, and at that time was several generations old. It is a coiled basket made of twine that was used to collect sea bird eggs by several generations of Yup’ik women from this area. I, of course, was freaking out over this letter and all the information it provided, while the kids looked at me like I was crazy. However, by the time we were done photographing the basket, Shane, Brittany, and Ben were all looking at the letter and the basket more closely, and heard Shane say “Cool!”

Shane and a basket(Shane examining a basket.)

It might not seem like much, but this is great exposure for these kids who are largely Native Alaskan. Here they are surrounded by thousands of years of products of their own cultures, and I hope they’re able to take pride in that. I’m slowly beginning to see how complicated Native Alaskan identity is today. On the one hand there’s a big push on the part of the elders to preserve culture, language, and tradition by educating younger generations, but on the other hand, a lot of people are rejecting traditional lifestyles. I can’t even begin to understand this push and pull… But I’m trying. It makes me wish I had more time here, that’s for sure.

But regardless, I’m seeing wth my own eyes what these kids are learning from the time they spend in the museum. And it makes all the inventories totally worth it.