Guest Blog: Operation Sandcrab

Kirsten Olson provides another interesting piece of Alaskan history. This time, inspiration came to Kirsten while working on a collection of items deposited at UAMN via a repository agreement with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2012, USFWS transferred 93 items collected from Attu Island to the museum and Kirsten spent several months cataloging, researching, and curating these items. She painstakingly constructed customized archival boxes for each piece, from pieces of shrapnel to gas masks, toothbrushes to Japanese paper dolls. She discovered the human stories behind these rusted and damaged items, and developed a small exhibit, which is on display at the UAF Rasmuson Library 4th Floor until August 2014. ~~AJL

Guest blogger, Kirsten Olson here again, this time to honor our men in arms.  May 17th marks Armed Forces Day, so to recognize this day and our soldiers, I’d like to take a moment to shed some light on a pivotal, and an often-overlooked WWII battle, the Battle of Attu.


On June 7, 1942, with a force of 1,140 infantrymen, the Japanese attacked and captured the farthest west Aleutian island, Attu. This invasion, as well as a simultaneous assault on Kiska and the attack on Midway a few days earlier, marked the peak of the Japanese invasion of the United States through Alaska.

UAA-HMC-0690-S1-1936-117a

It began as a quiet day for the 43 native residents of Attu, when they had been captured and taken as prisoners. They were held on the island for three months before they were sent to an interment camp in Hokkaido, Japan until the end of the war. They were never able to return to their island; instead they were relocated to Atka. (Image: UAA-HMC-0690-S1-1936-117a)

Etta and Foster Jones, the only white couple on the island, worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Etta as the schoolteacher and Foster operated the wireless radio, reporting on the weather to the navy station at Dutch Harbor.  When the Japanese invaded, Foster was sending in his daily weather report to the Naval post at Dutch Harbor, this time ending it with “The Japs are here!”  Foster had been taken in for questioning and executed, in front of his wife, who was then swiftly sent away to a prison camp in Japan.  (Left: UAF-1970-11-66, Right: UAF 1970-11-67)

Etta and Foster Jones, the only white couple on the island, worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Etta as the schoolteacher and Foster operated the wireless radio, reporting on the weather to the navy station at Dutch Harbor. When the Japanese invaded, Foster was sending in his daily weather report to the Naval post at Dutch Harbor, this time ending it with “The Japs are here!” Foster had been taken in for questioning and executed, in front of his wife, who was then swiftly sent away to a prison camp in Japan. (Left: UAF-1970-11-66, Right: UAF 1970-11-67)

The Japanese held control of Attu until May 11th, 1943 when members of the US 17th, 32nd Infantry Regiment, and a unit of Castner’s Cutthroats began the reoccupation of Attu Island.  It was a gruesome fight with not only the Japanese, but also the harsh weather conditions that are so typical of the Aleutian chain.

Seventeen-year- old Private Donald Lynch is treated by medics after remaining in a water-filled trench for more than twenty-four hours during enemy fire.  The Attu landing forces suffered heavily from exposure, particularly with trench foot, which was the case for Private Lynch.  Castner’s reconnaissance team had warned them of the cold weather conditions and had expressly advised against the use of the leather blucher boots, but to no avail.  The clothing and equipment issued to the 7th Division was neither warm enough to withstand the biting Aleutian winds nor waterproof enough to keep out the icy rain and the water that seeped into every foxhole.  (Image: ASL-P175-053)

Seventeen-year-old Private Donald Lynch is treated by medics after remaining in a water-filled trench for more than twenty-four hours during enemy fire. The Attu landing forces suffered heavily from exposure, particularly with trench foot, which was the case for Private Lynch. Castner’s reconnaissance team had warned them of the cold weather conditions and had expressly advised against the use of the leather blucher boots, but to no avail. The clothing and equipment issued to the 7th Division was neither warm enough to withstand the biting Aleutian winds nor waterproof enough to keep out the icy rain and the water that seeped into every foxhole. (Image: ASL-P175-053)

On May 29th, after weeks of fighting the enemy and the harsh weather conditions, the Japanese had broken the US troop line and fought for a steady thirty hours.  A strange turn of events took place after the initial fury of fire.   One final banzai charge sealed the ill fate of the Japanese, and the US had regained control of Attu.  The thundering of grenades faded and more than 1,000 Japanese lay dead.  The total Japanese loss was 2,500 men, 29 were captured alive.  Of the 15,000 US troops that landed, 550 were dead, 1,500 wounded, and 1,200 were victim to Attu’s climate.

The Combat Intelligence Platoon of Alaska Defense Command, nicknamed Castner’s Cutthroats, displaying their Japanese finds from Attu.  The items include a .30 caliber clip, sake bottle, infantry cap, belt of 1,000 stitches, flute, helmet, gloves, folding water bucket, three Japanese flags, port and starboard lanterns, 20mm high explosive shells, .25 caliber rifle with bayonet and pistol.  The Cutthroats were vital to the success of the war in Alaska by going on repeated reconnaissance missions, reporting weather, conditions, terrain, and advising authorities of necessary equipment and techniques for survival in remote regions.  The University’s own Ivar Skarland, who was first a student at the then Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, and ultimately served as the Director of the University Museum and chairman of the Division of Social Sciences, was also a voluntary member of the Platoon during the war.  (Photo by Al Brittain, former Alaska Scout, in Jim Rearden, “Castner’s Cutthroats” 1990)

The Combat Intelligence Platoon of Alaska Defense Command, nicknamed Castner’s Cutthroats, displaying their Japanese finds from Attu. The items include a .30 caliber clip, sake bottle, infantry cap, belt of 1,000 stitches, flute, helmet, gloves, folding water bucket, three Japanese flags, port and starboard lanterns, 20mm high explosive shells, .25 caliber rifle with bayonet and pistol. The Cutthroats were vital to the success of the war in Alaska by going on repeated reconnaissance missions, reporting weather, conditions, terrain, and advising authorities of necessary equipment and techniques for survival in remote regions. The University’s own Ivar Skarland, who was first a student at the then Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, and ultimately served as the Director of the University Museum and chairman of the Division of Social Sciences, was also a voluntary member of the Platoon during the war. (Photo by Al Brittain, former Alaska Scout, in Jim Rearden’s “Castner’s Cutthroats” 1990)

 

A soldier's badge.  One of many personal artifacts that is currently housed at the UA Museum of the North.  (UA2013-005-0049).

A soldier’s badge. One of many personal artifacts that is currently being housed at the UA Museum of the North. (UA2013-005-0049).

Today, Attu is a National Historic Landmark, with remnants from both the Japanese and US occupation.  The village that was once home to the islanders was destroyed during the war and never reestablished.  The LORAN station, which aided in navigating the Pacific Northwest both during and after the war, was established in 1946 but was shut down in 2010.  All that stands on the island are memorials for the fallen soldiers. We are forever grateful for the service of our men and women in arms, and their fight to protect our country and our freedoms.  Thank you.

 

Museums Advocacy Day 2014

Today is the 6th Annual Museums Advocacy Day, sponsored by AAM. Yesterday and today, museum professionals and supporters are gathering together in Washington D.C. to make the case for museums. This is a national effort to share the message that museums are essential (and therefore should be financially supported in ways similar to other “essential services” in our communities). In an attempt to reach our Alaskan legislators, Museums Alaska joined with the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Humanities Forum, and the Alaska Historical Society to form CHAMP (Culture, Humanities, Arts, Museum Partners). Over several days, representatives from these organizations met together to learn about advocacy techniques, about each other’s priorities for 2014, and meet with legislators to communicate the essential role of these organizations to the well-being of our state.

Museums Alaska had as our number one priority, to develop new legislation to establish a matching grant program for museum capital projects, similar to the library program. Over these two days, we were able to find our own CHAMP, in Rep. Herron (Bethel). Introduced yesterday, House Bill 333 would establish a museum construction grant program. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this first step is a major vote of confidence and improvement in the awareness of our legislators of the role museums play in our communities.

Take a minute today to tweet a comment #museumsadvocacy, post a photo on Facebook and use #museumsadvocacy to join in the online community! Museums are Essential!

My #museumselfie in the Denali Legacy exhibition at UAMN.

My #museumselfie in the Denali Legacy exhibition at UAMN.

 

Gallery

It’s Small… but is it a Model or a Miniature?

This gallery contains 16 photos.

Collections people, like collections managers and registrars, sometimes ponder (and debate for hours) the strangest things. Do we use Last Name, First Name or First Name Last Name? Inches or Centimeters? H x W x D or L x W x … Continue reading

Guest Blog: Dogs in the North

 Mahriena Ellanna is a UAF undergraduate student in art history and indigenous art, and has worked in the Ethnology & History department at UAMN for a year. Born and raised in Alaska, and in Fairbanks since she was 5, Mahriena shares the research behind an exhibit she is assembling for the UAF Rasmuson Library. ~~AJL

I was 12 when I went to my first starting line celebration. It was for the Yukon Quest, The 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race. The race started in Fairbanks that year, my hometown, so I decided to go with some friends. I remember how they looked, those working sled dogs, the most anxious animals I’d ever seen. Each sled had at least two sled brakes in the ground, to keep the dogs from taking off with the sled. Sled dogs don’t need a driver to know what to do when they’re strapped into their harnesses and roped in next to each other; it’s bred into their blood and in every instinct they’ve ever felt – pull.

Effie Kokrine and her dog team. Effie was born when dog sledding was the dominant form of transportation and her father, Johnny Folger, ran a leg of diphtheria serum.

Figure 1. Effie Kokrine and her dog team. Effie was born when dog sledding was the dominant form of transportation and her father, Johnny Folger, ran a leg of diphtheria serum.

Dog sledding is one of a few forms of mushing, which is a general term for any travel method powered by dogs. Dog sledding is unique from other forms of mushing, though, because Alaska Natives used it approximately 15,000 years ago, according to research done by the Yukon Quest. Sled dogs were used for many reasons, such as, transportation of people and their belongings, hunting, and protection. Survival in the arctic would have been nearly impossible without them.

fanhitch2

Fan Hitch

Traditionally, the average team consisted of approximately 3 dogs, each with their own separate lead, spread out like a fan (Fan Hitching). This way, if one dog fell through the ice or into a crevasse the rest of the team was safe, along with the sled and driver. The dog could be pulled up by his harness and lead, then treated for any injuries.

Before breeding was popularized, a dog’s worth was based on work ability rather than looks. The most popular dogs in the north were the Inuit and Interior Village dogs. They were lightweight, but could carry loads almost three times their weight for long distances.

Inuit Sled Dog in show stance

Inuit Sled Dog in show stance

Working Inuit Sled Dog

Working Inuit Sled Dog

These dogs have a number of qualities that make them perfect for pulling heavy loads long distances. The first unique quality they possess is a stiff spine, which gives the dog the ability to evenly distribute weight through out the whole of his back (where the harness is placed) without causing physical damage. The dogs also have strong hips to push themselves forward, while their equally strong shoulders pull the harness and the sled load.

The second quality unique to sled dog breeds, such as malamutes and huskies, is the ability to change metabolism. This allows them to run for hours and hours while retaining fat storage and without becoming fatigued.

In 1741, Russian explorers came with their sled dogs. Their dogs were much smaller than the Inuit sled dogs because they were built for speed. These dogs were bred with the larger Village dogs to create a small and sturdy breed, with the same ability to pull heavy loads for long distances at an efficient pace.

The Russians brought new dog sledding concepts with them (Gangline Hitching). They developed the idea of a lead dog (the dog that drives the team forward and knows the trail and commands) increased the number of dogs in a team, changed sledding formations, added handles to the sleds, and added baskets to the sleds that were large enough and the proper shape to carry people.

Gangline Hitch

Gangline Hitch

The demand for dogs skyrocketed, especially during the Gold Rush. Sled manufacturing was commonplace. Everything changed in 1913, when the first plane flew over Alaska. Airplanes could do all the same jobs as a dog team –delivering mail, bringing supplies to villages and towns, and carrying people from place to place—more reliably and more quickly.

Photo Credit: Eric Long of the National Air and Space Museum Stearman C2B biplane; Flown by several Alaska bush pilots, including Joe Crosson—first pilot to land on Mt. McKinley—and Noel Wein—founder of Alaska’s first airline.

Photo Credit: Eric Long of the National Air and Space Museum
Stearman C2B biplane; Flown by several Alaska bush pilots, including Joe Crosson—first pilot to land on Mt. McKinley—and Noel Wein—founder of Alaska’s first airline.

Mushing isn’t a necessity of life anymore. The most common place to see dog sledding is in annual races, such as the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, but if you’re lucky enough to come visit Alaska, you could experience it the way the first Alaskans did—by dog sled—thanks to local tour companies.

(Historic Photo Credits)

Figure 1. http://jukebox.uaf.edu/site/akmushing/content/interviews

Figure 2. http://www.nbcnews.com/travel/goodbye-sled-dogs-hello-airplanes-alaska-marks-100-years-aviation-1B8307363

Yukon Quest Logo: 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse

Yukon Quest Logo: 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse

Iditarod Logo: 998-mile race from Anchorage to Nome
Iditarod Logo: 998-mile race from Anchorage to Nome

Deaccessioning: Take A Deep Breath

In this entry, I’ll describe the process our museum follows for deaccessioning objects from our permanent collection. Every museum will have a slightly different way of doing this, so this is based on my personal experiences. Before you implement your own deaccessioning policy and procedures, you should check with your governing body and be sure to understand the specific legal and ethical requirements for your own situation. There are many publications on this topic to help you craft a policy and set of procedures. As with all policies, you’ll need to have your governing body approve it before it’s fully implemented.

Most museums are established to care for their objects “in perpetuity” – i.e., “forever.” But forever is a very long time in our modern world. Deaccessioning is the process of formally removing an object from a museum’s permanent collection, which is usually that collection which receives the highest level of care in the institution (as compared to hands-on or educational collections, or exhibit props, which might be considered “disposable” and not require the same diligence when the museum decides the objects have lost their relevance or usefulness in relation to the mission of the museum, or have deteriorated beyond a useful level). It’s an integral part of responsible collections management, as long as it is carried out in an appropriate manner and with thoughtful consideration.

Navajo rug (catalog number 0392-0024) donated to the museum in 1947 to be used as office decorations. Instead, they were accessioned into the collection.

Navajo rug (catalog number 0392-0024) donated to the museum in 1947 to be used as office decorations. Instead, they were accessioned into the collection. Copyright UAMN.

In a collection as old as ours (established in 1926), the mission and collecting vision have fluctuated and the artifacts donated have followed these fluctuations. In Ethnology & History alone, Navajo rugs (see right) have been housed in the same room with Eastern Woodland beadwork and pre-Columbian ceramics. Approximately 15 years ago, our department drafted our first collections plan by stating that our collecting vision is to represent as fully as possible, the material culture of Alaska and the Circumpolar North. Anything outside of this geographic boundary should be considered for deaccessioning – our collections range simply does not have space to continue to care for objects that do not support our mission.

Drawers of non-Alaskan baskets selected for deaccessioning.

Drawers of non-Alaskan baskets selected for deaccessioning.

With this in mind, over 10 years ago I started to identify items in our collection that should be considered for deaccessioning. Finally this summer, with the excellent paperwork-generating skills of Kirsten Olson, the baskets that were separated from our Alaskan holdings by former student assistant, Micole Van Walbeek, are finally going to be moved out of our facility and on to an institution or private individual who will value them for what they are, rather than what they’re not.

The Process
This round of deaccessioning includes objects that are clearly outside our collecting mission. This is one of the criteria that are listed in our Deaccessioning Policy. Other criteria include: (1) having a lack of documentation that critically reduces the scientific or cultural value or significance of the artifact; (2) deteriorating beyond a point of usefulness; (3) represents an unacceptable hazard to other collections or museum staff. According to our Collections Management Policy, of which our deaccessioning policy is a part, in order to be approved for deaccessioning, the item must qualify under at least one criteria. Many times, items like the baskets in this round, fall under several criteria (lack of documentation and serious condition problems are those that come up most frequently).

Once an item that fits at least one of these criteria has been identified, the collections staff should undertake some research. We need to verify all legal and ethical considerations: (1) The museum has free & clear title to the piece and (2) there are no restrictions on the piece (e.g., copyright, MOA/MOU, trust agreements, donor-imposed restrictions, etc.). Some museums, as a courtesy, make a reasonable effort to contact the donor’s heirs. Particularly if the piece is outside the collecting mission and has been in the collection for many years, the family may wish to have the piece returned to them. According to IRS Form 8283, objects must be held in a museum collection at least 3 years prior to removal, or we would need to file a Form 8282 (Donee Information Return).

With the paperwork is complete, our Acquisitions Committee (a group of museum staff and community members) will review the documentation and vote on the proposed action. These discussions become part of the permanent record of the items. When the final decision is made, the paperwork is signed and a disposal method is determined. The catalog numbers are either removed from the object or crossed out and paper and electronic files are updated. NOTE: Don’t delete the catalog entry for the object and do not throw away the paper file! Even though the object will no longer be part of your collection, you need to be able to reference the fact that it did spend some of its life there.  Change the location field to “Deaccessioned” and make notes wherever relevant to describe the item’s fate.

Paperwork from a 2008 deaccession of non-Alaskan pottery. Bonham's and Butterfields sold the pieces, which generated a total of approximately $2000 in acquisitions funds for our department.

Paperwork from a 2008 deaccession of non-Alaskan pottery. Bonham’s and Butterfields sold the pieces, which generated a total of approximately $2000 in acquisitions funds for our department.

The Disposal
Disposal techniques can include: exchange or donation, transfer, sale, or destruction. The technique selected should be based on how best to support the mission of the Museum. Typically, the most controversial technique is sale. Items considered for sale are typically forwarded to a reputable professional auction house where the pieces would be available to the widest audience. This keeps the work out of the hands of the Museum, which helps ensure transparency and a level of separation. No one associated with the Museum should ever benefit personally from a sale of our collections and the funds generated through this sale will go back into a collections fund, for acquisitions or direct care of the collection.

Breathe Out
After all that work, what have we gained?
Valuable space, and possibly funding, for objects that support the mission of our museum.

Guest Blog: Erwin A. “Nimrod” Robertson

(Another guest post from graduate student Kirsten Olson regarding objects that we recently had on the cart in our lab that prompted her to do further investigating)

 The only grievance of his being was that he couldn’t drink his hot tea with them!  The story of these "wild teeth" spread and led to the telling of a tall tale of Robertson killing a bear, making the teeth, and eating the bear with its own teeth! Catalog Number UA73-009-0001

Catalog Number UA73-009-0001
The only grievance of Robertson’s was that he couldn’t drink his hot tea with them in! The story of these “wild teeth” spread and led to the telling of a tall tale of Robertson killing a bear, making the teeth, and eating the bear with its own teeth!

I’ve come into the lab on many occasions to find some pretty intriguing objects that are so eclectic and unique, that I simply had to share.  Last week I discovered a set of dentures on our lab shelf and I had to know more!  Turns out, they belonged to Erwin A. “Nimrod” Robertson, an early Alaskan pioneer from Maine who settled along the Yukon near Eagle in 1898.  He used his homemade teeth, forged from an aluminum pot lid set with a mix of carved sheep, caribou, and bear teeth, for about 25 years.

Over the forty years he spent in the Eagle area, he had many occupations including placer mining, dentist, jeweler, as well as serving on the Eagle Common Council, Chief of Police, marshal, magistrate, and attorney.  Because of his inventive genius, he was an all around tinkerer, making inventions and fixing things for people.  “Nimrod”, an endearing nickname given to him, was quite the resourceful genius and the teeth were just one of his many inventions.

He made hunting blades from large wood files that were tempered by a secret processes.  It was said that these knives would trim the corrugation off a silver dollar as easily as an orange peel with a paring knife.  He was well known for his gold puzzle rings and would give it away to anyone who could take it apart and put it together again within a specified time.

This is the motor to "Nimrod's Bird Machine".  “To lift, or rise, and propel itself through the air by up and down strokes of its wings as a bird.  Power for moving wings to be supplied by specially designated gas engine or by specially adapted commercial gasoline engine”  (According to Robertson's own description of his invention)  Catalog Number UA79-004-0001

Catalog Number UA79-004-0001
“To lift, or rise, and propel itself through the air by up and down strokes of its wings as a bird. Power for moving wings to be supplied by specially designated gas engine or by specially adapted commercial gasoline engine” (Robertson’s own description of his invention)

In our collections we also have an aluminum motor that he fabricated to go along with an early airplane he engineered called “Nimrod’s Bird Machine” that he had patented in 1892 or 1894.

Another of his creations is a famous and impressively accurate 60”x 80” relief map of the Eagle area, which he constructed from newspaper, magazines, hematite and moose blood.  The map was sent to Seattle in 1909 for the Alaska-Yukon Exposition and again in 1962 for the World’s Fair.  Today it’s on display at the Eagle Historical Society & Museums.

At 81 years old, in 1940, he decided to make a prospecting trip to his placer mines at Seventy-mile, Alaska.  The weather that November quickly turned on him. Realizing he was short of provisions and would unlikely make it home, he pulled up his parka hood and lay to rest, never to wake again.  Later, his body was recovered and buried at the Eagle Cemetery.

Guest Blog: Purgatory on the Yukon

(Taking advantage of some brain power of one of my graduate student curatorial assistants, this posting is written by Kirsten Olson of UAF. William Yanert is one of the most intriguing “characters” of Interior Alaska history and the subject of numerous inquiries to our department. This is a condensed version of a paper Kirsten wrote for an art history course at UAF.) 

It was late in the evening when I was working in the range, putting away a cannon ball in one of the larger cabinets when I found myself nose to nose with a large carved devils head!  It had strikingly green cat-like eyes, a black painted face with two red stripes on both cheeks, and needless  to say, scared the pants off  me! Once I recovered from the initial scare, I went back to lab and checked the data base to learn more about the terrifying head I encountered.

I  discovered that it was the creation of William Yanert, an early Alaskan pioneer.  After further research,  I had become intrigued by his devil’s head and other carvings in the collection.  During the spring semester, I was given an opportunity in an art history class to do more in-depth research on William Yanert, employing the museum’s collection of his work.

William YanertYanert was born in Olschyna, Prussia on March 3rd 1864 and immigrated to the US around 1881 and shortly after enlisted in the U. S. Army.  While in the army, Yanert served with the Fifth and Sixth Calvary in the Indian Wars, trained in cartography, and was dispatched in 1897 as a member of Capt. Edwin Glenn’s Alaska Exploring Expedition, scouting and reporting on the conditions between Skagway to Lake Bennett (later this trail became the Chilkoot Trail of the 1898 gold rush).  He was assigned to map the Haines Mission and surrounding country, various tributaries of Susitna River, as well as reporting on and mapping the Healy and Talkeetna Mountain area. As a civil engineer, he mapped regions of McKinley Park and Dyea area.  He was also the first man to explore Broad Pass, where the Alaska Railroad runs through.

Herman (Left) and William (Right) Yanert standing outside of their cabin on the Yukon; with moose horns hung over the door and a carved sign that read, “Search not the world for happiness, You’ll find her not on land or sea, no use looking for her address, for she lives right here with me”

Herman (Left) and William (Right) Yanert standing outside of their cabin on the Yukon; with moose horns hung over the door and a carved sign that read, “Search not the world for happiness, You’ll find her not on land or sea, no use looking for her address, for she lives right here with me”.

St. Nicolas was carved from a birch burl, with horns, green bottle eyes, and red cape draped around his shoulders.

St. Nicolas was carved from a birch burl, with horns, green bottle eyes, and red cape draped around his shoulders.

After his army career, Yanert retired in 1903 and was determined to make his place amidst the land he had come to love so much.  He built a cabin and named the land in the Yukon Flats he claimed “Purgatory“, because it was “one hell of a place to live”. A few years later, William’s brother, Herman, came to join him.

Over the years, the brothers had developed quite the reputation for peevishness.  Steamboats, carrying tourists, had stopped at Purgatory to stock up on wood, Alaskan hospitality and the Yanert’s practical jokes. This included the devil’s head that I had stumbled upon.  The “devil” was named St. Nicolas, and dubbed the Patron Saint of Purgatory.   William had him wired to the cabin so that he could wave “hello” or “goodbye” to those passing by on the Yukon.  Other devils and imps were carved out of the burls from birch trees and rigged up like jack-in-the-boxes.

Anyone coming down the river was welcomed at Purgatory by St. Nicholas and the brothers, even unexpected guests such as the Evancoe brothers, who in 1937, were floating down the Yukon River. According to a letter Paul Evancoe  wrote to the museum in 1976, he recalled that they had fallen asleep, and were “awakened by a gruff voice, ‘Why the hell don’t you fellas come up to the cabin?’…so we pulled our kayak ashore and proceeded to the Yanert cabin situated back a short distance from the river bank…Well, we spend three of the most delightful days as their guests.  Inside their cabin were shelves of carvings that they made of wood, ivory, and bone.”

"The Stampeeder".  William used whatever materials he had available to him, including cigar boxes!

“The Stampeeder” Yanert used whatever materials he had available to him, including cigar boxes.
Catalog number 0768-0038

William would carve and paint a range of characters, including those from Shakespearian plays such as Othello, Desdemona, and Yorick as well as scenes of the people who lived in Alaska; mushers, natives, hunters, and gold miners.  These images were often done on cigar boxes that had been repurposed as a painting board of sorts.

UA0768-0006

Catalog number 0768-0006

He also carved figures from moose or caribou antlers. The carvings, inspired by the pioneer life he lived, also reflected his philosophy on life, which would often accompany his work in title form, or with a snippet of poetry that was incorporated into the work.  Later, he published a collection of his poems, titled Yukon Breezes, accompanied by his hand colored illustrations.

They spent their lives surviving off of and surrounded by their hard work.  Their cabin at Purgatory was filled with handmade furniture and decorated with carvings.  The front of the cabin was bedecked with totems, some more than twenty feet high.   In the 40 years he lived there, he only left once, when his health took a turn for the worse in the fall of 1941 and a year later, he passed away.

The majority of his works, carvings, paintings, photographs, and a copy of his poem, Yukon Breezes, were donated to the University of Alaska Museum of the North by Ralph Newcomb and Herman Yanert in 1943.  The collection in the museum is just a snippet of what was once the glorious and remarkable Purgatory.  We can sill enjoy the humor and sincerity of William’s artwork in the Alaska Classics Gallery in the University of Alaska Museum of the North, as well as the writings and photographs of the Yanerts in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives at the Elmer. E. Rasmuson Library here, at UAF.

 

It’s Worth How Much?!?!?!?

Image

This morning, while I chatted with my 3-1/2 year old son over coffee, my husband shared a story he was reading on the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner’s website. The AP story, “Rare century-old $5 Alaska bill to be auctioned” by Rachel D’Oro, described an upcoming auction sale of an extraordinarily rare piece of Alaskan paper currency. My husband knew about a similar piece that we had accessioned back in 2009, which I have shared with the Tanana Yukon Historical Society as well as the Fairbanks Coin Club in past presentations. At each presentation (the TYHS presentation only included a photo while the FCC folks got to see the real thing in person) viewers were in awe of the perfect specimen in our collection.

The history of our $5 bank note is mostly blank: we received it from former UAF Rasmuson Library Alaska and Polar Regions archivist, Anne Foster, as a “found in collection” piece. We have a standing MOA with the library that states that all photographic, manuscript, and other similar items (i.e., items that contain information) are to be curated at the archives while all 3D and object-type things (i.e., more ephemeral or decorative items) come to the Museum to be curated. As a result of this agreement, the archives staff and I are old friends and are always calling each other up with statements like, “Hey, I found this thing in the collection and I think it needs to come to you. When will you be near the library/museum next?” So when a unique $5 bank note showed up in a box of items from Anne, I was not surprised to learn that they had no information associated with it and we started our own internal research to accompany our Preliminary Justification Form to the Museum’s acquisitions committee.

Having just come back from maternity leave, I had my student, Micole VanWalbeek do that web-based research. What she found included an auction sale of the same (P)7718 stamp and red seal, but a serial number and different signatures. The number in the upper right corner was also different. That particular $5 note sold for $27,600 in 2006. I promptly put our bill into our vault.

The story in today’s paper describes a bill seemingly identical to ours. Upon closer comparison, the only difference seems to be a small “B” on our bill, as compared to the “C” on the bill up for auction, the plate designation. The auction house representative quoted in the article describes there being only four of these bills printed.

So this is sometimes how the documentation about items in museum history collections is collected. My file on this piece now has twice the number of citations as before. The catalog entry in my database will be much more rich, and our insurance assessment will be much more accurate. Guess I’ll keep my eyes on this story, and others, that are connected to this early form of paper currency in Fairbanks.

 

Sharing the Legacy

One of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy, is working on special exhibitions. Finding a topic that has broad appeal and developing a new way to present it to the public. A little over a year ago, our museum started to think about a possible exhibit to commemorate the centennial of the first ascent of Denali’s South Peak (20,327 feet). This 1913 group included Hudson Stuck, the charismatic Archdeacon of the Yukon; soon-to-be first superintendent of Mt. McKinley National Park, Harry P. Karstens; Walter Harper, the athletic, intelligent, and dedicated trail companion of Stuck; and Robert Tatum, postulant for holy orders at the St. Mark’s Mission in Nenana. Joining the group were two young men (each in their mid-teens), John Fredson and Esaias George, also studying at Nenana, who played essential parts in the ascent as well.

1913 crew, from left: Robert Tatum, Esaias George, Harry Karstens, John Fredson, Walter Harper.

It is the exciting story of their ordeal climbing “the great one” that we will tell, in partnership with the Denali National Park staff, during the summer of 2013 in the exhibition Legacy: 100 Years on The Mountain. Narratives taken from the journals of each climber will guide visitors through their journey from Fairbanks, to the peak of the mountain, and back down again. We will also learn about the men, as individuals, and how this event pulled them together as well as drove them apart.

Hudson Stuck with one of his dogs.

As we develop this story, we seek the assistance of our community in identifying potential artifacts associated with these people and their legacies. Anyone with information about items used on the 1913 ascent are asked to contact me or the museum.

I look forward to sharing the stories of these incredible men and the legacies they left behind. Join us next summer for the exciting celebration of this amazing event.

Things I never thought I’d have to do in a museum…

Working in a museum brings all sorts of exciting and new experiences. While processing a loan of Bradford Washburn material, going to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, the curator of the show requested a few historic food cans. Food cans that still had food in them. YIKES!

I remembered that Ellen Carrlee, Conservator at the Alaska State Museum, had recently posted a set of instructions in the ASM Bulletin #35 (Winter 2010) on how to safely empty and clean out old cans of food (salmon, in this case). I followed her steps and safely emptied out eight cans of “Bolton Whole Meal Biscuit Ration,” which turned out to be crackers (think whole-wheat pilot bread); two cans of C-Ration Fruit Cakes (no, I did not sample them); one can of Simplot Instant Potatoes; and one can of Pemmican used in a 1971 Polar Expedition to the North Pole (which I had to dig out of the can and plan on adding to our Frozen Tissues collection for future analysis).

I only had one gross-out moment, when the last can of crackers ended up having a compromised seal and the remnants of a few “friends” were found lurking inside.

Here are some photos that documented the process. Be sure to click on each for the full experience. Enjoy!

Supplies for opening historic food cans (aka Personal Protective Equipment aka PPE).

Fumehood

The fumehood in our Collections Prep Lab served as my workspace for a couple of hours. Fully lit, it provided me with great protection from the unknown.

Biscuits

Biscuits... aka crackers. I had no idea what I might find inside these tins.

Wrapped can of biscuits

In my head I imagined gooey, uncooked baking powder biscuits ala Pilsbury biscuits in the cooler case! So, I wrapped the precious historic paper label with carefully cut Mylar and held it in place with stretch film.

Opening can

Drumroll please!!!!!

Opened can of biscuits

OH! "Biscuits" as in crackers! Of course!

Into bucket

Dump the biscuits into the bucket!

Empty can

Inside the relatively clean can after dumping out all the biscuits. A rinse with some bleach and a wipe down with paper towels and this can was done!

Last can

And then there was the last can of biscuits... oh gross.

Inside

It took some elbow grease, but eventually, this mess was cleaned up and the inside looked as good as the other cans.

Fruitcakes

On to the fruit cakes! Excitement loomed as I remembered the c-rations my dad had showed me and my brother as kids... then I remembered how long ago that was...

Open fruitcake

Hmmm, moist.

Top of cake

Or is it?

Fruitcake in paper

Anyone else thinking "hockey puck?"

Potatoes

Finally, something simple... orange potato powder!

Can opener

And last but not least... the 1971 pemmican! Notice the grease leaching from the "seal" along the end. Probably a good thing I finally got around to doing this!

Pemmican

NOT the texture of corned beef hash, no matter the resemblance! I had to dig this stuff out with a plastic spatula!

Done

Coat it all with some bleach, snap the lid onto the bucket, and call it a day! One I won't soon forget!